ESEA discussion draft creates opportunity for wide range of stakeholder input, including competency education

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-01-26 15:38

Last week I posted, as an Education Insider for the National Journal, the following in reaction to Fawn Johnson’s post on ESEA, ESEA Overhaul Could Actually Happen This Year,” on the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog. Fawn provided an insightful overview of the current status of ESEA with an emphasis on Sen. Alexander’s (R-TN), Chair of the Senate HELP Committee, ESEA discussion draft. The Education Insiders were asked to deal with the follocompetency education federal policywing questions: For our insiders: How big are the differences between the administration and congressional Republicans on ESEA? Can they be bridged? Is it a good idea to leave testing up to the states with fewer consequences for not meeting their own expectations? Everyone seems to agree that testing is redundant and overused now, but how much testing is enough? Is it possible to redirect more school funding to lower-income schools? How will school choice play in to this debate? Is it possible to get a wholesale rewrite this year? ESEA is moving? What the what? First, I’ll quickly address some of Fawn’s questions before I go another direction. How big are the differences between the administration and congressional Republicans on ESEA? Substantial. There are policy questions as well as the legacy question around ESEA Waivers. The administration has used the waivers to extend its fingerprints on national policy. A reauthorization would roll back the waivers gutting the Administration’s legacy especially with proposed, probable cuts to RTTT, i3, and Promise Neighborhoods. Can they be bridged? Probably not. Is it possible to get a wholesale rewrite this year? It’s possible… I’m rarely the optimist on ESEA reauthorization normally betting on sometime in my lifetime type horizons. It is possible that we see a reauthorization. It is still a 50/50 proposition and I think we will see a bill passed in the House before the Senate even though the Senate has a running start. It isn’t called the “peculiar institution” for nothing. So to change directions, one area that I am excited about is that competency education is getting active play in the Alexander draft. As a growing number of states and districts adopt competency-based models and practices, federal policy must evolve to support education systems that focus on students’ mastery of academic content and skills instead of seat time. I commend Senator Alexander for recognizing this growing interest in a competency-based education system in his discussion draft. Alexander’s discussion draft proposes to give states the option of implementing competency-based assessment systems, as well as permission to use federal assessment funds to build these systems. It also upholds the federal commitment to annual, transparent data. While the discussion draft raises many key issues, it creates opportunity to consider input from a wide range of stakeholders. Building on the foundation in the Alexander discussion, federal policymakers can support the growth of competency education in K-12 education by adopting the following recommendations in the next ESEA reauthorization:

  • Recommendation 1: Pilot Competency-Based Accountability and Systems of Assessments in up to Five States
  • Recommendation 2: Support Systems of Assessments That Align to Competency-Based Approaches
  • Recommendation 3: Include System of Supports and Interventions in State Title I Plans
  • Recommendation 4: Support Learning Infrastructure to Enable Competency Education
  • Recommendation 5: Support Educators and Leaders to Build Capacity for Competency Education

More detail on these recommendations, created and offered in partnership between KnowledgeWorks and iNACOL, can be found at the following link:


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Stepping into the complex world of education data systems

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-01-22 16:28

In a recent research project, I started to take a few steps into the complex world of education data systems. Previously, my exposure to data systems was as a teacher, when I knew better than to forget to enter attendance at the beginning of the day. The extent of my understanding was that my students’ attendance would find its way to the district and the state, and one magic day per year, that data would determine how much money my school received.

In short, more kids = more money.

I also knew, however, that the value of my attendance data went far beyond the number of copies my school could afford to make in a given year; the chronic absences of some of my kindergartners was beginning a treacherous path of academic struggle. Despite organizations, research, and local campaigns that recognize that attendance data provides valuable insight to student achievement, states and districts often maintain a funding-driven view of attendance, which leaves schools—often individual teachers—to grapple with the deeper ramifications of absenteeism.Boy-at-Desk-data-compliance

One of today’s most hotly contested data points is the annual standardized test score. The vast majority of states compile student assessment data once per year in order to determine the school or district accountability rating. While this data is valuable to bring light to inequalities that exist in the education system, its use is stunted when it doesn’t translate to action that improves schools and student outcomes.

Any teacher knows that the process of supporting students involves constantly checking in and providing feedback. Assessments determine next steps, not the final value of a student’s knowledge. Teachers continually collect data to support student growth, and states should do the same for districts and schools.

In my research to learn more about state data systems, I wanted to know which states have systems that link with district systems to ultimately provide real-time support. As a usually-shameless idealist, I have been sorely disappointed by the word that appears on too many department of education websites to tell the story of their data systems: compliance.

To be fair, I love rules and prefer to follow them to a fault. However, compliance without embracing the true intention—or at the very least understanding the true intention— is a waste of time.

State departments of education can be vehicles of equity and increased opportunities for all children, or they can continue the age-old tradition of honoring high achievers and shaming the strugglers. Some type of middle ground may exist, but when data is pulled once yearly from a few hours of tests, that middle ground is feeble.

This is why I am excited about states like Virginia and New Hampshire (among a few others) that understand that it is not really possible to actualize school improvement when data is collected, analyzed, and acted upon once per year.

States that are serious about supporting schools could take a page out of Virginia’s book, where an early warning system collects student data throughout the year to target interventions to students at risk of dropping out and to identify school climate elements that may contribute to dropout rates.

New Hampshire
As the leader in implementing competency education, New Hampshire recognized the need for a state data system that was better equipped to communicate with district systems and provide necessary supports. The Initiative for School Empowerment and Excellence reduces the burden on schools and gives information back to schools based on regularly collected data to encourage student achievement through rigorous data use and analysis.

