Last week, Chester Finn, Jr. wrote a piece in Education Next, titled “Education’s Endless, Erroneous Either-Ors” (nice assonance). The piece calls out various familiar edu-dichotomies, such as “skills vs. knowledge;” “evaluate teachers by student results or peer judgments;” and “local or centralized control.” The piece is an interesting read but what caught my attention was his take on “gauging pupil progress by grade level or competency.”
Finn states the following positives about competency education, “easy to synchronize with sequential standards and curricula, lends itself to individualized instruction (including different levels in different subjects), avoids “social promotion” (as well as the boredom that afflicts gifted kids who learn something faster than their classmates), and harmonizes with online and blended learning opportunities.”
He then writes the following criticism stating that competency education “wreaks havoc with traditional school structures, demands much (by way of differentiated instruction) from teachers, may separate children from their friends and age mates, and frazzles parents who want to know whether Janie is in fourth or fifth grade.”
My first blush reaction to Finn was he writes as if “traditional school structures” are a good thing. I tend to believe that our outmoded, outdated structures are a barrier to personalized learning and default to being an adult-driven status quo. He states that competency education demands much from teachers especially in the area of differentiated instruction. Frankly, all environments, whether traditional or competency-based, should demand greater differentiation for all students not just those with formal IEPs. As a parent of three school aged children I can attest to being frazzled but I’m certain I could navigate the grade level issue.
My second reaction is more coherent and focused on the need for advocates of competency education to focus on results and scaling best practices. Nationally, an increasing number of states, districts and schools are migrating towards a competency-based approach. 39 states have competency based laws (including seat time waivers) on the books. 75% of the winning RTTT-D grants had competency based elements in them. States like NH, ME, KY, IA, and OR are working to implement competency education in a meaningful way. We are seeing results. 20 years ago, Chugach, AK was faced with grim realities including the fact that 90 percent of its students could not read at grade level and only one student in 26 years had ever graduated from college. Five years later, after an adoption of a competency based approach: The average student achievement on the state test rose from the bottom quartile to the 72nd percentile; the percentage of students participating in college entrance exams rose from zero to 70%; teacher turnover dropped to 2% where it was previously at 55%. Barack Obama Charter School, an elementary school in Los Angeles, CA is in its fourth year of implementation. The school works with a tougher than average population with 100% of the students on free or reduced lunch, 50% mobility rates, and less than 10% of the students performing at grade level when they entered the school. The school, with its competency-based focus, garnered a 150-point gain on the California Standards Test in the last school year. Lastly, Colorado’s Adams County School District 50 is currently in its third year of district-wide implementation of a competency-based approach and recently celebrated the exit of its last school from turnaround status this past year.
As results are achieved and best practices are developed the next step is to begin to scale practice. Education innovation, broadly speaking, and competency education, more specifically, tends to get stuck in the school pilot phase. There are countless examples of innovative, competency-based learning environments from coast to coast and a small number of high fidelity districts as well. But how do we reach real scale? How do we move from the isolated examples to whole systems of innovative options for all students? How do we develop the teachers and leaders needed to support (and align professional development dollars) and grow competency-based approaches? How do we build a school system, a learning system (if you will), with personalized learning at the core? I offer these questions because scale is most difficult in education. We know that there are levels. One important step in this work is to identify the conditions of success that a district should put in place to support the scaling of innovative (read as personalized, student-centered, technology infused, and competency based environments) learning environments throughout a K-12 school district. The next step would be to align the district conditions of success with what the state could do through policy, incentives and flexibility to drive scale. One excellent policy in this area is Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation. House Bill 37 (enacted 2012) provided school districts in Kentucky with the opportunity to apply to the Board of Education to be exempt from certain administrative and statutory provisions to begin to “rethink” school. (See my colleague, Lillian Pace’s post on Districts of Innovation for more information.)
