Over the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about why I went into the field of education. This is the type of reflection that typically happens around my birthday. The whole, “Why am I here and what the heck am I really doing?”
My answer was swift and to the point, “Education is a human right. It has the power to transform lives, lift people out of current circumstances, and propel human progress. Education is the life-blood of humanity.” To be clear, that is the power of education, not me. I’m just a guy that does some things from time to time.
However, the true power of life and of education came into even greater focus when Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and a teenager, became the youngest ever to win a Nobel Prize at age 17. I had known about her story, certainly, but given my life ponderings it was a powerful reminder of the transformative nature of education.
For those that are not familiar with her story, Malala is known for human rights and education advocacy in her home region of Pakistan where the local Taliban had, at times, banned girls from attending school. Malala’s advocacy has since grown into an inspirational, international movement. In early 2009, when she was 11 or 12, she wrote a blog, using a pseudonym, for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule, their attempts to take control, and her views on educating girls. This advocacy led to a New York Times documentary about her life, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu, and was awarded the National Youth Peace Prize. However, in October 2012, Malala boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani district of Swat. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. Malala, ever the fighter, survived as did her message of the power of education. She was quoted as saying, “I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”
With that poignant reminder of education as a basic right, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of England, launched a UN petition in Malala’s honor demanding the following:
- We call on Pakistan to agree to a plan to deliver education for every child.
- We call on all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls.
- We call on international organizations to ensure the world’s 61 million out-of-school children are in education by the end of 2015.
This petition helped shape the ratification of Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill. Malala’s message not only changed opportunities for her home region but all of Pakistan and potentially the world.
We have universal, public education in the United States. However, we take it for granted and we struggle mightily to reach all children. We are still leaving children behind each and every day. We see bright eyes dim just as we see lives transformed. We see students fall deeper into the grips of poverty just as we see students graduate to become the first in their family to walk across a stage to earn a degree. We have an uneven dream in our country. Augustine once wrote, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are and the courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” 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.
Did you know the United States spends more educating its citizens than any other developed nation, yet we continue to fall in the middle of the pack on every international measure of academic performance? Some might use this as a rallying call to invest even more in the system. At KnowledgeWorks, we believe in a better solution– scale collective impact so every community in the nation can build the civic infrastructure necessary to support and sustain impactful education reform!
Last week, at StriveTogether’s annual convening in San Diego , KnowledgeWorks released “Improving Student Outcomes through Collective Impact: A Guide for Federal Policymakers.” This guide provides an overview of the emerging collective impact movement and a series of policy recommendations to bring this work to scale. My colleague, Jeff Edmondson (the Managing Director of StriveTogether) and I decided to write this guide after witnessing more than 50 communities in StriveTogether’s network use the collective impact approach to move the needle on challenging education outcomes — without investing new resources in the system. Collective impact has the potential to revolutionize the way the nation approaches education reform, accelerating student success, closing achievement gaps, and expanding educational opportunity at every stage of the education pipeline.
As the largest investor in the nation’s education system, the federal government is in a unique position to bring collective impact to scale. Our guide encourages policymakers to take three simple steps:
1. Leverage resources for education reform by aligning all federal education place-based grants with local collective impact efforts and base eligibility for federal grants on where a community is on its path to reform.
2. Ensure that federal grants for place-based work help communities make strategic investments to further quality collective impact.
3. Establish a set of six essential outcome areas, or academic points along the education continuum, that will guide selection, monitoring and evaluation of all federal education place-based grants. The six essential recommended outcome areas include: Kindergarten Readiness, Early Grade Reading, Middle Grade Math, High School Graduation, Postsecondary Enrollment and Postsecondary Completion.
Our country will not maintain its international competitiveness if it continues to fund piecemeal strategies that lack stakeholder buy-in at the local, state and federal levels. A comprehensive approach will help stakeholders identify challenges and shift resources behind the strategies with the greatest potential to make a difference in the lives of America’s students.
Throughout this year, StriveTogether and its collective impact approach have gained national attention from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the U.S. Department of Education and the White House.
And yesterday, U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed collective impact with StriveTogether during the Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact webinar.
“We recognize that there are other things that get in the way of children being ready to learn … and that by bringing these resources and assets together, we can dramatically improve the effectiveness and impact of each one of them,” Shelton said during the webinar. “That’s why this work has become so important. It recognizes the integrated nature of these challenges and how we need to work together to solve these challenges.”
The webinar proved that collective impact is quickly becoming a well-known method in aligning programs and dollars around measurable goals to support every child through school. StriveTogether’s unique approach focuses on rigor, structure and accountability to build civic infrastructure in communities. Cradle to Career Network partnerships work to advance common educational goals in their communities, while following the Theory of Action to advance their work on the ground.
“All the communities doing My Brother’s Keeper and other federal initiatives like it are going to need to do rigorous collective impact if they’re going to get it right,” Shelton said during the webinar.
He also noted that communities should share the barriers they face in the collective impact work and how the federal government can help overcome them.
“The smarter we get about how to blend funding streams, the more sustainable this work to build on what works will become. … We need to make sure we structure programs at the federal level to support collective impact and the infrastructure these communities are building,” Shelton said during the webinar.
Next week, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy Lillian Pace and StriveTogether Managing Director Jeff Edmondson will release a paper, “Improving Student Outcomes through Collective Impact: A Guide for Federal Policymakers.” The paper focuses on the StriveTogether collective impact approach, the potential for impacting federal education reform, and recommendations for the federal government in aligning resources to support the work.