By encouraging states to develop data systems with complete information, the Data Quality Campaign has been essential to the first step of creating meaningful data systems across the country. With data collection getting better and better, the next step must address the use of this data. Collection and compliance alone have not and will not support students in reaching their full potential.


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Personalized Learning for Everyone

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-01-15 16:38

Katherine Prince, Senior Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks, writes about her work on Personalize Learning, a blog founded on the idea that personalizing learning is the key design element to transform education. For more than two decades, the team at Personalize Learning has worked towards empowering every learner to support and direct their own learning.

That mission aligns well with the work Katherine is doing. In her guest post she writes,

Every child deserves high-quality personalized learning that adapts to his or her needs and interests. But there’s a significant risk that the expanding learning ecosystem could fracture, leaving even more children behind than the education system does today.

Given that concern, my latest paper, “Innovating toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning,” aims to help education stakeholders move from vision to action in creating a learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners and not just for those with means. It highlights education stakeholders’ tremendous opportunity to reinvent learning for a new era and to create new systemic structures that can help all learners succeed.

Read the complete post by Katherine Prince on Personalize Learning: “Creating Personalized Learning for Everyone.”


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Competency Education Gains a Seat at the Congressional Negotiating Table

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-01-15 11:55

KnowledgeWorks and The International Association for K-12 Online Learning have partnered to release recommendations for ESEA reauthorization.

To all of the competency education visionaries working in state governments, districts, and classrooms around the country – this week marked an important victory for you. After years of running up against federal time-based policy barriers, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander (R–TN), released a discussion draft for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that put your work front and center. While the proposal raises many important questions, one thing is certain – competency education finally has a place at the negotiating table of Congress.

Senator Alexander’s discussion draft proposes two policy changes that would advance the K-12 competency education movement. He is accepting comments on his discussion draft until February 2, 2015 at

  • The draft proposes two assessment options. The first would maintain current law by requiring statewide testing annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. The second would establish a state-defined option where states could develop an assessment system that may include any combination of annual statewide summative assessments, grade span assessments, and competency-based performance assessments.
  • The draft proposes to let states use federal funding reserved for the design and implementation of state assessment instruments to build competency-based assessments.

Competency education advocates who have spent years building two systems should find these proposals encouraging. This preliminary proposal would go a long way to eliminating the barriers that make competency-based models unworkable under current law.

While we can celebrate this invitation to the national conversation, the political process is long, complicated, and at times, messy. This proposal will likely ignite a firestorm of comments that will impact the national discourse for ESEA reauthorization. Competency advocates must engage, educate, and most of all listen. We have a great deal to learn from the stakeholders in this debate. Let’s hope this first step marks the beginning of a healthy dialogue about how to build next generation education systems that uphold the legacy of rigorous accountability while better aligning to the demands of postsecondary and the workforce.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to review the joint ESEA recommendations that KnowledgeWorks and the International Association for K12 Online Learning (iNACOL) released today.


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ICYMI: 2014 Blogging Favorites

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-12-22 10:49

This year has been a busy one for KnowledgeWorks. So, in case you missed it (ICYMI), here are some of our favorite World of Learning blogs from this year:

    1. It’s Time for Transformation” by Katherine Prince | When the Donnell-Kay Foundation announced ReSchool Colorado as a game-changing, multi-year effort to create a new state public education system, Katherine was excited in the potential.

      “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,” Katherine writes

    2. Insight from recent White House, U.S. Department of Education Forum” | Our subsidiaries, StriveTogether and EDWorks, visited the Washington, D.C., this summer to share insight into working together toward ambitious college success goals.

      “The event highlighted challenges and opportunities in bringing together K-12, higher education and community leaders to focus on key objectives and priorities,” EDWorks President Harold Brown said.

    3. Investors: Roll Up Your Sleeves!” by KnowledgeWorks President and CEO Judy Peppler | Judy shares her insights as a funder and investor in collective impact work, calling on others to roll up their sleeves as they get involved in the work.

      “That’s what quality collective impact is about: Working with people for people,” Judy writes. “Investing in the work can’t just be about the money. It’s about advocacy and action – rolling up your sleeves to work on the ground with other cross-sector leaders who are dedicated to shared outcomes.”

    4. Catering to Digital-Age Students with ‘Gaming Mentality’” by Matt Williams | In exploring competency education, Matt proves an interesting point: These students are gamers.

      “Today’s students have grown up in a digital, gamified world from Wii, to Xbox, to World of Warcraft, to Minecraft and beyond,” Matt argues. “A competency-based education system would better serve them as it provides a clear, measurable way to navigate the education system to gain mastery of both content and skills.”

    5. Finding inspiration in a 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate” by Matt Williams | When Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was no surprise. And as a 17-year-old teenager, her story gave us pause to re-think our mission and goals.

      “We need to collectively have the anger, courage and hope to insure that all of our children have access to an education that helps them fulfill their potential and their dreams,” Matt writes.

    6. Partisan Fear” by Jesse Moyer | Jesse explores the underlying fears in the education system and our world, as we experience fundamental changes.

      “We have the chance to overcome that fear,” Jesse writes. “In overcoming our fears and getting involved, we can help usher in the future of our neighborhoods, of education and of the country.”

    7. Innovation Pathways toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems” by Katherine Prince | This year, we released the Innovation Pathways paper, which outlines systemic levers needed to transform education to benefit student learning.

      “Education stakeholders have a tremendous opportunity to reinvent learning for a new era and to create new systemic structures that can help all learners succeed,” Katherine writes.

