Flipping Mastery

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:39

Several years ago, when I was working on our 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning, the two concepts that intrigued me most as I was looking for “signals,” or signs that the forecast was playing out in present day, were competency education and the flipped classroom. If you’ve read this blog or anything I’ve written in the last year or so, you already know what competency education is. For those of you new to me or the blog, here’s the working definition created by iNCAOL and CCSSO in 2011:

  • Students advance upon mastery.
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

For those of you unfamiliar with the flipped classroom, here’s a great video that explains it:

As I was perusing the January issue of Educational Leadership magazine from ASCD, I came across an article (sorry, it’s behind a pay wall) by the two men in the video above, Jonathon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, about smashing the two concepts together to create a “flipped mastery” model.

While I am no teacher, this seems like a pretty good idea to me. One of the challenges of implementing competency-based education in the classroom is that teachers feel overwhelmed trying to provide direct instruction while also delivering support to a group of students, many of whom are in different places on their learning progressions. This is one of the big challenges outlined in a recent study released by the University of Southern Maine that examines the implementation of proficiency-based (or competency-based) learning in that state. Ideally, teachers, or learning facilitators, would be able to rely on a whole slew of folks to provide “direct instruction” to students including community members, work-based mentors, parents, etc. so the entire responsibility would not fall back to the teacher, thus freeing him/her up to do more one-on-one and small group work. Setting up the structures to support that type of system takes time and, as mentioned in the blog post linked above, if it takes too much time teachers will revert back to the know best whole-group, direct instruction they know best. And, frankly, who could blame them?

With a flipped mastery model, teachers can offload their whole-class instruction to videos that students can watch at home, again freeing up classroom time for more individualized instruction. While I am not sure this is the total answer long-term, it seems to me that this is a great short-term solution that allows for the implementation of more student-centered instruction in the classroom while some of the structures that will support additional out-of-the-classroom learning are created and implemented.

Again, I am no teacher but what are the downsides to this? Am I missing something? I would love to hear from folks that are doing this work on the ground about they think this might work.


Categories: Blog

Supporting Districts as the Learning Ecosystem Expands

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-04-14 14:14

Like it or not, the learning ecosystem is expanding.  As education goes through a time of disintermediation, learners and their families will have many options for deciding what learning experiences they consume, in what ways and in what combinations.  Not everyone will decide that they need traditional school districts to the extent that we need them today or in the same ways that we need them today.

People’s relationship with them has already been changing: witness the trends we’ve been seeing for some time toward the expansion of charters and other alternative school structures; the proliferation of online and blended learning platforms and supports; and the steady increase homeschooling, freeschooling, unschooling, and other forms of self-organized learning.  We’ve also been seeing the rise of new mechanisms (for example, Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation program) aiming to enable traditional districts to innovate within the current regulatory climate.

At the same time, our new normal is one of constrained resources in which districts, as participants at a workshop on the future of learning that I facilitated leading up to the Ohio ESC Association’s (OESCA’s) spring conference reminded me, have cut so deeply that it can be a challenge to find any time to identify potential innovations, much less pursue them.  Even as school districts need to operate differently, often with less, in a changing world, the roles that they play in communities beyond educating children can make it hard for their communities to accept change.  Think of how some communities coalesce around their sports teams, for a relatively simple starting point.  Not to mention districts’ role in providing relatively stable middle-class jobs and the correlation between district performance and property values.

As a society, we have a lot invested in the way things are even as we ask school districts to do more with an increasingly diverse population in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.  So how might educational service centers, intermediate units, and other regional organizations whose roles are to support districts and supplement their services help districts transition effectively toward acting as vibrant nodes in the expanding learning ecosystem?

In exploring that question, OESCA workshop participants imagined:

  • Advocating to change the regulatory climate to allow greater room for communities and families to lead education (in concert with and informed by business partners and economic needs) and to encourage collaboration rather than competition
  • Educating parents about new approaches to learning in order to build public will for change
  • Helping to facilitate the creation of regional learning academies that could offer a wide range of offerings for learners, regardless of their home school district
  • Organizing regional mastery-based learning collaboratives that drew heavily upon virtual supports and blended learning
  • Helping to reinvent schools as skill academies
  • Encouraging universal access to high-quality preschool as a foundation for success.