Finn is spot on that “traditional school structures” stand in the way of scaling competency education. By focusing on results, development of best practices, models, and approaches, and scaling those emerging practices, models, and approaches, competency education advocates will begin to work around and then transform traditional educational structures to be not only more responsive to competency education but, importantly, more responsive to, supportive of, and centered on the student.
The National Journal Education Insiders blog topic this week, “Why is the Common Core a Tea Party Bugbear?” usually attracts pretty deep academic commentary from education experts across the nation. This week’s topic had me wondering what a “bugbear” was exactly (a source, real or imaginary, of fear or fright) and left me rubbernecking at the growing list of comments on the National Journal website on this very, very contentious question.
Matt Williams has written about the Common Core on this blog before (Common Core: High Standards are Not Inappropriate They Are Essential) and this week responds with a cogent outline of the underlying politics and subsequent name calling that may undermine the larger common good the core sought to address. Visit the National Journal to read his commentary and weigh in with your own.
The President released his 2015 budget request today. In that budget request is yet another iteration of the Race to the Top (RTTT) program as reported by Education Week’s Politics K-12 Blog. My first reaction to this announcement is captured in my tweet below:
Secondly and much more importantly, let’s look back at the history of the RTTT. It was first created as a major education component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It was a $4.35B program that focused on comprehensive, systemic educational change including such areas as standards and assessments, teachers and leaders, turning around the lowest-achieving schools, and data systems. The first three rounds of the state competition netted 19 states awards ranging from $700M to $17M. By Round 3 the funding totals had dropped significantly. As the money dwindled there was an Early Learning Challenge grant added to the suite of RTTT offerings and then a Race to the Top-District (RTTT-D). After RTTT-D there was a proposal by the Administration for a $1B Higher Education RTTT that was changed by Congress into a $250M RTTT program focused on early education. Now, in the FY15 budget the Administration is pushing for a $300M RTTT program focused on educational equity for disadvantaged students along with a teacher-equity component.
It is important to pause for a moment. First, I firmly support early education, district level innovation, and, of course, educational equity. I believe that higher education system needs reform. I also liked the thrust of the first, original flavor, if you will, of RTTT. These are all very important issues. But the obsession with RTTT and all its iterations is a great exemplar for the Administration’s larger education policy agenda. It is disjointed and tries to tackle a plethora of educational issues with relatively small amounts of money. Will there truly be a systemic impact from the RTTT-D program? What about the new early education RTTT? Wouldn’t a better way to provide greater educational equity be to fund Title I or IDEA at greater levels? Maybe re-scope and improve the School Improvement Grants (SIG)? I’ve blogged about this issue in the past the Administration would be well served to have focused on a few key issues, made them a priority for both funding and the bully pulpit, and then been able to point to impact and best practices. Culling best practices and impact data is of significant importance in a time where ESEA is not moving in Congress and waivers are effectively the law of the land.
Look, I get the political prominence RTTT holds for this Administration. I get this is the Administration’s signature program and its legacy level importance when telling the full story of the Obama Presidency. However, instead of focus and priorities, we have what amounts to a bowl of melted neapolitan ice cream that is merely being dressed up with whipped cream and sprinkles.
Yesterday the Donnell-Kay Foundation announced ReSchool Colorado, “a game changing, multi-year effort to create a new state public education system where learning is reimagined and students graduate energized and equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing world.” It aims to be, as they put it, “transformative to the core,” recreating the whole system of learning to prepare today’s students for an emerging world whose contours we can only partially anticipate today.
I’m delighted to see an organization taking the leading in creating the kind of deep system transformation that promises to move a whole state toward being a vibrant learning ecosystem of the sort that KnowledgeWorks aspires to activate and develop through our work. In helping education leaders around the country grapple with the strategic possibilities set forth in our current ten-year forecast, I’ve been noticing ever-greater awareness of the colossal pivot point at which we stand. An awareness that the world has evolved beyond the current public education system’s capacity to serve learners. That today’s system often serves the needs of adults better than it meets the needs of learners, especially and tragically those learners who are most vulnerable and who are most in need of the equity and accessibility to which it aspires.