    8. Reading List: Cold Weather Edition” by Sarah Jenkins | As the weather outside turned frightful, Sarah shared her educational reading list for the winter. Have you read any of these page-turners?

      “The best thing about winter? It is once again socially acceptable to stay home, sprawl on the couch, and read the weekend away,” Sarah shares.

    9. Micro-Credentials Today, Employer-Issued Credentials Tomorrow?” by Jason Swanson | In further exploring the future of education, Jason takes a look at credentials and how they could change in the future.

      “They might seem like mere documents, but they reflect the intricate interplay between how we educate and work,” Jason writes.

    10. From Vision to Practice: Building the Next Generation Educator Workforce” by Lillian Pace | In releasing a new competency-education paper, Lillian worked with our partners at iNACOL to explore a new angle: How can we prepare teachers for the complex learning environments that come with competency-based education?

      “The transition to a competency-based K-12 system must begin with the educator workforce,” Lillian writes. “Our educators deserve the same highly personalized learning experience that we hope to one day provide every student.”


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Launching the District Conditions of Scale

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-12-18 09:30

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since we launched the District Conditions for Scale. With presentations in California, Connecticut, Ohio and Texas, we’ve already seen the interest in these conditions which outline what’s needed to implement personalized learning in districts throughout the country.

The idea of identifying what districts can do in order to scale personalized learning came from Matt Williams, the Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at KnowledgeWorks, as our team visited districts having success scaling personalized learning practices. The more we learned from these districts, the more we realized all of these districts had things in common. We set out to define those commonalities – and the District Conditions for Scale were born.

We began doing secondary research, learning from folks like EdLeader21, education theorist Ted Sizer and our subsidiary EDWorks. From the secondary research, we were able to test our best thinking about the steps districts can take to scale personalized learning with superintendents from around the country who were doing just that. The information gathered from these outstanding leaders, a list of which can be found in the acknowledgement section of the paper, allowed us to refine our thinking into the 10 District Conditions for Scale: curriculum, instruction, comprehensive assessment systems, student supports, learning environments, professional development, leadership development, technology policies, comprehensive data systems, and partnerships.

Since we launched the paper at iNACOL’s Annual Symposium in October, we’ve worked with superintendents and district leaders from across the country, using the district conditions to frame their thinking around personalized learning. This includes sessions with EASTCONN as part of their Personalized Learning and Student-Centered Learning Series, TASA’s Personalized Learning for Future Ready Students series, and Ohio’s Innovation Lab Network.

Now that phase one of the project is complete, we will embark of phases two and three. With the help of our awesome research associate, Sarah Jenkins, we will circle back with the district leaders involved in the initial research to discuss what tools would be useful for district leaders as they implement these conditions. Once we have identified which tools would be most impactful, we will prototype the tools and test them at a convening of districts leaders to be held this spring. Simultaneously, we will work with state education leaders to develop a state policy framework that states can put in place to make it easier for districts to implement the conditions.

We’re very excited about this work. The district conditions tools and state policy framework are scheduled to be released in June 2015. If you’re interested in being involved in or keeping up-to-date with this work, please visit our policy and advocacy page to sign up for our newsletter.


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The Way We’ll Work

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-12-10 13:45

Business peopleI recently had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts about the future of work for a Columbus Business First article, “Columbus 2044 – Plenty of singles, small homes, and jobs none of us has imagined.” You might ask why I’m talking to a reporter about the future of work when my work focuses on the future of learning. But it’s difficult to impossible to consider future possibilities for education without also taking into account the world in which people will be working.

As our Forecast 3.0 highlights, it’s not just a question of what jobs people might or might not be doing. Certainly there are profound questions about the extent to which automation will affect the employment landscape. When a restaurant can be staffed entirely by robots and the rise of autonomous vehicles promises to change the delivery and transportation industries, new sectors of the economy could be shaken or reconfigured by new technologies. It’s not just relatively low-level jobs at stake; McKinsey Quarterly projects that artificial intelligence could significantly change the role of senior-level executives given rapid advances in machine learning.

Such changes reflect just part of the changing nature of work. Our 10-year forecast also projects a decline in full-time employment as we are used to thinking about it. With ad hoc employment on the rise through networks such as ODesk, more people could find themselves weaving together mosaic careers comprised of multiple gigs, some of them short-term, instead of working primarily or only for one organization. To work in such a world, we’ll need new skills such as global networking and personal brand management. I don’t feel prepared to navigate this kind of employment structure.

In these and other ways, our relationships with institutions are changing, both in the world of work and across the education landscape. PSFK Labs expects companies to flux constantly, shifting staffing and physical workplaces to align capacity with demand and emphasizing collaboration, knowledge flows, and constant learning. Similarly, The Aspen Institute projects that organizations with increasingly move from hierarchies to networks and that many of the skills associated with success in a more networked work environment will be reflect a disposition toward dealing effectively with change.

Given such changes in the world of work, many of us could find ourselves choosing or being forced to pursue continuous career readiness. Along with other forces of change, that employment climate could lead to new educational needs and new ways of interacting with educational institutions, especially for adult learners (see The Economist’s discussion of how higher education is changing). As my colleague Jason Swanson is exploring in a paper on the future of credentialing that’s due out in the new year, changes in the world of work could drive what it means not just to learn new skills but also to demonstrate mastery in authenticated ways.

As I told Columbus Business First, working differently will require learning differently. Our current approach to education doesn’t reflect the coming world of work. While career readiness is only one outcome of an effective education, I’m hoping that we can create a learning ecosystem capable of flexing with the fluid future of work.

For more on the future of Columbus, see the Columbus Business First companion article, “Columbus 2044: Light rail, public art, NBA, 89-year-old mayor?”