These are just a few possibilities.  We need to identify and explore many avenues for innovation.  Not for innovation’s sake.  But because our current structures aren’t able to educate all children in the ways that children need to learn.  Because the fundamental design of our system needs to shift to one that is appropriate for this new world we inhabit.

The pressure is mounting for public school districts, with a plausible future scenario being “No Child Left” and with another being “A Fractured Landscape” in which only some children have access to radically personalized learning.  What strategies do you see as having the potential to avert these negative scenarios and to create instead a diverse learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners?


Categories: Blog

Competency Education State by State

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-04-10 10:29

See page nine of the report for state statusCompetency education, and the policies supporting its growth in K-12 education, continues to advance in states around the country.

For those not familiar with competency education, here is a working definition of the concept from iNACOL and CCSSO:

  • Students advance upon mastery
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

In February of this year, my colleague Maria Worthen, from iNACOL, and I released a paper entitled A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change that examined four domains of federal policy; accountability, systems of assessments, supports and interventions, and data systems. We not only identified federal barriers to scaling competency within each of these domains, but also offered policy solutions for states and the federal government to support the growing movement. On page nine of the report, you will find a map, developed by iNACOL, which illustrates the significant amount of state interest in competency education. The map specifically highlights advanced, developing, and emerging states based on recent policy developments ranging from the elimination of outdated seat-time policies to the adoption of competency-based diplomas.

My colleague, Jesse Moyer, and I have written extensively about some of the state-level policies supporting competency-based education, including:

  • Kentucky: Innovation Spotlight: Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation
  • Oregon: Is Oregon Ready to Scale Competency Education?
  • Maine: New Study Outlines Competency Education in Maine
  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma is a State to Watch for Competency Education

For more information about competency education, KnowledgeWorks’ effort to support the movement, and other KnowledgeWorks’ publications on the topic, please visit the new competency education page on our website.


Categories: Blog

Transforming District Governance: Exploring Education in the Year 2025 with NSBA

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-04-09 10:59

At the National School Board Association’s annual conference, I had the pleasure of sharing insights from KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight publications through a session on education in the year 2025. As we explored what the emergence of a vibrant and adaptive learning ecosystem might mean for the ways in which school boards operate schools, how teachers teach, and how school leaders interact with their communities, participants accepted the need for transformation but highlighted the need to build public will for change.

As I hear in so many conversations about the future of learning, they saw the need for stakeholders across their communities to see “school” differently. Districts face tremendous and widespread pressure from people who try to pull the education system back toward an outdated mental model of what school looks like and how it functions in communities. Those who steward them say time and again that the general public needs to understand the dramatic extent to which districts must respond to the changing environment. As learning de-institutionalizes and increasingly flows across traditional boundaries, districts need to consider how best to position themselves to be vibrant nodes in the expanding learning ecosystem.

The NSBA conversation also emphasized the need for communities to comprehend the vast changes coming to the world of work. Those changes promise to make college and career readiness for young people a moving goal, adding further complexity to the already extensive process of education system transformation. Those changes in work will also demand that many of us engage in continuous career readiness as we need continually to re-skill to stay relevant to the workplace and learn to manage mosaic careers.

As an article in the Economist proposed earlier this year, we face the potential for tremendous economic dislocation over the next two decades as automation continues to displace workers in existing industries and new industries develop. In response, the article proposed, schools “need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers.” The article also projected that the definition of a government-provided education might change to include far greater investment in pre-school along with support for continuous education for adults. As it forecast, “state education may well involve a year of study to be taken later in life, perhaps in stages.”

Thomas Friedman’s NSBA talk about the challenges of preparing young people for a “hyperconnected” world echoed this message of dislocation. As relayed in NSBA’s summary, he argued that “the ability of anyone to make a living in the 21st century will depend in large part on being self-motivated and “innovation ready’” because we will be moving from a paradigm of finding jobs to one of creating them.

As learning, work, and productive activity of all sorts increasingly takes place apart from traditional organizations and as the ways in which we interact with organizations becomes more various and more ad hoc, districts will need to consider how to facilitate an expanded range of learning opportunities for students. That will include determining how and when to broker learning resources and experiences across traditional boundaries. Districts will also have an opportunity to help learners move seamlessly among school-based and community-based learning experiences and to form new kinds of partnerships that could lead to new solutions. Those that cannot shift their approaches to learning risk undermining their students’ ability to prepare for and create careers.


