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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Educating all students at the highest level, no matter how difficult

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-10-28 14:09

Recently, Education Next, published quarterly by the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is also sponsored by Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, examined how the Common Core State Standards might impact high school diplomas in the coming years in a piece titled, “Rethinking the High School Diploma.” Through this series, the three authors called for a two-tiered high school diploma. The authors of the essays were Chester E. Finn, Jr., distinguished senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Richard D. Kahlenberg, author of the definitive autobiography of Albert Shanker; and Sandy Kress, advisor to President George W. Bush on the No Child Left Behind Act.High school students at graduation

To establish context for the pieces written by Finn, Kahlenburg, and Kress, here is the online introduction to the essays:

“As states move to implement the Common Core State Standards, key challenges remain. One is how to make sure a high school diploma acknowledges what students have achieved. Should states adopt a two-tiered diploma, in which students who pass internationally aligned Common Core exams at a career- and college-ready level receive an “academic” diploma, while students who fail to meet that bar receive a “basic” diploma? Yes, say three prominent thinkers who have long wrestled with questions of standards, testing, equity, and excellence.”

I wanted to make sure there was context for the authors’ collective call for a two-tiered diploma. This, admittedly, is a difficult issue to wrestle with because it touches on many of the bedrock notions of today’s education policy. Even though the essays are collectively well argued and well written, this is fundamentally a policy idea that I do not support for four specific reasons.

1. Equity: First and foremost, in the United States we need to have a system of education based on providing equity for all. It is, in my mind, the principal role of the federal government is education, since it is the only real silver bullet for defeating poverty in our country. Furthermore, Finn offers, “I expect howls of protest from those who cannot accept anything more than a single standard for all.” To be a competitive nation in today’s economy we need all of our students on track to be college and career ready. It is important to note that Kahlenburg at least offers that we need to “support low-income and minority students to earn stronger diplomas. Any system involving multiple diplomas raises a very legitimate concern: will low-income and minority students disproportionately receive a less-well-regarded degree?” He is correct. We need to make sure that we have the right supports in place for all students but especially low-income, minority populations.

Kress writes, “States should adopt a two-tiered diploma system, in which students who have demonstrated college and career readiness receive a ’diploma plus’ and other graduating high-school students receive a diploma of the sort typically granted today.” I understand where he is coming from. The new standards are more difficult and we should reward those students that achieve at higher levels. I don’t disagree with the sentiment but what is proposed would lead to tracking of students towards a college and career ready diploma and others into a lesser valued, basic diploma. This is essentially two separate systems with unequal outcomes. It is important to note that this is not about political correctness but rather about what’s right for our children and our nation. Higher educational standards are about raising the bar for all students, not just some.

2. High-standard implementation: A two-tiered diploma system undermines the implementation of high standards for all students. Finn argues, “The Common Core is supposed to solve that problem by producing generations of high school graduates who are truly college ready. How can that happen unless the K–12 system radically alters what high school diplomas signify?” This does not make sense to me. We honestly do not know yet what type of high school graduates the Common Core or other high standards (e.g. VA and TX) will create. We can hypothesize, and I think correctly, that we will have higher achieving, better prepared graduates but we are still early in the process. Finn continues, “What to do? In my view, states have no alternative, for the foreseeable future, to issuing (at least) two kinds of diplomas. The one with the gold star will signal college readiness, Common Core style. The other one will signal much the same as today’s conventional diploma, mainly that one has passed a set of mandatory courses to the satisfaction of those teaching them.” But this undermines the underpinnings of implementing high standards for all. With a two-tier system it quickly becomes high standards for some. Yes, it’s demanding. Yes, it is hard (an argument advanced by Diane Ravitch last year). But it is again the right thing to do and a two-tier system undercuts the purpose of implementing high standards as well as the good work being done by teachers across the country.

3. Implementation timing: Fundamentally, it is too early in the implementation of higher standards for all to wave the white flag. Kress writes, “The current diploma in most states today is not designed to assure or signify, nor does it come close to assuring or signifying, college and career readiness.” He goes on to say that we know this from data on remediation rates in colleges and universities, surveys of employers, etc. Finn also argues, “Today, far less than half of U.S. 12th graders are “college ready.” (Never mind those who have already dropped out of high school.) The National Assessment Governing Board estimates not quite 40 percent are college ready. The ACT folks estimate 26 percent are college ready across the four subjects that comprise their suite of questions.” They are both correct but these are the arguments that were used to implement the Common Core and increase standards in Texas and Virginia. The standards (Common Core or otherwise) are still in the early stages of implementation. To say that these higher standards are not yet reaping benefits is short-sighted at best and illogical at worst. We know that when standards are first rolled out, test scores dip; but with refined implementation, data analysis, and curriculum alignment, scores begin to take off.

4. Global competitiveness: A two-tiered high school diploma weakens our nation’s global competitiveness. Kress correctly argues, “the future of our young people and indeed the economy of our nation require that an ever-increasing number of our graduates exit high school ready for college and career. We have considerable data on the knowledge and skills now generally required to get the better-paying, fast-growing jobs in the economy.” However, a two-tiered diploma system would actually undermine our nation’s ability to be globally competitive. We know that for our nation to be even more competitive globally (both educationally and economically), we need more graduates that are college and career ready. We know that we need more low-income, minority students graduating college and career ready. We are shifting, in many parts of this country, to a minority majority. The demographic shift along with the move to college and career ready standards begins to put the right pieces in place for the United States to address both the achievement gap as well as the global gap. A two-tiered system undercuts that traction and our ability, as a nation, to compete globally.

I appreciate the views of the authors and their courage to put forth a controversial idea. I believe that a two-tiered system would be easier and more expedient (both in practice and policy) but it would dramatically undercut our ability to educate all our students at the highest level and undermine our collective global competitiveness.


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