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From Vision to Practice: Building the Next Generation Educator Workforce

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-12-04 16:57

Over the past few years, competency education in K-12 has evolved from a catch phrase, to a compelling concept, to a serious reform strategy. Even skeptics are struck by its staying power. But despite this momentum, a major roadblock lies ahead. The teachers and principals who will be asked to lead this transformation are not prepared to do so. How can we expect these educators to succeed when their preparation programs, credentialing policies, professional development programs, and evaluation systems are all captive to traditional, 20th century values?

Fortunately, we have an answer. Recently, KnowledgeWorks and iNACOL released Laying the Foundation for Competency Education: A Policy Guide for the Next Generation Educator Workforce,  authored by myself and my brilliant collaborator, Maria Worthen of iNACOL. You may remember that the two of us collaborated on another competency-education policy guide earlier this year focused on accountability, assessment, supports and interventions, and data systems. (You can access that here). While each of these issues is important, the transition to a competency-based K-12 system must begin with the education workforce.

This recent publication counters the nation’s siloed educator preparation and development systems with a seamless continuum of support that aligns to professional competencies and enables educators to deepen their practice as they evolve in their profession.

competency continuum

The paper includes vision statements, policy barriers, state and federal policy solutions, and case studies of early adopters who have begun to make the vision a reality. We look forward to sharing these ideas with educators and the institutions, organizations, and policymakers committed to the preparation and development of our teaching force.

Our educators deserve the same highly personalized learning experience that we hope to one day provide for every student.


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Exploring Possibilities for Districts in Texas

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-12-03 09:43

With my colleagues Jesse Moyer and Jason Swanson, I’m collaborating with the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) to involve their members in exploring how they might move from future-oriented vision to action through a “Personalizing Learning for Future-Ready Students” symposium. Our first session focused on extending their already extensive exploration of school transformation and the work of their Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Institute using KnowledgeWorks’ forecast on the future of learning and our innovation pathways framework for creating a vibrant learning ecosystem for all learners.

We focused on how these strategic foresight resources might help participants enact and advance TASA’s vision for school transformation, which calls for:

  • Student-centered learning occurring in public schools that are empowered to innovate and create, using next-generation methods to assess and account for learning to their local communities, while assuring that the state’s responsibility for quality and equity is met.
  • Future-ready students engaged and challenged in a digitally rich learning environment that result in students who are prepared for life and work competencies essential to thriving in our global society.
  • A system that fosters accountability to our communities by appealing to the desire for autonomy, mastery, creativity and innovation.

Our exploration of future possibilities culminated in participants’ creating storyboards illustrating what a Texas district might look like in a vibrant learning ecosystem in which every child had access to the right combination of learning resources, experiences and supports.

TASA Session 1 Possibilities CollageThese storyboards and the surrounding conversation surfaced the need for public school districts to:

  • Put learners at the center.
  • Focus on mastery.
  • Provide flexibility for learners.
  • Foster deep connections between school and community, opening the walls of school.
  • Broker real-world engagement and global connections.
  • Cultivate cultures of innovation.

In exploring possibilities for taking districts in this direction over the next ten years, participants highlighted the need to:

  • Create flexible school structures.
  • Foster highly collaborative learning environments.
  • Create good choices for all learners.
  • Enable customized learning experiences.
  • Encourage the development of 21st-century skills.
  • Gradually alter learning spaces.
  • Bring new technologies into learning.
  • Shift mindsets toward technology.
  • Build public will for transformation.
  • Align stakeholders around their visions.
  • Develop new teaching roles.
  • Build the capacity of leaders.
  • Foster connections with their communities.
  • Foster partnerships.
  • Advocate for supportive rather than punitive accountability systems.
  • Inform policy makers about the need for change.

I’m excited to continue the conversation about making such possibilities for the future of public education in Texas a reality. Next up, we’ll be working with KnowledgeWorks’ new policy report, “District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning,” to help participating districts identify priority areas for action.


Katherine Prince (@katprince), Jesse Moyer (@JesseMoyer) and Jason Swanson (@JasonSwanson) will meet with TASA this week. Follow along on Twitter, using #TXFutureReady.


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Micro-Credentials Today, Employer-Issued Credentials Tomorrow?

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-11-24 12:26

Credentials act as third-party verification of skills and knowledge. They are important in helping to determine the best fit for a role, task or job. Education is one of the traditional paths toward earning credentials, acting as a symbol of acquired knowledge, a motivator and a means to enter and navigate the employment sector.

I’m currently researching the future of credentials, considering, among many things, how credentials might change in terms of how they might be earned, how organizations might assess for credentials, and what new types of credentials may emerge.

graduationIn developing scenarios for the future of credentials, I’m exploring possibilities across three sectors: K-12 education, higher education and employment. Changes in any one of these sectors have the potential to affect the other sectors, and the dynamic interplay across the three sectors has the potential to disrupt credentials in their current form. Depending on what forces of change come to the fore, the future of education could involve new forms of credentials, could reflect changes to how we evaluate both existing and new forms of credentials, or could even reflect the granting of credentials by new players.

In researching such possibilities, I recently uncovered this signal of change: “Coursera Launches 18 New ‘Specializations’.” This article highlights Coursera’s skills-based programs, in which learners are required to apply the skills they gain in a course to real-world projects in order to receive a certificate for that course. Similarly, Udacity’s nanodegrees offer skills-based microcredentials with input from companies such as AT&T, Google and Salesforce.