Categories: Blog

Oklahoma is a State to Watch for Competency Education

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-04-07 14:27

OKLAHOMALate last year and early this year, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Oklahoma State Board of Education adopted changes to their Administrative Rules that make them a state to watch in the competency education space. I was first alerted to these changes via this CompetencyWorks blog post.

The changes made to Title 210, Chapter 35, Subchapter 27 have to do with proficiency-based (another term for competency-based) promotion. Sent to the Governor and Legislature on March 6, 2014 for approval, these modifications to Subchapter 27 allow for testing for the express purpose of determining proper grade/course placement and credit by examination; earning credit for a class by passing a test, or “testing out,” instead of taking the course. The new rules also allow for different tools (portfolios, theses, projects, performances, recitals, etc.) to be used when assessing for placement or credit. All assessments, performance or more traditional tests, are required to be aligned with district academic standards and accurately measure the demonstration of competencies in the specified subject matter.

Changes to Title 210, Chapter 35, Subchapter 9, Part 7, Standard IV were sent to the Governor and Legislature for approval on December 19, 2013. These alterations outline new graduation requirements in the state. While the content of the requirements are what you’d expect (math, science, social studies, etc.) the new grad requirements are expressed in terms of completion of units (the Carnegie Unit) or completion of “sets of competencies” which are defined as “instruction in those skills and competencies that are specified skills and competencies adopted by the State Board of Education without regard to specified instructional time.” Some of the changes made in Subchapter 9 are a little unclear to me. For instance, I am not exactly sure what the sets of competencies will be, or are, based on. An encouraging sign, at least as I read it, is that the competencies will be adopted by the State Board, which means each district will not be tasked with coming up with their own competencies thus creating a system where a high school diploma means something different in each district.

What’s most interesting to me about these policy changes is that the way they are written leaves room for further policy development that will support competency. I look forward to monitoring the progress in Oklahoma, and other states, as the competency education movement continues to expand.

For more information about KnowledgeWorks’ activities around competency education, visit our new competency education page.


Categories: Blog

New Tech Network, KnowledgeWorks to present at NSBA Annual Conference

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2014-04-04 16:37

New Tech Network and KnowledgeWorks will present at the National School Board Association Annual Conference beginning this weekend in New Orleans. The National School Board Association (NSBA) “supports the capacity of each school board, acting on behalf of and in close concert with the people of its community, to envision the future of education in its community, to establish a structure and environment that allow all students to reach their maximum potential, to provide accountability to the community on performance in the schools, and to serve as the key community advocate for children and youth and their public schools.”

Nick Kappelhof from New Tech Network will be presenting on why a A ’21st Century’ Education Is SO Last Century

Krista Clark and and Theresa Shafer, also from New Tech Network, will be presenting Branding and Marketing Your School with Social Media

And Katherine Prince from KnowledgeWorks will be delivering a Meet the Expert session on Education in the Year 2025 featuring work recently launched by the American Alliance of Museums about the future of education and how museums can be integrated with schools and other educational assets into the vibrant learning grid. Look for a post from Katherine about the work later next week on this blog.


For a full conference schedule visit the NSBA Conference site.


Categories: Blog

New Value Propositions for De-Institutionalizing Times

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2014-04-04 14:28

When presenting as part of a panel on the changing cultural and social landscape at the Center for American Jewish Museums’ (CAJM) annual retreat, I was struck by the extent to which the questions about mission, relevance, and ongoing viability that challenge educational institutions in this rapidly de-institutionalizing world also pertain to museums.

Like educational institutions, museums and other cultural organizations face exciting opportunities to enrich learning and support young people as we have more and more tools at our disposal and increasingly realize the need to enable many right approaches to learning. At the same time, institutions in both sectors can feel challenged to transition their historic missions and delivery systems to a world in which institutions matter much less than they used to and matter differently to different audiences.