Webinar panelists also included Living Cities President Ben Hecht, All Hands Raised CEO Dan Ryan and The Commit! Partnership Executive Director Todd Williams. Both All Hands Raised and The Commit! Partnership are a part of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.
For more takeaways from the Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact, check out the Striving Together blog.
My hot coffee sat in front of me, a promising start to any morning, as I cracked open the local paper. “Worn out on tests?” the front page read. “Graduation exams triple for Ohio freshmen.”
Reading past the first paragraph, I quickly learned that Ohio is abandoning the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) for freshmen this year. Instead of five OGT exams needed to graduate, the state will require students to take Next Generation Assessments, or “end-of-course” exams. It will increase the number of exams from five to seven, with two parts for each subject.
According to my math, this means our freshmen will now be facing 14 exams, almost three times the number in previous years.
But is this what’s best for students?
We need to take a step back. We must consider what is best for every student to succeed in college, career and beyond. We need to refocus our education system on personalized learning and competency education, ensuring every student graduates with the knowledge and skills to think critically, intelligently and innovatively.
As a high schooler, I was never fond of standardized tests. I still remember the dread of waking up in the morning of testing days, already anxious for the Scantron-filled hours ahead. Sitting silently in rows of desks, rushing to beat the clock, extra #2 pencils within my reach— it just wasn’t (and still isn’t) my learning style. But when teachers set up more creative working environments, I thrived.
During sophomore year, my English teacher assigned “Catcher in the Rye” and gave us three post-book project options. I chose to create a CD mixed by Holden Caulfield with a corresponding paper that explained the song choices through his voice. It wasn’t a multiple-choice test, verifying we remembered that Holden attended and was expelled from Pencey Prep. Rather, it creatively proved our comprehension and understanding of a complex character in a timeless novel.
This is how we create relevancy for today’s students (maybe using an iPhone instead of a CD). Not days filled with standardized state testing, but days filled with creative, stimulating learning environments, including performance assessments to promote deeper learning that revolves around what is best for each student.
At KnowledgeWorks, this is what we strive for: An extensive learning ecosystem that puts the student at the center. By partnering with schools and communities throughout the country, pushing for policy change on a statewide and national level, as well as forecasting future learning trends, we challenge communities and educators to imagine school in a new way: a way that allows each student to thrive.
Because every student, no matter what, deserves the opportunity to succeed. It’s our job to create highly personalized, healthy learning environments that encourage, challenge and support each individual student every step of the way.
Working to prepare our Next Generation of Globally-Minded Citizens: Mulder Appointed to Center for International Understanding Board
Congrats to Cris Mulder, our Vice President of Communications and Marketing, for her recent board appointment to the Center for International Understanding at the University of North Carolina.
Mulder will bring a broad array of experience, from public to private sector both internationally and nationally, to the CIU’s Board of Directors.
“It’s imperative that we prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to work within and amongst a global society, and that we broaden the perspectives of our leaders in schools, communities and businesses with a global competency,” said Mulder. “I am honored to join the CIU board and look forward to sharing my experiences and contributing to the future direction and work in preparing our next generation of globally-minded citizens.”
CIU serves North Carolina, Mulder’s home state, by promoting awareness, expanding understanding and empowering action through global education. As part of the University of North Carolina, the center offers programs for business, policy and education leaders to help North Carolina’s international efforts in becoming more engaged on the global stage.
“Cris brings a wealth of international experiences and perspectives, combined with her communications and marketing background that will help guide our efforts to support North Carolina’s global engagement at all levels,” CIU Interim Executive Director Jim Fain said. “Her knowledge, skills and diverse backgrounds will enhance our education and business partnerships and infuse our work with energy and valuable new ideas.”
Last week I posted, as an Education Insider for the National Journal, the following in reaction to Fawn Johnson’s excellent post, “Teaching the Digital Native”, on the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog:
Fawn Johnson put forth a well-researched and thoughtful post on Teaching the Digital Native. She does a great job of dealing with the technology questions that are significant. She also does a great job of dealing with the technology questions that are significant. Yes, we need more broadband; high-speed internet is a must; professional development and supports for teachers must improve significantly; pedagogy must improve so device integration can move beyond just an expensive spiral notebook; and bring-your-own device policies need to be embraced, as well.
There is significant work to do to properly, responsibly and effectively integrate technology into the daily teaching and learning for all students. I’m going to take a different path with my comments. Part of teaching a digital native moves beyond technology. These students are gamers. From the moment they could turn on a device they were gaming. Gaming provides a clear progression through levels with measurable objectives. This has a wiring effect on the way they think and it doesn’t line up with the way we do “school.”
Today’s students have grown up in a digital, gamified world from Wii, to Xbox, to World of Warcraft, to Minecraft, and beyond. 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. It is akin to progressing through levels by acquiring skills and building mastery. Check out the alignment between the definition of competency education as defined by iNACOL and the CCSSO:
- Students advance upon mastery, not seat time.
- Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
- Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
- Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
- Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.
By integrating these five elements, competency education ensures that each student graduates with the knowledge and skills he or she needs to be successful in college and career. This approach provides a stark contrast to today’s traditional system which advances students based on the amount of time spent in a class, not on mastery of critical content knowledge and skills. This emphasis on time-based policies often exacerbates significant learning gaps for many students.