As one state-level education leader said in a recent meeting, “It’s time to transform the whole system of learning.” I’m hearing increasing frustration with attempts to defend the public education system as it stands today, as such defenses increasingly reflect the understandable but unproductive desire to hang on to the status quo simply because that is the system that we know and in which many of us have been successful. I’m also hearing caution about creating change simply for the sake of change. We should never do that, especially when young people’s quality of life is at stake. But there’s a broad, rich space between the status quo and change for change’s sake.
We need to cultivate that space. We need to envision, seed, and grow a new learning ecosystem that puts learners at the center, that makes best use of the many ways and settings in which we can support them, that approaches infrastructure as connective tissue, and that creates adaptive cultures and structures. We need to get serious about supporting learners in attaining the learning that they want and need, in the ways that they want and need it, when they want and need it. As ReSchool Colorado’s vision for Colorado’s new learning system articulates so well, we can orient learning around learners while also situating learning in community and articulating shared learning outcomes.
We need to do this work now. Together. From each of vantage points. For today’s and tomorrow’s young people. Even when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable for us.
Opening Day in Cincinnati (where it is an official city holiday with a parade and everything) is March 31st this year. And while today from my 2nd floor office I listen to road crews tearing up third street outside my window, in a month (or two) I will instead hopefully hear afternoon fireworks signalling each Red’s home run at Great American Ball Park.
Baseball is America’s pastime – and I can’t go to a game – be it Little League or Major League – without seeing stats keepers with pencils and clipboards tracking every swing, every pitch, every out, every walk. This statistical side to baseball adds a dimension to the game most fans may never experience or enjoy. In the field of data analysis though, it led to the creation of a team building dynamic popularized by Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s, showcased in the movie Moneyball. Beane transformed baseball by ignoring the scouts and using data to drive the decision making process instead. Scouts used instinct and heart and experience to sense winners and likely outcomes. But Beane used the data to objectively make decisions – in this case about which players to keep or trade on a limited budget – to build championship contending teams.
There is an elegant beauty in baseball – and in this metaphor. In his TEDxCincy talk, Jeff Edmondson, speaks to making decisions based not on what our hearts tell us (like the talent scout) but what the data shows us works (like Moneyball).
Can government run like the Oakland A’s?:
It is an ambitious goal. Moneyball for Government is a new project of Results for America. Having assembled an All-Star Bi-Partisan Team, the organization hopes to amplify the message of using data to guide policy decision-making, believing that government, at all levels, should help improve outcomes for young people, their families and communities by:
- Building evidence about the practices, policies, and programs that will achieve the most effective and efficient results, so that policymakers can make better decisions;
- Investing limited taxpayer dollars in programs that use evidence and data to demonstrate they work; and
- Directing funds away from practices, policies, and programs that consistently fail to achieve measurable outcomes
The campaign from Results for America has a new video out about how nonprofits are using these ideas to improve outcomes for children and their families at every stage of development: http://bit.ly/MS96MZ. Check out the video and visit their website if you want to sign up and play ball!
Governor John Kasich delivered his State of the State of Ohio speech last night in Medina, Ohio with several policy initiatives aimed at education (and a couple hinting at elements of competency education and early college)
- Creating alternative pathways through vocational schools for students at high risk of dropping out
- Field testing using two year colleges to create credentialing program and high school diploma alternatives
- Using $10 million in casino receipts to create $3 match community based mentoring programs
- Online career road maps that will launch in the spring so students will know what in-demand jobs exist in the state.
- Raising standards for publicly funded early childhood education
- State funding for colleges and universities based on graduation, not enrollment
- A new effort to provide college and career credits to veterans for training and experience received in the Armed Forces.
Read the full text of the Governor’s speech here.
Join our StriveTogether subsidiary in Chicago on March 24-25 for a rare opportunity to meet with network communities throughout the country already engaged in the work of building cradle to career partnerships.