As community-based learning providers play an increasingly prominent role in the expanding learning ecosystem, not just by offering programs through and with schools but also by offering them directly to more learners, there will be many right answers to the question of how historic institutions refresh and reinvent their offerings. Each learning provider, whether it considers the provision of learning experiences to be all or just part of its mission, is going to have identify and express clearly exactly what it’s offering learners. Any given organization could offer multiple value propositions spanning a range of learner profiles. Some value propositions might span traditional boundaries or engage audiences in co-creating experiences and value in ways that feel inconceivable or uncomfortable today.

On the CAJM panel, Peter Linett of Slover Linett Audience Research emphasized that we’re facing these kinds of questions and opportunities not just because any given sector is changing but because we inhabit a cultural boundary moment that calls for fundamentally different training, values, assumptions, and revenue models than our current institutions have grown up with. As KnowledgeWorks’ Forecast 3.0 highlights, this is a time of disruptive change. Existing institutions have to stop tweaking and start transforming, or they risk becoming obsolete amid the rise of social production and the proliferation of new platforms for exchanging and creating value.

Richard Evans of EmcArts, also on the panel, offered a way for institutions to rise to this massive challenge: engage in adaptive leadership that relies upon cross-functional teamwork, enables flexible and collaborative cultures, continuously incubates innovations, and keeps some organizational capital liquid enough to support change. As he put it, we need to shift our underlying organizational assumptions in order to identify viable strategies and “next practices.”

In this time of fundamental transition, organizations need to develop capacities for change more than they need to develop any particular solution. We’ll identify new value propositions. And then we’ll keep refining and evolving them as the impacts of this cultural shift continue to unfold.

For more on how museums might contribute to and create the future of education, see Elizabeth Merritt and Scott Kratz’s paper, “Museums and the Future of Education.”




Categories: Blog

Competency Education in Oregon

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2014-04-04 14:07

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Lillian Pace wrote about our experience facilitating a pre-conference session at the 2014 Northwest Proficiency/Competency Conference hosted by the Oregon Business Education Compact and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators in her blog post Is Oregon Ready to Scale Competency Education? Yesterday, I posted our PowerPoint presentation from that session on SlideShare:

If you have questions or want to discuss what you see in the slide deck, please feel free to leave a comment here or connect with me on Twitter here or Lillian here.


Categories: Blog

Forecasting Student Needs in 2025 and Beyond

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-04-03 11:20

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Houston Foresight spring gathering, where I learned about developing research on the future of student needs in 2025 and beyond that the Lumina Foundation has commissioned from the program. The Student Needs 2025+ research project is forecasting baseline and alternate scenarios for six domains:

  • Learning – Will institutional pressures keep education basically as it is today, or will learning move so far beyond institutions that it is all contextualized and on demand?
  • Participating – Will technology and activism converge in a “nationcraft” scenario in which we re-engage and rebuild toward an ideal society, or will we hack our way toward multiple co-existing societies and increasing pitfalls around privacy and security?
  • Working – Will we continue on a trajectory toward rapid career changes that require broad skill sets and interaction with both people and computers, or will the middle class face a tight squeeze the rise of artificial intelligence and the need for continual re-skilling make put many people out of work?
  • Playing – Will play be bundled, scheduled, and justified by a productive agenda, or will gaming specifically, and play in general, come to pervade daily life?
  • Connecting – Will we continue to use technology to find more ways to connect, or will we move beyond connecting through technologies to immersing ourselves in them?
  • Living – Will we continue to look for most things in life to be easier (even if they aren’t better for us) and to focus on instant gratification, or will we make a big shift toward collaborative consumption, with social capital and group orientation outstripping individual gain?

Each of these scenarios could have very different implications for students of higher education, as well as for students of other levels of the learning ecosystem. The project’s next step will be to explore those implications for four categories of students: traditional students, first-generation students, adult learners, and independent learners.

I’m excited to follow the developments. In the meantime, you can check out the presentations and ongoing reflections via Houston Foresight or follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Vine at @houstonfutures and join the conversation at #studentneeds2025.




Categories: Blog

New Study Outlines Competency Education in Maine

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-03-31 10:07

As part of the legislation mandating proficiency-based diplomas in Maine, the state’s legislature requested that the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) at the University of Southern Maine report on the preliminary implementation of proficiency-based learning across the state (for the purpose of this post, I will use the term proficiency-based instead of competency-based since it is the accepted term in Maine). MEPRI chose nine schools from across the state representing various school sizes, locations, grade configurations, and length of implementation using case studies, surveys, and observations to inform the report.