Imagine the opportunities if we capitalized on the “gaming mentality” that our digital natives already possess. We might just have something if we gamified school, infused it with technology, and provided students with a clear, articulated path to mastery. Imagine the possibilities? Now that’s teaching the digital natives.
You don’t have to spend too much time in education to run into two often-frustrating facts:
- Too many children are being devastatingly failed by their schools and the system as a whole.
- Different people have radically different ideas of how to support the most vulnerable children in the system.
One second, I’m fired up about new ideas to improve students’ education experiences; the next, I remember that most victories have to be taken with a grain—or a heap?—of salt. It seems that there are always two sides to any set of data.
Enter various state actions to create new districts for turnaround schools: Louisiana’s Recovery School District, Tennessee’s Achievement School District, or Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority. Are they on their way to success? It looks like it if you’re reading this, this or this. But if you’re getting your information here, here or here, you may soon be convinced that these districts have achieved nothing but total failure.
While each argument does have compelling points to consider, education debate prefers to settle into a comfortable dichotomy of all or nothing, depending on who you like to follow on Twitter (Ravitch or Rhee, anyone?). When it comes to state interventions in Louisiana, Tennessee and Michigan, I tend to think that the smallest progress is a step towards success, while the true signs of victory or failure are further down the road. Of course a district of the lowest-performing schools will be a low-performing district. The real question is: What are the benchmarks for improvement, and are they being met?
A layer deeper into this discussion hits on how to measure the success of these districts. Most would agree that test scores, while valuable, should not be the sole measure. KnowledgeWorks has even started to dig into what a new and improved accountability system could look like to support a competency-based system, thinking through what indicators, academic and beyond, that best convey the success of a school.
One potential indicator for a better accountability system involves how families feel about the school. In a 2013 article from The Atlantic, Sarah Carr touches on the community response in Memphis to the takeover of a number of their schools. Like the academic results, the community response has been mixed, often due to alienation between communities and apparent outsiders coming in to run the schools. School leaders recognize their initial shortfalls in valuing their students’ communities, and like the academics, it remains to be seen whether the community aspect of these turnaround districts result in success or failure.
Will the Recovery School District, Achievement School District, Education Achievement Authority prove to be assets or detriments to the communities they serve? Given the schools’ poor performance leading to the formation of these districts and beyond, anything possible must be done to do better by kids. In her article, Carr says that “whether the ‘portfolio’ approach succeeds in Memphis in the long-term will likely depend on whether its backers can strike a balance between respect for localism and desire for results.” While only time will tell the success of state interventions in Memphis and beyond, shorter-term results should continue to be heeded to create the best possible education for the students involved.
What do you think about turnaround districts? How should we measure their success?
The KnowledgeWorks Policy and Strategic Foresight Team has expanded to include Jason Swanson as the Director of Strategic Foresight. Jason will be working with KnowledgeWorks to expand our research into the future of learning, authoring publications and delivering presentations to help plan for the future.
Hello world! I currently live in Pittsburgh, Pa., and I am a graduate of the University of Houston’s Masters of Foresight program, as well as an Emerging Fellow with the Association of Professional Futurists.
Prior to joining KnowledgeWorks, my background in strategic foresight has included working as a consulting Futurist, as well in the education system itself, working in a cyber-charter school. I have been fortunate to work on a wide variety of projects, from looking at the future of learning management systems, exploring what student needs will be like in the year 2025, all the way to thinking about what the future of user experience might be like, as well as scenarios focusing on the world economy.
I have a strong passion for studying the future, and believe that studying the future is empowering. By looking at change and thinking about how that might shape the future, we can move beyond simply letting the future happen to us, and to create the aspirational visions that we all hold. Being part of KnowledgeWorks allows me to share that passion with our educational stakeholders, helping to build a future of learning that is vibrant for every learner.
When I am not studying the future, I enjoy reading, movies, practicing martial arts, looking for new places to eat, and very occasionally trying to paint a picture.
This post is the last of five in a series exploring the future of teaching.
What might teaching look like in ten years if a diverse set of learning agent roles and activities supported rich, relevant and authentic learning in an expanded and highly personalized learning ecosystem that was vibrant for all learners? In this scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching – which represents my ideal future – such learning agents working in multiple settings and capacities could help ensure that all students have access to high-quality personalized learning.
My Ideal Future: Diverse Learning Agent Role
As the learning ecosystem expands and diversifies and the formal K-12 school system no longer dominates the learning landscape, many new learning agent roles emerge to support learning. Some learning agents support students in creating customized learning playlists that reflect their particular interests, goals and values. Other learning agents help students attain success within their chosen learning experiences. Learning agents operate both inside and outside traditional institutions, collaborating to adapt learning for each child and to support learners in demonstrating mastery. Some learning agent roles resemble the traditional teaching role, while others vary widely.
With “school” taking many more forms, educators trained in the industrial-era school system have redefined their roles to match their strengths, creating more differentiated and satisfying career paths. Professionals working in museums, libraries, art centers, scientific labs, hospitals and other settings have also recast their roles to reflect their organizations’ increasing contributions to learners’ playlists, including the playlists of learners in other communities. Some adults contribute to learning in part-time, even micro ways, either as part of diverse career portfolios or through mechanisms such as business-education partnerships.
Sophisticated learning analytic tools help learning agents target learning experiences and supports to match learners’ academic performance as well as their social and emotional conditions. In addition, new forms of infrastructure, such as data backpacks that follow the child and flexible funding streams, help learning agents collaborate across learning experiences and organizations where appropriate and help learners and their families manage and access their customized learning playlists.