Open to community organizations, non-profits, school districts and administrators, NGOs and government institutions, attendees will have the opportunity to meet and network with peers and cover a robust agenda that includes concrete ideas on how to move the work further faster in your community. Leave the convening with a 180-day action plan template to help guide the work going forward.
Registration is open but space is limited. Visit the StriveTogether Regonline link today to reserve your spot.
This week’s Time magazine cover story focuses on the P-TECH-model school in Chicago, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. EDWorks Partners, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, provided professional development for the original Pathways in technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, which started the groundswell towards similar schools being created across the country.
Rana Foroohar of TIME profiled the Brooklyn P-TECH, calling it a new kind of school that is changing ideas about what secondary education in American might look like in “The School That is Changing American Education.”
Visit Time to read the full article (Login is required).
“Let’s face it, parents want schools to provide free babysitting,” a district superintendent said in one of my recent workshops on the future of learning. Although I hadn’t framed it that way, I’d been thinking about this dimension of the many services besides learning that the current public education system provides when considering the demands that creating more flexible combinations of learning experiences could make on parents and families.
One of the signals I like to cite in that regard is the amount of time that the New Hampshire Virtual Academy suggests parents devote to serving as “learning coaches” for their children. The average learner devotes four to six hours to schoolwork each day, and the academy estimates direct parental participation at 80 percent for the early grades and 50 percent for middle school. As much as I would want to devote that much time to supporting my daughter’s education if attending such a school proved to be right for her, it’s hard to imagine having the time to coach her effectively while working full-time. And I’m relatively well positioned to support her in finding and pursuing the right learning choices.
Then, at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ Mid-Winter Conference , a superintendent asked me whether I could imagine a future in which learning centers, some of which might be today’s public schools but some of which might be other kinds of organizations, existed mainly to provide custodial care. His idea was that “schools” might function learning centers that gave kids somewhere safe to go during the day while serving as portals into a wide array of learning experiences.
As I told him, yes, I can imagine such an arrangement, at least for some, if not for many, learners. For example, when developing the persona of a future learner named Devan Williams back in 2010, my colleagues and I positioned him as dropping into a community learning center some of the time but learning largely via a gaming platform. His question reflects a realistic assessment of the many functions that today’s schools serve.
As learning happens increasingly via platforms versus institutions (see Ohio State University professor David Staley’s intriguing article on the university as a platform as well as the De-Institutionalized Production disruption from KnowlegeWorks’ Forecast 3.0), we need to make sure that we’re solving for everything that we need learning environments to do. That’s not to say that babysitting, free or otherwise, must be part of the design. But we can’t solve only for learning without working through such practicalities.
We might also need to explore adjacent cultural shifts that could help make the expanded learning ecosystem truly workable for all kinds of parents and families. Yes, I’m talking changes in how we structure work (which are happening rapidly apart from disruptions to learning). Changes in how communities own and support learning. Changes in how we distribute food to learners who currently rely on school meals to get enough to eat.
The possibilities are vast. But I think that shifting our conception of school to one of learning centers (with the expectation that such centers would take many different forms) could be a good way of beginning to the transition to an expanded learning ecosystem while stewarding today’s education systems.
In “The ‘Noble Intention’ of Giving Early Childhood Education,” this week’s National Journal: Education Insiders blog topic, Matt Williams responds to the question “What is the appropriate federal role for early education?” with a concise overview of the major ideas forming around alignment of federal investments in early childhood education and reiteration of a firm belief in the federal role of ensuring access and equity. How do we get early childhood education right? By building an effective, responsive educational, socio-emotional foundation for all children at the local level. Williams looks at work on the ground in Denver and Cincinnati to model what states and districts might be able to accomplish given more flexibility. Read the full post at the National Journal.