Both Coursera’s new specializations and Udacity’s nanodegrees represent responses to what many have labeled a “skills gap,” or the perceived lack of skills in the eyes of employers among college graduates attempting to enter the employment sector. Could these signals suggest a shift towards a future in which the employment sector jumps from offering input on courses to becoming a direct source of credentials? What effects could such a move have on the K-12 and higher education sectors?

Questions like these point out the importance of exploring the future of credentials. They might seem like mere documents, but they reflect the intricate interplay between how we educate and work. If any of the sectors in question changes considerably, credentials could look very different than they do today. These changes to credentials could impact what learning and employment look like in the future.

What do you think the future of credentials might involve? What will it look like? I hope you will join me as I continue to explore what the future of credentials might involve.


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A menu of opportunities: Education with your own flavor

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-11-20 09:44

coffee menuTall, caramel macchiato topped with a half inch of foam.

Grande iced peppermint mocha with whip and chocolate drizzle.

Venti soy chai tea with a shot of espresso.

Starbucks baristas whip up hundreds of thousands of drinks every day, specially ordered by and made for unique customers. Each of us is able to choose the exact drink combination that satisfies our distinctive taste palettes and it makes our days a little better – and more caffeinated.

What if the education system offered something similar to learners and parents, replacing the coffee and tea with educational opportunities?

If the future of education were to provide a “menu” of opportunities, learners would be able to choose between many kinds of learning experiences and providers. They would choose to learn in a park, museum or classroom. They would be supported, not only by teachers, but by professionals, mentors, civic leaders and other learning agents throughout the community.

The idea behind offering multiple educational opportunities is no different than a providing a menu of drink and flavor options. In the end, it all focuses on who matters most. For Starbucks, the customer. For education, the learner.

Behar and ST teamYesterday, StriveTogether had the privilege of meeting with Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company North America and Starbucks Coffee International. Howard, now an author, is invested in improving education in his home state of Washington and throughout the country.

The StriveTogether team talked with Howard about leadership, education and life in general. But perhaps the greatest takeaway was focusing on who matters most.

“I had a wonderful career that was kind of accidental in a way,” Howard said to the team. “I was one of those places that fit me like a glove. But it was more about the people than the coffee. I don’t care what you do – make coffee, create widgets, work in education – it’s about serving the people who need us. That’s what it’s really about.”

Let’s build a future of learning that offers a menu of opportunities. Let’s focus on each individual learner. And no matter what your role in education, let’s serve the students who need us most.


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Reading List: Cold Weather Edition

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-11-12 13:47

The best thing about winter? It is once again socially acceptable to stay home, sprawl on the couch, and read the weekend away. Now that the weather has finally decided to turn itself towards winter, reading lists are a must. I’ve only just begun to follow the world of education non-fiction, but after devouring a few enthralling books (thank you, Amanda Ripley and Paul Tough), this is the season when I commit to fully diving in. Here are my picks for the next few months. I can’t wait to hear what I’m missing and what you think of these books!

allure of orderThe Allure of Order (Jal Mehta)

If I’m completely honest with you, I started this book with the intention of writing about it this fall. To my delight, it is a much heftier read than I had anticipated. Read if you have ever shaken your head or cheered along with today’s education reform movement and see that it’s not as modern as we may have thought.


teacher warsThe Teacher Wars (Dana Goldstein)

There has been lots of talk circulating about Goldstein’s tracing of the status of teachers throughout history. Like The Allure of Order, this book shows that there’s not much new under the sun. Read if you are a teacher, know a teacher, or ever had a teacher.


the testThe Test (Anya Kamenetz)

This book isn’t coming out until January, and the timing couldn’t be better. With the continued debate around who, what, where, when, why, and how to test, I’m hoping that this book offers insights into how we can limit test-mania without sacrificing the spotlight on equity that tests can offer. Read if you want to better understand the testing debate and potential solutions to over-testing.

no struggle no progressNo Struggle, No Progress (Howard Fuller)

This book is best introduced with an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s speech that gave this book its title: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.” Read if you’ve ever felt discouraged when working for positive changes.

building a better teacherBuilding a Better Teacher (Elizabeth Green)

In her recent book, Elizabeth Green runs with the idea that great teachers are made, not born. Having taught for a few years, I would argue that good teaching can be learned, but it takes a certain amount of natural talent. Read if you’ve ever contemplated the seeming unattainable power of the best teachers.


If you’ve read any of these books, let me know what you thought of them in the comments below. I’m also always taking recommendations, so let me know what my list is missing!


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Teaching for Competency Education and Beyond

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-11-11 16:13

How might adults support learning in an expanded learning ecosystem in which highly personalized learning environments could become the norm?future of teaching title

In October, I presented a session on this topic at Grantmakers for Education’s annual conference with KnowledgeWorks colleagues Lillian Pace and Matt Williams and education systems change facilitator Richard DeLorenzo. Our session took a look at possibilities by exploring four scenarios on the future of teaching, lessons learned from helping school districts foster systemic change toward competency education, and policy opportunities that support a new vision for competency-based educator preparation and development.

As the learning ecosystem expands, there is the potential for teachers to provide radically personalized learning for all young people via customized pathways. But, as my baseline scenario for the future of teaching, “A Plastic Profession,” highlights, realizing that potential is far from given. If we fail to change the public education system’s current focus on narrow measures of student and teacher performance and continue to face both daunting fiscal challenges as well as heightened political activity in the absence of ESEA’s reauthorization, teachers could end up functioning as production line supervisors instead of creative professionals.

The small groups that explored this scenario during the conference session saw nothing positive about it. Indeed, the general sentiment was that we would need to meet at the bar if such a future came to pass.