With so many options for supporting learning, a diverse system of professional branding and validation has emerged to help ensure learning agent quality. Communities also play a vital role in creating vibrant local learning ecologies, in monitoring both learning agents’ contributions and learners’ success, and in helping learners access resources that are not available locally. Schools that receive public funding place particular emphasis on brokering learning opportunities so that all young people can benefit from the expansion of the learning ecosystem.
This is my ideal scenario for the future of teaching based on my understanding of the potential for education stakeholders to use future trends to transform today’s education system into a more distributed learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners. I recognize that it might not be yours. Indeed, your preferred future might contain elements of several of the scenarios I’ve developed or might draw upon different key drivers of change.
Whatever your ideal future of teaching, the important thing is to engage in strategic foresight – to step out of today’s reality long and far enough to plan for how you and your organization might make best use of future trends and to prepare for how you will meet your objectives and support learners no matter what the future of K-12 teaching ends up looking like.
For key drivers, signals of change, and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper. For job descriptions and videos illustrating possible future learning agent roles, see KnowledgeWorks’ learning in 2025 resources.
Lots of ESEA Waiver news bouncing around these days from Washington losing its waiver to the continual twists and turns with teacher evaluation (the principle reason that Washington lost its waiver). There is uneven implementation of states’ waivers across the country and what seems to be inconsistent monitoring and enforcement from the Department of Education. For example, Washington had its waiver revoked because of teacher evaluation issue and then the Department announced a more flexible timeline for implementation. This was also an issue that kept Illinois in waiver purgatory for nearly three years. To be fair to the Department, it is difficult to monitor nearly 50 separate state and district education systems versus enforcing one across the nation. But this was both a policy choice and political calculation by the Administration.
As a reminder, Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the waiver opportunity in a letter to state chiefs on September 23, 2011. He provided an overview of the progress that states had made over the past few years to enact reforms, launch innovations, assemble systems to turnaround low performing schools and evaluate teachers and leaders; and, of course, hailed the adoption of Common Core State Standards. With that, the Secretary built his arguments (pursuant to the authority in section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) for increased flexibility for states by laying out that many of the current innovations and reforms being put forth by states were not anticipated when NCLB was enacted nearly ten years before. Duncan went on to outline NCLB as a barrier to the transition to “college-and career-ready standards and assessments; developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; and evaluating and supporting teacher and principal effectiveness.” Thus making the argument not only for waivers but also for outlining the areas states would need to address in their applications.
While the waivers offered flexibility to states, there were issues as well. The top two Republicans in Congress on K-12 Policy – Rep. John Kline (R-MN) chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee – have called on the Government Accountability Office to examine the waivers. The Republican leaders added that they don’t have a clear grasp of how the department is implementing the program or how states have changed their laws to comply with the waivers or how states can modify or change their waiver plans as they implement and make course corrections. These are good questions. What processes are in place to make clear, consistent decisions to approve, deny, renew or revoke waivers? Sit in a room long enough with state chiefs and you will begin to see some of the inconsistencies.
Lately, the question of innovation has also been brought up. Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, Terry Holliday two weeks ago offered the following, “the current waiver process is stifling innovation and intruding on a state’s ability to implement state requirements contained in state legislation.” First, Commissioner Holliday is hardly a firebrand. Second, he is absolutely correct. Kentucky is one of the most innovative states in the country and it has struggled to align its state laws, waiver expectations, and its Districts of Innovation work. New Hampshire, a leader in competency based education, struggled to gain a waiver. Two other states, which are viewed as being innovative, Iowa (denied) and Vermont (withdrew), do not have waivers. The waivers had a promise of innovation. KnowledgeWorks put out ESEA waiver recommendations to assist states in capitalizing on the opportunity to think outside the box. Instead the waiver process has unfortunately become “innovation-in-a-box.”
The waivers have always been a slippery slope to some degree. This was pointed out both humorously and poignantly by my edu-friend Rick Hess back in 2011 in a post about an administration run by President (Gov.) Perry and his Secretary of Education (Rep.) Bachmann. Beyond the obvious satire and political ramifications of a waiver process, Rick hits on policy truth. I believe that the federal government’s role is to define the outcomes and allow states to achieve those outcomes. The level above should define the “what” and allow the level below, in this case the states, to define the “how.”
In the coming weeks and months, I will be examining the ESEA waivers in more depth via the World of Learning Blog. I believe that the President’s signature program may not be Race to the Top (RTTT), as we all thought, but in fact the ESEA Waivers. When the final chapter is written, the amount of funding behind the waivers will exceed the total for RTTT (think Title I, Title II, SIG, etc). Moreover, the significant opportunities and the equally significant challenges for ESEA Waivers will extend far beyond January of 2017.
This post is part four in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.
What might teaching look like in ten years if today’s public education system does not change significantly but professionals from other organizational contexts become increasingly involved in supporting young people in engaging in authentic and relevant learning opportunities outside of school? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching assumes that these adults could create a new learning agent network that remained largely separate from the teaching taking place in K-12 schools.
Alternative Future 2: A Supplemental Profession
With learning experiences proliferating across places and platforms, some through formal institutions and some through virtual and place-based networks, adults whose primary jobs lie outside the formal K-12 education system emerge as a new cadre of learning agents offering learning services and supports. These learning agents serve as facilitators of relatively structured learning experiences designed by their organizations and also as coaches, mentors, and guides of student-driven projects and inquiries.