Judy Peppler, President and CEO of KnowledgeWorks; Harold Brown, President of EDWorks Partners; and, Greg Landsman, Executive Director of The Strive Partnership were guests on the WVXU Cincinnati Edition radio show to talk about the Cincinnati Preschool Promise and how KnowledgeWorks and its subsidiaries (EDWorks Partners, New Tech Network and StriveTogether) are working to transform education locally and nationally. The half hour broadcast is available via archive on the WVXU website at this link.
On Wednesday, February 12th from 2:00p – 3:00 p ET, iNACOL will provide a Leadership Webinar on the recently published “A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education” featuring authors Lillian Pace and Maria Worthen. Visit this link to register for the free webinar.
Learn more about the report and link to download a free copy of “A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education” at New Report on Competency Education – Building Capacity for Systems Change
Have you ever wondered what it would take to redesign the education system so it relies less on grade levels, credit hours, and traditional classroom-based instruction and focuses more on the individual needs and interests of students? If so, I encourage you to read a new report titled, A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change written by myself, and my brilliant co-author, Maria Worthen of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). This report – a result of months of collaboration at our favorite coffee shops around the Washington, D.C. area – is our best attempt to jumpstart a conversation about federal K-12 education policy and the rise of competency education. We believe the federal role must change in order to support a growing number of bold innovators working in states and districts around the country to redesign the system around students.
The report unveils an alternate vision for federal K-12 policy – one that would remove barriers to innovation so that student-centered approaches to teaching and learning, such as competency education, can thrive. The big ideas in this vision include:
- Accountability - Federal accountability policies should incent districts, schools, and educators to use real-time, individual student data to tailor instruction, supports, and interventions to ensure that each student is on pace to graduate with mastery of college- and career-ready standards and aligned competencies.
- Assessment - Flexible, balanced systems of assessments should measure mastery of competencies aligned to standards, with multiple measures, performance assessments, and evidence providing educators with a data-driven guide for prioritizing continuous improvement of student learning to ensure that every student is on pace to graduation.
- Supports and Interventions - The federal government should support states and districts in the development and implementation of a proactive system of supports and interventions that use real-time data to help students advance to college and career readiness through learning experiences aligned to their personalized learning pathways.
- Data Systems - Student-centered data systems should collect, report, and provide transparent information on where every student is along a learning trajectory based on demonstrating high levels of competency, to help educators customize learning experiences to ensure that every student can master standards and aligned competencies. Data should provide useful information for improving teaching and learning, as well as for accountability and quality purposes.
I encourage anyone interested in federal education policy to read this report. We worked hard to identify critical barriers and explore specific policy opportunities that will help the federal government make this important transition. If your time is limited, at a minimum, take a moment to glance at the report’s infographic depicting the elements of a competency-based federal policy framework.
For those interested in a deeper read, you can access the full report on the CompetencyWorks website.
When leading a workshop on the future of learning for the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders last week, I was struck by the ways in which the conversation kept cycling back toward two seemingly disparate but intricately intersecting themes:
- The need for the new learning ecosystem to be led by learning agents who manage decisions with learners and their families locally
- The need to cultivate wide ownership for learning among families and across businesses, communities, and other stakeholder groups.
These two strands of insight wove together as the discussion raised foundational conditions for learning:
- The need to build a foundation of learning skills and dispositions upon which learners could build in pursuing their particular learning journeys
- The need to instill responsibility in learners for their own learning, both for its intrinsic value and out of a sense of stewarding public funds
- The need to situate learning in community even as learners exercise more choice around their learning options
- The need to decide as a wide community how we will communicate about and cultivate an interest in learning among young people who today seem unmotivated by or disenfranchised from their educational experiences.
At the heart of the discussion was a deep belief that learning matters, not just for individual development and well being but also for communities’ vitality. And a deep recognition that the current educational system simply doesn’t meet the needs of all learners. In opening up the conversation to consider an ideal learning ecosystem, participants sought both to lessen restrictive regulations whose generalities cannot reflect knowledge of individual learners’ needs and to extend responsibility beyond the narrow range of today’s teacher evaluation systems, whose metrics can only reflect part of what makes for successful learning.