But that scenario represents our current trajectory. So what will we do to change it?

Participants also expressed concern about an alternative scenario in which learning agents in informal and community-based learning environments could form a supplemental profession that was largely disconnected from the formal K-12 system. The existence of these learning agents wasn’t the problem; the disconnection from public education was.

That scenario could emerge if we do little to change the current public education system and fail to build bridges among different types of learning environments. So how will we avert it?

In my ideal future, learning agents working in diverse roles support rich, relevant, and authentic learning in multiple settings, and the entire learning ecosystem has evolved to be oriented around learners instead of institutions. Participants in the session didn’t find that scenario to be automatically unproblematic either; for such a learning ecosystem to work well for all learners, they said, we would need new forms of quality assurance. I think that we would also need community ownership of learning and other supporting systemic structures along the lines of the levers for transformation that I describe in my recent innovation pathways paper.

So that future requires some big leaps. But can we get there? What will it take to create a highly personalized learning ecosystem that truly reflects the interests of and supports all learners? Are we willing to transform learning?


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Sharing educational insight at iNACOL annual symposium

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-11-10 11:17

More than 2,500 experts and educational leaders explored the next-generation of learning at iNACOL Symposiumthis year’s iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium in California throughout last week. Attendees learned and shared about K-12 online, blended and competency-based learning throughout the country and world.

Throughout the week, our policy team shared insight into three important, innovative educational topics:

  1. Collective Impact | Collective Impact has emerged as an innovative way to align resources and individuals toward common goals. KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams shared collective impact insights in the panel “Smart Cities: Sparking an Urban Education Revolution.”

    The panel explored how to scale and implement blended learning and form city-wide partnerships. Matt’s insights were based on the work of our subsidiary, StriveTogether, and our aligned policy work both in Washington D.C. and throughout the country, as well as KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy Lillian Pace’s federal policy guide for collective impact.

  2. Competency Education | In switching to a competency-based education system, a highly trained and engaged educator workforce will be the single-most important driver. Today, Matt co-presented a session with iNACOL’s Maria Worthen titled, “Laying the Foundation for Competency Education: Policies to Support a Next-Generation Educator Workforce.”

    Based on Maria and Lillian’s recently released paper, the session explored necessary changes to pre-service preparation, certification, professional development and evaluation programs to ensure educators have the support needed to make this transition. The session also discussed current policy barriers and shared federal and state policy recommendations to support educators in the shift to competency.

  3. Personalized Learning | Personalized learning focuses on each student’s individual strengths and needs. Matt and KnowledgeWorks Director of State Advocacy and Research Jesse Moyer explored school and district conditions needed for personalized learning in their Friday session, “District Conditions for Success.

    ”Based on an extensive listening tour with school and district leaders who are leading personalized learning movements and a new publication titled, “District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning,” Matt and Jesse will share insight into the conditions for success that a district should put in place to support the scaling of innovative learning environments throughout the K-12 school district.

Follow Matt (@mattawilliams), Jesse (@jessemoyer) and Lillian (@lillianpace) on Twitter, or join the conversation with #iNACOL14.


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TEDxColumbus: The Future of Learning through Katherine Prince’s eyes

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-11-05 16:04

Our co-worker Katherine Prince, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight, has an adorable, three-year-old daughter named

While Chloe obsesses over her Disney princess nightgown, her Wonder Woman costume and all things pink and purple, she also loves construction equipment, buses, tractors and anything with an engine. Chloe spends her days at preschool, where the curriculum is relatively interest-based.

But Katherine is concerned about the future of Chloe’s education. Will the education system, as it stands today, be able to foster her and every child’s creativity and provide positive learning experiences while also catering to her unique learning style and needs?

This Friday, at TEDxColumbus, Katherine will share her vision for radically personalized learning that supports all students in pursuing their needs, interests and goals. Based on her work with the future of learning, as well as her insights from motherhood, Katherine will paint a picture of what her ideal future of learning looks like. It will include a wide array of learning opportunities that aren’t based solely in the classroom, but take place when and where each student learns best.

Really, Katherine’s inspiring vision for a vibrant learning ecosystem gives an aspirational view of what our organization is collectively working for: A future that promises every child the best chance at success by adapting learning to individuals rather than orienting it around the inertia of institutions.

Send Katherine a ‘congrats’ or ‘good luck’ through Twitter, @katprince, and tune in to the live stream of the TEDxColumbus education lineup at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7.


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Partisan Fear

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-11-04 10:14

Strongly held beliefs. We all have them. It’s one of the things human are best at – holding on tightest to what we care about most. Even those of us who are very open to hearing differing view points, my wife will tell you I am NOT one of those people, have things they hold dear.

That’s why the strategic foresight design session I attended a few weeks ago – hosted by Katherine Prince, Jason Swanson and Andrea Saveri – flipped such a profound light on for me. During the session, Andrea talked about the concept of an adaptive cycle and its impact on the education ecosystem. Basically, the adaptive cycle examines how the traditional system goes through a four-step process (reorganization, exploitation, conservation and release) in order to break down to make way for a newer, more effective education system. You can read more on her blog if interested. One could argue that the current system is somewhere between reorganization and exploitation. Now, I don’t know about you but hearing words like reorganization and exploitation related to our education system felt really uncomfortable to me.

That’s when the light went on. It’s not just our education system that is going through a fundamental change; it’s our world. Between ISIS, Ebola, our economy and the many other societal disruptions I could name, our current world is the definition of a VUCA world. Such a world is uncomfortable. It is unpredictable. And, maybe most of all, it’s scary.