Some of these adults develop hybrid careers where part of their compensation comes from their involvement in learning experiences. But for many, serving as a learning agent becomes a kind of professional volunteerism, a paying-it-forward dimension of their primary (paid) profession. Whether compensated or not, some of them pursue training in working with young people or supporting learning. However, very few of them acquire any sort of formal teaching credential, as those credentials remain oriented toward the needs of full-time educators rather than those of part-time learning agents.
In some instances, these learning agents collaborate with teachers in the formal K-12 education system; for example, when innovative school designs open the door for traditional classroom teaching to shift toward team collaboration or to morph more profoundly toward student-driven instruction. But in most cases, these learning agents form a supplemental profession that operates largely separate from traditional school systems, both because these learning agents have little incentive to push their way into those settings’ regimented, compliance-oriented structures and because those settings’ structures continue mainly to be designed around traditional disciplines, grade levels, and teaching roles.
However, as more ways of credentialing informal and community-based learning experiences emerge and gain acceptance, and as an increasing number of students seek to fulfill needs and pursue interests that traditional school systems do not meet or support, these supplemental learning agents attract an increasing percentage of young people, at least for part of their learning journeys. In places with relatively few local resources, learners often look beyond their geographic communities when seeking support from supplemental learning agents.
This second alternative future projects that the public education system will remain largely unchanged but that a parallel – but not necessarily equitable – system could emerge as a supplement or total replacement for some learners. For key drivers, signals of change, and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.
What might teaching look like in ten years if public educators reclaim the learning agenda by helping to shape the regulatory climate to support their visions for teaching and learning? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching assumes that, with support from visionary district and school administrators, public school teachers might manage to take back the classroom, reorienting education based on their professional wisdom.
Alternative Future 1: Take Back the Classroom
As continuing inability to reach political agreement on reauthorization of the nation’s major K-12 education law deepens the disconnect between policy and the classroom, and as state legislators continue to debate highly-charged education issues, public educators come together to provide more coordinated direction about how states should steer and fund education. They also expand networks and platforms for establishing and pursuing new visions for education. Yet even as they start to set greater direction for the learning agenda, public educators also increasingly find ways to sidestep the regulatory system so that they technically comply but do not concede too much time or attention to its demands.
Such movements and actions, both generative and defensive, develop and coalesce enough that public school teachers develop new independence from the regulatory system and find new space to focus on learning. In so doing, they reclaim key dimensions of the learning agenda, including curriculum and assessment. Teachers experiment with multiple pathways toward designing meaningful learning experiences for young people. Rather than purchasing pre-made curricula, schools and districts increasingly provide time and resources for teachers to collaborate in designing curricula that reflect their deep knowledge of how students learn and allow for customization to local conditions. Teachers also seek ways to use authentic assessments to inform learning rather than to pursue compliance.
With this renewed focus on learning, teachers take back their power as expert craftspeople. They find channels for raising their collective voice against policies that have less to do with supporting learning than with policing the system. As teachers increasingly come into their power as professionals, legislators and other education stakeholders – including educator preparation and development programs – take notice and work to support teachers’ new visions for teaching and learning, shifting the broader educational climate slightly.
Read More This alternative future assumes that the fundamental structure of the education system would remain unchanged but that education stakeholders might make minor changes to learning cultures and structures. For key drivers, signals of change and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.
This post is part two in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.
What might teaching look like in ten years if we do not alleviate current stressors on the profession and do not make significant changes to the structure of today’s public education system? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching projects that, as the federal accountability system continues to emphasize narrow measures of student and teacher performance and districts face daunting fiscal challenges, many public school teachers could find their creativity increasingly constrained.
Expected Future: A Plastic Profession
As educator evaluation systems aligned with student performance mature, many teachers remain uncertain about the impact of these systems on their profession. Furthermore, the now long-established “new normal” of constrained government resources, combined with public distrust of educators, limits districts’ scope for innovation. With reauthorization of the nation’s major K-12 education law long overdue, state legislatures and special interest groups work actively to change the K-12 education system at the state level. This combination of heightened political activity and shrinking education budgets causes distraction for many teachers, making it challenging to set compelling visions for the future of learning.
Without strong visions for the future of learning, public will for change remains limited even as anxiety over whether the U.S. will be able to educate a future-ready workforce reaches new heights. Schools and districts continue to pursue limited school reform – including limited differentiation of teaching roles – in the context of the existing educational paradigm. Likewise, teacher preparation programs make minor changes in an attempt to improve their programs and attract more candidates. However, nothing makes a significant impact on learning or on teachers’ job satisfaction as the fundamental design of the education system remains unchanged. Some new learning platforms emerge, offering learners new options, but they remain largely self-organized and on the fringes and do not yet offer full-time educators remunerative career pathways. Many learners who see and have the means to exercise better options – in their local communities, via distance learning platforms, or from a mix of sources – exit the public education system, especially in those places where the system has long struggled to turn around low-performing schools.
Similarly, many teachers leave not just the public education system but the field of learning in order to pursue more lucrative and satisfying careers. Those who remain feel increasingly disenfranchised. Just as students in the system are treated largely as cogs moving lockstep through an industrial machine, many teachers begin to feel as if they have become production line supervisors.