This week CompetencyWorks released a new report, titled Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education, focused on helping education leaders think through the grading principles and policies to help communicate academic performance to students and parents. As more states, districts, and schools move towards competency education it is essential to rethink not only how we grade students but how we communicate grades. Today, student’s true academic abilities hide or slide through in the current A-F grade system allowing them to advance without identification of gaps in knowledge and skills. It is important to point out that this is an issue for students of all academic abilities. The report, authored by Chris Sturgis, offers several weaknesses in the accepted A-F grading systems including: it allows students to move on without mastery, it is not a reliable gauge of what knowledge and skills a student has actually attained, and it is an ineffective form of motivation for students (particular on driving deeper learning). As an aside and as a parent, it is difficult ascertain and often misleading to understand where our children truly stand vis a vis what they are being taught (not to mention new college and career ready standards or our apparent waning global competitiveness).
In the report Sturgis outlines six elements of competency-based grading:
- Embrace explicit learning progression or standards so that everyone will have a shared vision of what students should learn.
- Develop a clear understanding of levels of knowledge so that students and teachers share an understanding of what proficiency means.
- Ensure transparency so that educators, students, and parents all understand where all students are on their learning progression.
- Create a school-wide or district-wide standards-based grading policy.
- Offer timely feedback and meaningful assessments to students so that students can continue to progress and stay on track.
- Provide adequate information to support students, teachers, and school-wide continuous improvement.
Sturgis states, “(Our current system) is much better at ranking students than helping them understand what they need to do to succeed. In competency education, student learning is always the primary purpose. Challenging the traditional system of grading practices will prompt questions that will allow students and teachers to work together toward a shared vision of learning that provides support to students as they build and demonstrate new skills.”
The complete report is available on the CompetencyWorks website.
Yesterday Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. engaged with students at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore in a roundtable discussion centered on improving school discipline policies and practices.
With the digital ink not yet set on our New Year’s resolutions perhaps there is time to add just one more item to the annual to do list: Participate in a Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) to further your personal learning plan in 2014. And what better topic to begin the new year than putting the progressive theory of deeper learning into practice.
Aimed at teachers, school leaders, and other educators who are interested in encouraging more deeper learning in their schools and classroom, the DLMOOC is a free, flexible nine week online course that will allow participants to learn about how deeper learning can be put into practice.
This course is a product of the deeper learning community of practice which counts our subsidiary New Tech Network among its members. Sign up online for the free course which begins on January 20.
In the third scenario of Learning in 2025 we explore learners foraging for resources.
“This is a world in which virtually all resources have been withdrawn from public education. Content is provided by learners and learning agents in a vast and unconnected marketplace. The quantity of material is not matched by its quality – content tends to be shallow, and much of it is repetitious. Without a strong set of guidelines or standards that material has to meet most of it has tended to devolve to the simplest possible expression. As resources have been withdrawn, fewer adults have been attracted to work in the public education sector. Home and peer learning have become the norm.”
In this look at the future of education “we envision a world in which a central government and state departments of education have agreed to a standardized national learning system in order to ensure global competitiveness. The experimentation that characterized the early part of the century has given way to a narrower field of learning providers working to highly specified standards and systems of oversight.”
Some may say that the Common Core has already created such a learning system in the U.S. – but that scenario would ignore the abundance of consumer created learning opportunities and state-led movement towards competency-based education.
In 2011 KnowledgeWorks published multiple resources to help imagine and prepare for the future of education while reflecting critical uncertainties: whether the learning system of the future would be created in abundance or scarcity and whether it would be controlled primarily by providers or by prosumers (proactive consumers who co-produce what they consumers.
This week I hope to encourage our readers to revisit some of these scenarios and consider the long view of education reform. When we project out to 2025 are we building a learning oasis or a learning desert? View the infographic here or read more about a vibrant learning grid in this recent World of Learning post.