As I was thinking about all of this, I began thinking about what I do when faced with an uncomfortable, unpredictable, scary situation. I hang on very tightly to what I know best – my strongly held beliefs. Because policy; and, by extension, policymakers; are never far from my mind I began thinking about their role in our world. Given everything they are required to deal with, is it any wonder our politicians are more polarized and partisan than ever? They’re dealing with threats never realized by humankind before. They’re probably scared and uncomfortable, just like me. Just like you. Why wouldn’t they hold tightly to those strongly held beliefs?

While no one is more frustrated with broke-down Congress and policymakers in general than me, maybe we should give these men and woman a break. Maybe, just maybe, they’re scared, like we are. And maybe, just maybe, they’re holding on to what they know best, just like we do. Maybe the partisanship isn’t driven money, or wanting to be right. Maybe, just maybe, it’s driven by fear.

We have the chance to overcome that fear. We can get involved in our communities. We can be more informed. We can vote. In overcoming our fears and getting involved, we can help usher in the future of our neighborhoods, of education and of the country.


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Congratulations to Akron – Talent Dividend Prize Winner

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-11-03 08:00

Numbers illustrate a story and in Akron, that story is one of well-earned success. From 2010 to 2013, Akron had an increase of more than 20 percent in the number of students earning associate, bachelor’s or advanced degrees from 2010 to 2013. That accomplishment was by a $1-million prize in the Talent Dividend Prize competition, a contest sponsored by CEOs for Cities and Living Cities to raise the number of students earning college degrees across the nation.

Increasing students earning college degrees helps with the success of individuals and communities, but also with our country as a whole. President Obama issued a challenge to our nation: that by 2020, America would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Cities like Akron are showing us how it can be done.

At KnowledgeWorks, we’ve been fortunate to work alongside education and business leaders in Akron, Ohio, for nearly a decade with our EDWorks early college program and StriveTogether cradle to career collective impact initiative.

Akron Early College High School (AECHS) was one of the first early colleges with which EDWorks partnered and that school has gone on to be one of the best in the state of Ohio.  The school helps make the dream of a college education a reality for many first-generation college goers. Many students graduate with both a high school diploma and associate degree and they all have the experience and skills necessary to successfully transition to college.

The Akron community knows that getting students to college completion starts long before high school. We are inspired by their commitment to post-secondary degree attainment, as well as their focus on improving academic outcomes across the entire cradle to career spectrum.

The Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education (NOCHE), the organization who competed for the Talent Dividend Prize, will share the funding with multiple partners in the Greater Akron area, including Summit County Education Initiative, the local cradle to career partnership and member of the nationwide StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.

“We must continue to focus on preparing our citizens for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” said Roy Church, President of Lorain County Community College and Vice Chairman of NOCHE in a press release about the award. “Although this particular award focuses on college degree attainment, there is no question that success starts in early childhood and continues throughout your working career. That is why NOCHE is expanding its future work to reflect a cradle-to-career emphasis.”

Congratulations to the Akron community! We look forward to seeing what you do next!


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Dave Grohl, Creative Discomfort, and What that Could Mean for Schools

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2014-10-31 15:16

Foo Fighters albumRecently, Fast Company Create posted a great piece by Rae Ann Fera that provided an inside look at how Foo Fighters recorded their latest album Sonic Highways. The piece focuses on how creative discomfort fueled the band’s latest album and film project. For a band that has been together for twenty years, recording an album can become formulaic both in process and sound. Foo Fighters have never been conventional when it comes to the recording process. They have recorded in studios on both coasts, in basements, in garages and the first album was famously recorded by the front man Dave Grohl all by himself in a week.

Sonic Highways takes the recording journey literally and in the form of a love letter to the history of American music. The thrust of the project is to record each track for the new album in a different studio in a different influential music city (Austin, Nashville, D.C., Seattle, Chicago, etc.), and allow the unique vibe, local musicians, influence the song-writing process. And in true Grohl fashion, film it all. Grohl took on the distinct roles of historian, journalist, filmmaker and, of course, musician, as he documented each city’s unique music history, interviewed local music greats and unknowns, and wrote a new Foo Fighters’ song in a new studio all in a week. Grohl says the following of the process:

“We didn’t write the lyrics until the very last day of each session because I wrote them around all of these people’s stories. So we’d go into a city for a week, we’d begin recording, and I’d go do interviews and by the last day I’d have all of my transcripts, take them back to the hotel and pick out words, phrases and sentences and put them in my journal.”

The process that Foo Fighters undertook is one full of exploration, assimilation, hyper-focus and creativity. The latter and the key ingredient is it wasn’t a project designed to have Foo Fighters travel to New Orleans and play a jazz song or play a blues tune in Chicago. The project was to analyze the history, roots, and musicians of a given locale, evaluate their attributes, distinct qualities, and then create a new Foo Fighters’ song. It was to use the top of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy for Educational Objectives.

These are lessons for schools and learning. Sure we can’t have kids travel to Electrical Audio in Chicago, or Robert Lang Studios in Seattle or even Washington, D.C.’s Inner Ear Studios but they can execute on a multi-step project that drives towards creation. But we can create projects where students play multiple roles, just as Grohl did, to build the understanding, apply that knowledge, analyze the data, evaluate the next steps, and create. Creativity isn’t rote. Creativity isn’t about coloring inside the lines, because there are no lines. Creativity is about pushing the edges and it can cause discomfort (both for the student and teacher).

But we learn when pushed and when challenged, and, more often than not, we rise to the occasion and create something new. We create something distinctly ours.