This is just one scenario for how the future of teaching could play out. I don’t regard it as a positive one, but I see it as being the likely baseline if we don’t make significant changes to the education system. For key drivers, signals of change and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.
What might teaching look like in ten years? How might choices that we make about teaching today affect the design of learning? Teachers’ experiences of their profession? Most importantly, the extent to which we are able to support all learners in achieving their fullest potential? Of late, much attention has been focused on teachers’ effectiveness. As we face dramatic changes to the fundamental structures of education, we need to be intentional about how we design for adults’ roles in supporting learning. In doing so, we need to look far beyond today’s debates to examine how decisions that we make today might impact the profession. Education is facing a crisis point as it continues to operate largely according to an industrial-era design that no longer reflects societal or economic needs. This crisis point is not one of teacher or school performance. It is one of system design. In June I released a paper exploring four scenarios for the future of K-12 teaching in the United States. Each of these scenarios represents a plausible future for K-12 teaching reflecting different drivers of change that are at play in the world today. When we emphasize one set of key drivers versus another, thereby changing our fundamental assumptions, we get very different narratives about how the future might look. We could end up with:
- An expected future, “A Plastic Profession,” which extrapolates from today’s dominant reality to project what teaching is likely to look like in ten years if we do not alleviate current stressors on the profession and do not make significant changes to the structure of today’s public education system.
- An alternative future, “Take Back the Classroom,” which explores what teaching might look like if public educators reclaim the learning agenda by helping to shape the regulatory climate to support their visions for teaching and learning.
- A second alternative future, “A Supplemental Profession,” which examines what teaching might look like if today’s public education system does not change significantly but professionals from other organizational contexts become increasingly involved in supporting young people in engaging in authentic and relevant learning opportunities outside of school.
- My ideal future, “Diverse Learning Agent Roles,” which explores how a diverse set of learning agent roles and activities might support rich, relevant, and authentic learning in an expanded and highly personalized learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners.
Over the course of this week, I’ll be highlighting each of these scenarios through a series of blog posts. I hope you will join me in exploring how the choices we make about education today could create dramatically different scenarios for how teachers teach and how learners learn.
Last week, I finally had time to read, Fixing Our National Accountability System by Marc Tucker. I first heard about the report at a conference a few weeks ago where Marc spoke and was excited to dig in right away but decided to save it for an exceptionally annoying travel day (lucky for me that day was last Thursday).
In the report, Marc lays out his ideas for a new accountability system for our schools. Some of his ideas really resonate with me, some I would love to see happen but are politically untenable, and some I just down right disagree with.
So, here are his big ideas:
- Develop a state curriculum for all subjects (not just math and English Language Arts)
- Develop extremely high-quality tests (consisting largely of performance items) to be administered no more than three times throughout a student’s academic career
- Administer multiple-choice tests each year to a sampling of students, ensuring that the population sampled are over-represented by traditionally underserved students
- Publish data on the school (not the student, subgroup or teacher) level and use that data to identify struggling schools
- Employ an inspectorate model of education reform using experts provided by the state education agency (SEA).
In addition to the changes in accountability, Marc advocates making teaching a high-status profession by establishing career ladders, incentivizing outstanding performance and enabling this performance by changing the way teachers spend their time, and introducing peer-to-peer accountability.
Here is where I agree with Marc:
- The NCLB-era accountability system is completely and totally busted.
- The inspectorate model could work in the U.S. and a key function of the SEA would be to manage inspectors.
- The teaching profession should become a high-status profession.
While I would love to see it happen, the practice of testing every student, every year isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The Obama Administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have made this clear. To me, wasting political capital and time on this is just that: a waste.
Now we come to where Marc and I disagree: teacher accountability. If teachers want to be treated as high-status professionals, as suggested in the report, there needs to be increased accountability. In my job, I have peers who will let me hear about it if I am not doing my share, as Marc suggests teachers would do, but I also have a boss to hold me accountable. I have measurable goals, set every year, for which I am held responsible. There are consequences if I don’t meet these goals. That same should be true for teachers.
Make no mistake: Fixing the education accountability system is no easy task. It’s complicated work that requires changing an education system that has been perpetuating itself for over 100 years. I am a firm believer in solving difficult problems by getting the smarted people you can find in the same room to talk about it; this is what it is going to take to solve a problem like this.
What do you think of this report? Where do you agree with Marc? Where do you disagree?
It felt like a scene from The Jetsons… but instead of hanging out in Orbit City with aerocars and flying saucers, we were lunching around the conference table in the KnowledgeWorks board room, trying out the revolutionary Google Glass.
Thanks to Northern Kentucky University’s Center for Applied Informatics, KnowledgeWorks staff had the chance to try out Google Glass and explore possible ways it could be used in education. While Google Glass isn’t widely released yet, it could eventually be a classroom staple in the future of learning.
Imagine if teachers could easily record lessons or learning tutorials to share with students as a first-hand experience (think: science lab or nursing school clinical); or if students could easily access digitally recorded notes from home. Google Glass could send friendly homework reminders to keep students on track and focused, or help with translation while learning another language. Students could even attend virtual field trips to faraway places.
And it could help in leveling the playing field for students. For school districts with less resources, such as inner-city or rural schools, this forward-thinking technology could provide virtual experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be available.
Google Glass fits nicely into the KnowledgeWorks Forecast for regenerating the learning ecosystem. Already, Google Glass users are noting the potential for streamlining processes and improving communication for teachers and student, noted Katherine Prince, Senior Director, Strategic Foresight. In the future, learning will no longer be defined by time and place, but rather on when a learner wants to learn. Google Glass creates an opportunity for learning in and out of the classroom.