The report, titled “Preliminary Implications of Maine’s Proficiency-based Diploma Program,” identifies the following impacts of proficiency-based learning across the state:

  • More than 75% of schools report seeing some or substantial improvement in student engagement since the beginning of implementation
  • The same can be said for teacher engagement and performance on local assessments
  • Very little data exists on students being better prepared for, aspiring to, or enrolling in higher education

In addition the report provided the following recommendations as implementation continues:

  • Discuss, debate, and resolve the issues of different standards across districts
  • Develop regional consortia to work on implementation
  • Facilitate opportunities for differentiated professional development supporting proficiency-based education
  • Develop a learning management system that enables proficiency-based education

Overall, it seems as if implementation is going well. After reading the report, here are my top-level thoughts:

  • Serious consideration must be given to which level of the system the standards, to which everything else is aligned, should be created. Should it be the state? That could alienate districts. Should it be the districts? That means there are as many sets of standards in a state as there are districts. I tend to think it should be the state, with heavy input from districts, so a high school diploma means the same from district to district. That said, I don’t claim to have the answer to this question.
  • In order to successfully implement proficiency-based, you have to create the structures to support a new system while also supporting the change in classroom practice through professional development, new policies, etc. If you don’t support the change in practice, the system will fundamentally stay the same regardless of the structures.
  • Further, you must change the role of the teacher in a proficiency-based system. Without doing this, teachers will become overwhelmed and revert back to whole-class, direct instruction which is no different than what is happening now. In order to change the role of the teacher from lecturer to a “learning facilitator,” you have to count on others to offer direct instruction, i.e. community members, work-based mentors, etc.

Overall, I thought the report provided a very interesting snapshot of implementation in Maine. MEPRI conducted a Phase II district-level analysis of implementation that I haven’t had a chance to read yet. But, rest assured, when I do, I will be sharing my thoughts here!


Categories: Blog

Early College High School: How Earning College Credit in High School Leads to Success

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-03-24 17:32

Dr. Harold Brown on Blog Talk RadioJoin us on Tuesday at 10:30am on Blog Talk Radio as we celebrate National Early College High School Week.

This is the 6th annual week dedicated to recognizing and promoting the progress and success of early college high schools.

Over the past decade, early colleges have produced dramatic results, beating typical outcomes for the low-income youth, first-generation college goers, and students of color they were designed to serve.

Dr. Harold Brown, President of EDWorks, a KnowledgeWorks company joins us to discuss how the earning of college credit in high school leads to success in post-secondary.


Categories: Blog

Making the Dream of College Attainable: Celebrating Early College High Schools

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2014-03-21 12:00

Beginning next week, we will be joining our subsidiary, EDWorks, in celebrating National Early College High School Week. EDWorks will be celebrating the successes of their Fast Track Early College High Schools as well as participating with schools across the country to help raise awareness of Early College High Schools.

EDWorks Early College High SchoolYou can learn more about EDWorks Fast Track Early College High Schools by seeing the infographic they just released, illustrating some of their outcomes and statistics. On their blog, Expect Success, you can see stories of current and past students, who perhaps best exemplify the potential of Early College High Schools.

Fast Track Early College High Schools provide the necessary support for first-generation college goers to help them succeed.

“In most cases, first-generation college goers have a difficult path through education,” said EDWorks President Harold Brown. “Fast Track Early College High Schools open them up to the potential for college credits – for free and while they’re still in high school! It proves that they are ‘college material,’ even if others say differently or they lack the confidence on their own.”

At Toledo Early College High School, Lauren Merrell graduated as her class valedictorian. A first-generation college goer, she graduated high school with her diploma and enough college credits to allow her to enter the University of Toledo as a junior. While in college she experienced personal setbacks that affected her schoolwork. Using a skill Lauren learned while attending Toledo Early College High School, to ask for support and help when it was necessary, she turned to the University’s peer mentorship program and people rallied to help. She was able to get back on track at school and later became a peer mentor herself.