In 2013, Grohl gave the keynote address at South by Southwest in Austin. He closed with the following, which is his goal for his children and one that should be the goal for all of our children regardless if they are artistic or not. Creativity should not be confined to just the arts, the creative process should be a process used daily in schools:

As a proud father, I pray that someday that they are left to their own devices, that they realize that the musician comes first, and that THEY find THEIR VOICE … THEY become someone’s Beatles, and that THEY incite a riot, or an emotion, or start a revolution, or save someone’s life. That THEY become someone’s hero.


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Big Data Backlash

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-10-30 14:09

geoff zimmerman

Geoff Zimmerman, StrivePartnership


Aimee Guidera, Data Quality Campaign


Doug Levin, SETDA


Hanna Doerr, San Francisco Education Fund






Last week I led and facilitated a session at the Grantmakers for Education’s (GFE) annual conference in Miami. The session was sponsored by GFE’s Education Policy Working Group and was titled, “Policy Update: Big Data Backlash – Better and Safer Data Use in Education.”

The seminar featured an impressive panel of experts including: Aimee Guidera, Director, Data Quality Campaign; Doug Levin, Executive Director of SETDA; Hanna Doerr, San Francisco Education Fund; and my colleague, Geoff Zimmerman, StrivePartnership in Cincinnati. The seminar served as an opportunity to tackle data privacy and security concerns as they impact different sections of the education pipeline, including early education, K-12 and postsecondary education. We also examined data privacy from three different locus of control: federal, state and local levels.

The topic of data, both usage and privacy, has become a hot and controversial topic over the course of the past several years. Data usage and sharing is being spurred on by important improvements and innovations in education, such as: e-transcripts that can chart instructional and learning alignment between grades and segments across the education continuum; sophisticated student tracking and advising systems; Common Core and aligned assessments; and personalized learning structures including competency-based education. Many people, including me, view intentional data usage as the foundation for innovating our out-moded education system. Through real-time data, our system might become more nimble and responsive to all learners.  However, the policy environment (post In-Bloom) is turbulent for policymakers, advocates and philanthropists who are interested in supporting this important aspect of education reform.

While the seminar did not produce a definitive answer or even consensus going forward it did produce a few pieces of “data” that provided a few brief take-aways:

First, we have a trust issue in education. This manifests in public versus private, state versus federal, districts versus state and federal, “reformers” versus unions, etc. These trust issues undercut our ability to effectively use data and taint the lenses by which we examine data.

Second, Doug Levin offered that we have gone through three big shifts recently: Big data, the cloud and engagement.

Third, Aimee Guidera offered that quality, effective data usage can lead to personalized learning. It can also empower people with information (parents, teachers, policymakers, etc.), while leading to greater efficiencies.

In an effort to keep the conversation going, I leave you with two questions I asked the panel:

  1. Why is student-level data critical to education transformation?
  2. What does responsible use of education data look like?  How can school districts and their partners promote better and safer data use in education?

I look forward to your thoughts.


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When discussing preschool, quality is key

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-10-29 09:27

Last week I posted, as an Education Insider for the National Journal, the following in reaction to Fawn Johnson’s excellent post, If Everyone Wants Preschool, Why Isn’t It Growing?” on the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog. Fawn put forth a well-researched and thoughtful post on the push for universal preschool and all of the questions tied to that important conversation. The Education Insiders were asked to deal with the following questions:

For our insiders: What catalyst is needed to dramatically grow preschool enrollment? Why has it stalled? What can state and city governments do to increase enrollment? Does it matter what kind of preschool kids enroll in? Should preschool enrollment be required, as K-12 is? Should lower-income households get priority when preschool slots are limited?supplemental profession

In many ways, I went another way and focused in on increasing quality preschool. My response follows:

The key question with regards to preschool, I believe, is the question of quality. Low quality preschool does not produce the kind of results that we need for our children. Some of the key elements of quality include:  Low student-to-teacher ratios, trained/credentialed staff, and use of evidence-based curriculum. However, high quality preschool is expensive. Any new investment in preschool, especially from a state or federal level, should be focused on the factors to increase quality.

To help preschool programs improve in quality, reimbursement rates need to better reflect the cost of providing high quality care. Chronically low reimbursement rates for child care providers continue to destabilize services and hamper programs’ ability to attain and sustain high quality ratings, as well as retain and improve their staff.  Furthermore, long-term sustainable funding is critical. Just like K-12 schools, preschools have to make investments to improve their quality and build capacity, including hiring more, better-trained educators. Preschools will be much more apt to invest in quality and capacity of their educators if there is a sustainable flow of children enrolling in their programs year to year and if there is no worry about the funding that supports these investments being cut in the next short term budget cycle.

This longer-term investment helps provide financial security for a sustained programmatic focus secure a sustained focus on increasing the capacity of educators in preschools. Efforts like the Denver Preschool Program and the proposed Cincinnati Preschool Promise help the drive towards quality by providing preschools with dedicated funds for quality improvement. By incentivizing parents to choose high quality programs, these programs create a demand in the market for high quality preschool.

Access must be universal, not targeted. A 2004 NIEER study found universal programs often have larger effects and are likely to be more effective at identifying and reaching all targeted children, since there are no eligibility cutoffs and thus no stigma attached. The study notes that kindergarten readiness is not just a struggle for low-income children. Many middle income children lag behind their wealthy peers in social and cognitive skills and need access to quality preschool to close those gaps. This is one of the many reasons that it is essential to increase the access to quality full day, full year preschool, especially for low-income working families.  Public funding, is an important component, and must be adequate to support this need. However, a mixed market model with public and private options, including both public school preschool and community-based child care (these options include Head Start slots) are components to building a system that is focused on quality options for all of our children.



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