For now, Google Glass’s impact on the classroom has yet to be revealed. But as we explore the Future of Learning, which includes personalized learning experiences in and out of the classroom, it seems like a plausible option.
And one that proves the Jetsons’ futuristic utopia might not be too far off.
What do you think of Google Glass? How could it be used in the classroom?
In my home state of Ohio, the General Assembly is currently advancing a Common Core repeal and replace bill. We’ve seen these in other states like Oklahoma and North Carolina. The bill in Oklahoma led to the repeal and replacement of the Common Core in the Sooner state and the loss of the state’s NCLB Waiver last week.
Ohio’s bill, HB 597, calls for repeal of the Common Core and proposes adopting Massachusetts’ standards that were adopted 14 years ago (and consequently dropped in favor of the Common Core). The old Massachusetts standards would be in place until new Ohio standards can be developed. This is problematic on many fronts, obviously from implementation to textbook alignment, teacher professional development to teacher evaluation, student assessment to textbook alignment. On top of that, there’s the fact that the new school year just started, and the fact that students and teachers would have their third set of standards in a very short period of time. This, too, is simply about politics on the eve of an election.
In the 1990s, Massachusetts was widely considered one of the leaders in implementing high standards and aligned assessments, when former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David Driscoll led an effort to raise the standards. But are 14-year-old “high standards” high enough for students in today’s world? How many of us would give up our current iPhones for 14-year-old Nokias? Of course not. Life moves on and advances and so should our knowledge and skills.
Last year I heard Mitchell Chester, current commissioner of education in Massachusetts, discuss why his state adopted the Common Core Standards and is currently implementing them. Chester offered that the state has extremely high passage rates on its end of course exams in math, ELA and science that are based on the state’s high standards. However, 40 percent of students from Massachusetts high schools who enroll in public universities in the state need remediation. Massachusetts, again viewed as having high standards, needed to raise its standards because students weren’t prepared for college and career. Do legislators in Ohio really think that if they adopt the “high” standards from Massachusetts from 14 years ago that Ohio will have the highest standards in the land? (See: post hoc ergo propter hoc) So what does this really mean for Ohio? And selfishly, my three kids who are in Cincinnati Public Schools?
The Ohio business community has recently gravitated to the standards because they raise the bar for all students and focus on developing students that are college and career ready and, most importantly, globally competitive. Michael Hartley of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce said the following in testimony in support of the Common Core, “Turning back on a set of standards that have been benchmarked with the best of the best would not only be detrimental for those in education, but also for … the 1,600-plus business owners in the Columbus region that rely on a highly skilled workforce to compete in a global market.”
Developing and implementing educational standards is tough work. I’ll write again as I’ve written before: We still are not asking the right questions as we remain wrapped up in politics and demagoguery. The questions include:
- Are our teachers and leaders prepared and ready?
- What does high quality professional development look like?
- Is our technology infrastructure ready and able to support the assessments?
- How much better, if any, will the new assessments be?
- Will more states migrate away from the aligned assessment consortium tests to one developed by ACT and College Board?
- How will our students perform?
- Will the standards and the implementation fears thwart movements such as competency education or deeper learning?
- Will it be a boon for more innovative practices and pedagogies?
- And very importantly, what sort of interventions and supports will be in place to support our most vulnerable learners?
These and many more are viable questions that are actively being addressed. Ohio must turn its attention away from politics to focus on what’s best for children and the competitiveness of the state’s economy.
StriveTogether’s new paper, “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact,” focuses on how investors can best contribute to the work of cradle-to-career partnerships. Read it here.
Throughout my career, I’ve played both a funder and an investor role in collective impact work. I’ve seen examples of good – and not-so-good—investors and the impact they can have on the work, outcomes and community as a whole. The new StriveTogether paper calls on investors to adopt and embrace a different mindset and become actively engaged with community partners on initiatives focused on long term solutions to difficult community problems. This is a much different role than that of a “funder” who writes a check and sits back waiting for a report.
As a business leader in Portland, Oregon, I had the opportunity to co-chair the start-up of the local cradle-to-career partnership. There, I saw the importance of being not only an investor, but a leader who committed to the shared outcomes and used my cross-sector contacts to help build the civic infrastructure needed to achieve the desired results. I couldn’t just sit passively at the table or write a check; I needed to dive into the work along with the rest of the community partners.
That’s what quality collective impact is about: Working with people for people. Investing in the work can’t be just 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.
Now, as CEO of KnowledgeWorks, I once again have the opportunity to embrace the role of investor, supporting the work of the local StrivePartnership and the national StriveTogether organization, a KnowledgeWorks subsidiary. As a long-term investor in StriveTogether, KnowledgeWorks has made the commitment to invest in collective impact work, giving the StriveTogether team an opportunity to dive deeper and provide a level of quality that is critical to the success of the work.
Our sustained commitment has also encouraged other foundations and funders to partner with StriveTogether on work throughout the country. The future of this work relies on investors embracing a new mindset, diving in and rolling up their sleeves as full partners dedicated to achieving shared outcomes.
StriveTogether, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, works with communities nationwide to help them create a civic infrastructure that unites stakeholders around shared goals, measures and results in education, supporting the success of every child, cradle to career. Communities implementing the StriveTogether framework have seen dramatic improvements in kindergarten readiness, standardized test results, and college retention. For more information about StriveTogether, visit www.strivetogether.org.