Recent reports have shown that Early College High School students are 30% less likely to need remediation in college than the national average. The evidence-based model for EDWorks Fast Track schools provides each student with a personalized learning plan and the support they need to succeed.

When Terrance Truitt was taking college level classes while attending Canton Early College High School, the high school’s supports were essential to giving him the skills he needed. When college coursework got difficult, he went to his high school staff for help. “The teachers did a lot more than they had to,” Terrance said.

Canton Early College High School helped bring Terrance closer to his dream of working in criminal justice more quickly than he could have imagined. He graduated high school with both his diploma and his associate degree as well as plans to attend the University of Cincinnati, where he would be able to graduate at age 20 with a bachelor’s degree. You can learn more about Terrance’s experience by listening to a panel discussion he participated in last year during Early College High School Week.

In an increasingly competitive job market and as college tuitions rise, schools like EDWorks Fast Track schools make a four-year degree more attainable. Early College High School students are able to earn up to 60 college credits, the equivalent of an associate degree, while still in high school, giving them a jump start on their college career.

For students like Kwame Boakye, a senior at Akron Early College High School, the jump start is further motivation to succeed. He is on track to earn his Associate in Arts Degree from The University of Akron by the time he graduates from high school. He will be the first in his family to earn a college degree. From there, he will be attending The University of Akron working towards a bachelor’s degree on a full scholarship, in their College of Business. More stories of Early College High School success will be shared throughout Early College High School Week. Follow along with the excitement by following EDWorks on Twitter, @EDWorksPartners or using the hashtag #EDWeek14! More stories will be posted on Expect Success throughout the week.


Categories: Blog

Lillian Pace on Education Talk Radio: Tune in Friday, March 21st

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:36

Set your internet tuner….

Friday, March 21 tune into Education Talk Radio from 9:00am – 9:30am.

Blog Talk RadioOur very own Lillian Pace and Maria Worthen of iNACOL will discuss their new report which provides a comprehensive vision for supporting state and local efforts to implement student-centered learning through competency education, where learning is the constant and time is the variable. The report, “A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change” describes barriers and opportunities which federal policy makers and advocates can leverage to help catalyze change in our K-12 education system.

Following the show, we’ll take the archived audio and host it on our Competency Education page.


Categories: Blog

Measuring the Tough to Measure

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-03-19 10:46

Asia SocietyEver since the convening KnowledgeWorks hosted focused on creating an assessment and accountability system that supports competency education, which you can read about here and here, I have been on an assessment bent. Specifically, I have been thinking and reading a lot about how to assess non-cognitive competencies (non-cognitive competencies are also known as disposition, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, or 21st century skills or competencies).

There is a lot to think about when assessing non-cognitive skills. StriveTogether has done some great research around figuring out which of these skills actually matter when it comes to academic achievement. You can read more about that here. While I think this work is extremely interesting and very worthwhile, I am more interested in how to measure these skills.

That is where a new report from the Asia Society comes in. For someone without an assessment background, like me, this report was really helpful. In addition to outlining which competencies they believe have a direct impact on academic achievement, similar to the StriveTogether report linked above, it provides major themes to consider when attempting to pick an assessment: instructional, practical, and technical. For more detail:
• Formative (informs learning) or summative (validates learning)
• Provides actionable info for teachers
• Useful feedback for students
• Grade/context appropriate
• Meaningful, engaging, authentic for students
• Encourages effective teaching/learning
• Cost
• Ease of training (for teachers to administer)
• Ease of scoring (for teachers)
• Ease of administration (for teachers)
• Ease of technological implementation (computers)
• Reliability (consistently produce the same score across time, absent more learning)
• Validity (measures what it supposed to measure)
• Fairness (measures across student populations)

Finally, the report provides a great chart containing the different types of assessments (Multiple choice, open response, self-report, performance, portfolio, cross-cutting) and how they should be used.

The more work KnowledgeWorks does around competency education, the more I believe assessing non-cognitive skills will be one of the most important, and difficult, things to accomplish. I look forward to learning, and sharing via this blog, more about it.


Categories: Blog

Learning Corridors

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2014-03-14 14:14

As learning de-institutionalizes, we are moving toward an expanded learning ecosystem that has the potential to provide radically personalized learning for all young people. It also has the potential to let many learners fall through the cracks or simply survive – but not thrive – in failing institutions and disrupted learning environments.

A recent webinar that I facilitated with alumni of the Noyce Leadership Institute helped advance my thinking about how we might all collaborate to ensure that the learning ecosystem is vibrant and that all learners can thrive within it. One way of approaching that crucial challenge might be to think in terms of local learning ecologies’ co-existing and overlapping within the broader learning ecosystem.

Some attempts to map local learning ecologies have been emerging (see our community learning resources map, an artifact from the future, for an example of what such a map might look like). Surfacing local learning opportunities and their intersections seems helpful. But they aren’t necessarily going to add up to a system that seems coherent from the perspective of how we’ve been accustomed to thinking about education systems. As one participant suggested, it could be more about creating anchors than about putting all the pieces back together.

Another suggested that we might think in terms of riparian zones or wildlife corridors, the idea being that establishing learning corridors could be one way to begin to connect the nodes across a local learning ecology. Institutions – schools, museums, libraries, and others that step up to the challenge – might serve as buffer zones in communities, particularly while we are bridging from today’s education system to an expanded learning ecosystem.

The people working in institutions could then function as learning agents in a variety of ways, an important one being to serve as guides who help learners and their families discover the learning corridors and find strategies for making strong use of them. These guides’ early efforts could help people see pathways for migrating from today’s landscape to the new one.

As you can see, the group engaged very thoughtfully with the learning ecosystem metaphor, highlighting how much we can learn from natural systems as education shifts from an industrial era model to a living system. As part of that, designing strategies for what one participant called “the bridging times” could be a useful way of supporting all learners in adapting to the emerging learning landscape.



Categories: Blog

Is Oregon Ready to Scale Competency Education?

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-03-13 10:45

Last week my colleague, Jesse Moyer, and I had the pleasure of facilitating a session at the 2014 Northwest Proficiency/Competency Conference hosted by the Oregon Business Education Compact and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. We were asked by the conference organizers to guide the group through a number of exercises to answer two important questions: Is Oregon ready to take competency education to scale? And, if so, what are the next steps for the state?

The first question was more challenging than the second question. Although most participants in the room were advocates for proficiency-based education (the term used for competency in Oregon), the group identified a lot of barriers to scaling this work statewide. These barriers encompassed a wide range of issues including everything from lack of money to cultural resistance among parents and community members who are comfortable with traditional elements such as grades on transcripts used for college admittance.

As we progressed to the next steps exercise, it became clear that the room had a lot of really good ideas and pretty solid consensus on where they would like the state to dedicate its resources and energy. After casting their votes, the clear winners included the following:

1. Provide quality professional development for proficiency-based education

2. Engage higher education in the discussion to ensure system realignment

3. and, tied for third:
- Identify districts that are doing this work well and send educators there to learn
- Build political support for the policy transition to a proficiency-based system

The discussion proved to be a fascinating learning experience for me. Even in a room full of advocates, the tone of the conversation often felt heavy with challenge and frustration. In fact, when asked to share big takeaways from the session, one astute panelist expressed disappointment that the state has been stuck in the same conversation year after year without much forward momentum.

There is no question that adoption of a competency-based system comes with a long, and at times, daunting to-do list. It will take alignment at all levels of the system to take a big step forward. Fortunately, there are really thoughtful conversations like this one in Oregon happening all over the country. More and more educators are becoming engaged, district leaders are exploring new options, and state and federal policymakers are beginning to ask important questions.

These conversations will be fascinating to watch as they unfold and deepen over the next few years. Although there are likely to be tense moments, I feel confident a way forward will emerge. After all, everyone can already agree on one thing – the current system is not perfect and our children deserve nothing less.


Categories: Blog

Getting Unstuck From the Pilot Phase

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-03-11 17:21

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.




Categories: Blog

National Journal Asks Why Common Core is a Tea Party Bugbear?

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-03-06 11:25

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.


Categories: Blog

With Sprinkles Please

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-03-04 16:02

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:

@MattAWilliams TweetWhy did I tweet this? First, I, for the record, really like ice cream.

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.

Categories: Blog

It’s Time for Transformation

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-02-26 10:43


ReSchool ColoradoYesterday 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.


Categories: Blog


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