The forum, which took place last week, focused on “Strengthening Partnerships Across K-12, Higher Education, and Communities for College Access and Success.”
It’s no secret that communities can boost education initiatives through innovation and community partnerships. For years, we’ve been doing this work through our subsidiaries, EDWorks and StriveTogether.
And now, the White House and U.S. Department of Education (ED) are not only noticing, but also expanding efforts in this work. They are calling on communities to work together toward ambitious college success goals through shared plans and commitments.
Last week, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy Lillian Pace, EDWorks President Harold Brown and StriveTogether Managing Director Jeff Edmondson traveled to D.C. to meet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and attend an ED working session, “Strengthening Partnerships Across K-12, Higher Education, and Communities for College Access and Success.”
The session invited 10 communities, including three StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members, to Washington, D.C. for breakout sessions and conversation, all revolving around college access, continuous improvement and collective impact. They discussed how to break down silos and barriers to collective impact, ensuring that school districts aren’t working in isolation, but rather collectively with the entire community. Communities were asked to take what they learned during the event to identify goals and key commitments that will help their community improve college access and success.
“The event highlighted challenges and opportunities in bringing together K-12, higher education and community leaders to focus on key objectives and priorities,” Brown said.
Visiting with community partnerships during the day, including several StriveTogether cities, Duncan heard about their on-the-ground work. White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz and ED Under Secretary Ted Mitchell also participated throughout the day.
Here are some insights from the day in D.C.:
- Collective Impact | There is a growing awareness that we need to move from collaboration to collective impact. To deepen resources to help them understand the complexity of moving to true collective impact communities learned more about tools like the StriveTogether Framework and Theory of Action.
- Data to Inform Continuous Improvement |Data can be empowering if used correctly. The White House and ED are stressing the use of data – not to “admire the problem,” but to improve outcomes over time. “They didn’t speak of evaluation, but of continuous improvement,” Edmondson said.
- Cross-sector Leadership | Everyone recognizes the need to work together toward common goals. Attendees were an impressive cross-sector of community leaders, including superintendents, business leaders, and college leaders. “There was a strong presence of cross-sector leadership that could really begin laying some important groundwork,” Pace said.
Participating communities included: Albany, New York; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Spartanburg, South Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; Denver, Colorado; Kansas City, Missouri; Camden, New Jersey; Rio Grande Valley/McAllen, Texas; Riverside County, California; and Baltimore, Maryland.
KnowledgeWorks— through its subsidiaries StriveTogether and EDWorks— plans to work with the White House and ED to support communities, while helping to mobilize additional communities to join the nationwide effort to improve college access and attainment.
Last week, several of my favorite blogs wrote about Race to the Top’s (RTT) five-year anniversary: Education Week’s Politics K-12 and Rick Hess Straight Up. Because the data on the program is still inconclusive, I think it’s too soon to tell whether the program “worked” or not.
What I do think is interesting to look at is the competency-based elements contained in the winning applications. If you’re familiar with KnowledgeWorks’ policy work over the past 18 months, you know we have more than a passing interest in competency education. In fact, my super-smart and talented colleague Lillian Pace has published several papers on the subject including a piece examining the federal government’s early investments in competency education through competitive funding programs, such as, you guessed it, RTT.
Our research showed that, despite not specifically including competency education in the grant application, many states included elements of competency in their winning applications. Here’s a look:
Comprehensive State Assessment Systems
While all applicants were asked to adopt new high-quality assessment systems, many applicants proposed comprehensive assessment systems with the capability to measure deeper learning skills, provide real-time data to inform instruction, and ensure multiple formats to improve the utility and flexibility of assessments. Some states even proposed to give students multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery on summative assessments throughout the school year. Almost all states incorporated plans to help expand district and classroom access to formative assessment tools so educators can personalize instruction.
Emphasis on 21st Century Professional Development
Nearly every applicant proposed significant changes to its professional development system to ensure educators have the expertise to deliver high-quality instruction. Many states proposed the creation or expansion of digital platforms that give educators real-time access to professional development experiences, resources aligned to college and career ready standards, assistance developing instructional plans, and the ability to network with other educators throughout the state. Many states also emphasized the importance of preparing educators to analyze data in real-time to inform the development and continuous improvement of personalized learning plans.
Provision of Multiple Learning Pathways
Many states included proposals to provide multiple learning pathways to increase relevancy and student engagement. These proposals would empower students to design their own educational path based on individual interests, learning preferences, and proficiency-level. Some states also emphasized the importance of integrating community partners to provide students with opportunities for experiential learning.
The fact that the grant applications containing competency-based elements were funded even though the application didn’t specifically request those elements tells us two things:
- Though the folks designing RTT didn’t write competency into the application, many of the innovations they were seeking are best operationalized through the implementation of competency education.
- States writing the applications have an appetite to implement elements of competency in their work, regardless of whether the application called for them.
As I said before, it is too early to judge whether RTT has been, or will be, successful. What is clear is that the federal government, states and districts believe that transforming education through personalized approaches is the best way to ensure each student receives the education he or she deserves. What is also obvious, from the amount of competency-based elements included in states’ applications, is that one of the most effective ways of operationalizing personalized education is through competency education-making learning the constant and time the variable.
To learn more KnowledgeWorks’ competency education work, visit our competency education page and sign up for our newsletter.