Living in a VUCA World: Exploring the the Future of Credentials

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-04-23 15:04

future-of-educationIt is with great excitement that I can announce that today marks the release of “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials.” As the name implies, this paper seeks to describe four possible futures for credentials. During the research process for the paper, we were fortunate to have quite a few rich discussions about where credentials might be headed. The response we received during these discussions was typically one of excitement.

Generally speaking, most of our future of learning work has touched on credentials, but only as a piece of the larger emerging future of learning. So why focus solely on them for this paper?

It is not uncommon to hear that we are living in a “VUCA” world. “VUCA” is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, or to put it another way, “It feels like the world is going crazy!” Part of living in a VUCA world is dealing with accelerating change and disruption. The rate of change we experience is increasing, leading to increased disruption, and as a result contributing to those feelings of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. How might this relate to credentials?

We are currently witnessing disruptions to many of our industries and institutions. We can count our educational system and employment sector among the list of those having to contend with deep levels of disruption, and as a result what it means to acquire knowledge and skills and also how we might credential those accomplishments is changing. Fundamental changes in how we educate people promise to change how we credential learning. At the same time, changes to how we work could alter the value that we place on current credentials, affect how we assess and award credentials, and give rise to new forms, which could in turn have the potential to disrupt the education sector even further.

As forecast in KnowledgeWorks’ Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem and the related infographic, A Glimpse into the Future of Learning, education in the United States is facing a decade of deep disruption as the digital revolution and the accompanying cultural and social changes reshape its structure. These disruptions point towards a future in which education will be increasingly personalized to each learner, school will take many forms, and a variety of learning agents will guide students in their learning journeys. With education becoming increasingly learner-centered, assessment is likely to become increasingly focused on mastery instead of time, with new uses of both formative and summative assessments to inform learning.

The employment sector is also experiencing change, affecting how, when, and where people might work. Current trends are pointing towards a future of work in which people are likely to think less in terms of climbing a career ladder and more in terms of navigating a career lattice. Employment is increasingly becoming ad hoc and networked, with full-time employment for a single organization declining as employers increasingly seek talent on demand. At the same time, drivers of change such as new forms of automation, an aging workforce, mobile technologies’ blurring the line between work and home life, and economic globalization are pushing employees to hold multiple careers across their lifetimes and sometimes even at the same time. Such shifts could push many people to be in a mode of constant learning and continuous career readiness and could increase the need for specialized training similar to that required for professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists.

With future trends pointing toward profound shifts in the structures of both education and work, credentials could evolve considerably over the next ten years. Given the roles that credentials play as symbols of knowledge, motivators for pursuing training and education, and the primary means of gaining access to as well as navigating today’s job market, it is important to consider what credentials might look like in ten years, how they might be earned, and how they might be evaluated.

To find out more about how these changes might affect the future of credentials, you can explore the full paper here, as well as connect with me on Twitter @jasonswanson.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Laying the Foundation for Personalized Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-04-20 13:04

During my webinar with the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) at Penn State University earlier this month, a participant asked where educational institutions might start in transitioning to a new learning ecosystem.

For quite a while after we released KnowledgeWorks’ Recombinant Education forecast, I would have answered that we need to make our learning structures more flexible and more diverse. I still think that we need to enable the development of diverse learning structures that enable learners and their families to access the right learning experiences at the right time and make use of many kinds of resources across community landscapes.

But over the last year I’ve come to place learning cultures first. In light of our vision for vibrant learning ecosystems in which all learners have equitable chances of thriving, I think that incumbent education organizations would do well to start by working to enable new personalized learning cultures. Those learning cultures would cultivate inquiry, creativity, and play. They would support learners in following their interests in meaningful collaborative contexts. They might accommodate some degree of choice over what individual learners chose to master, or at least over how learners pursued common learning standards.

I see learning cultures as a starting point for incumbent institutions because any organization can attempt to change its culture. That work is hard and time-consuming. But it can be easier to approach than restructuring a long-established institution, and it can happen at multiple levels of hierarchy and scale. Cultures are foundational. They tend to persist across changes of organizational structure, with people reverberating back to their old ways of working and learning unless they come to interact with one another in new ways and orient around their activities around clear values.

Each education organization has to decide what kind of learning culture it wants to foster in pursuit of its vision for learning. As I outlined in “Innovating toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning,” large-scale educational transformation will require many organizations’ pursuing complementary trajectories of change simultaneously. But, because learning cultures are so central to students’ experiences, I think that fostering them can be a good starting point for schools, universities, and other educational organizations seeking to explore their place in the expanding learning ecosystem.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

ESEA Reauthorization: An Opportunity to Rethink School Improvement, Rigor, and Relevance

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-04-16 16:18

School improvement is one of the hottest topics in national education policy debates. Many of us can probably recall a pointed conversation or two about whether the federal government, states, districts, or even parents know best when it comes to improving underperforming schools. Fortunately, years of conflict finally resulted in a breakthrough – one that is spelled out clearly in the Every Child Achieves Act passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Thursday, April 16.

The Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate’s most recent proposal for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), does two important things to further this national debate. First, it preserves a federal role for school improvement without prescribing narrow definitions of reform strategies. And second, it emphasizes rigor and relevance for our nation’s schools – particularly our high schools where students are just one step away from the reality of postsecondary or career.

Here is a quick summary of how the Every Child Achieves Act accomplishes these two goals.

School Improvement Highlights

  • Maintains federal grants to states and school districts to help improve low-performing schools, but provides flexibility to school districts in the selection of evidence-based interventions.
  • Permits grantees to conduct a planning year to increase stakeholder buy-in and effectiveness of strategies and requires grantees to demonstrate in their application how they will sustain the reform beyond the term of the grant.

Rigor and Relevance

  • Requires states to set annual, accountability goals that take into account the progress that students need to make in order to graduate high school ready for success in postsecondary and career.
  • Elevates the importance of advanced coursework indicators as important measures of success in the following ways:
  • Accountability – Permits states to incorporate student access to or success in advanced coursework into their state accountability system.
  • Reporting – Requires states to include information on the annual state report card regarding student enrollment and access to rigorous coursework that enables them to earn postsecondary credit while still in high school (such as dual enrollment and early college high school programs).
  • Requires states to include in their Title I plan a description of how they will prepare students to transition from high school to postsecondary education.
  • Ensures better identification of high schools for Title I funding by requiring states to use a 50 percent poverty threshold for high schools instead of the 75 percent threshold for elementary and middle schools. The bill would also permit high schools to use a feeder pattern calculation to determine the poverty rate instead of free and reduced lunch participation (which results in inaccurate data because high school students are less likely to turn in free and reduced priced lunch forms).
  • Authorizes an Investing in Innovation (i3) type program modeled after the successful Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program that would provide flexible funding for schools, districts, non-profits, institutions of higher education, and small businesses to develop and grow innovative programs to improve student achievement. Grants would be awarded based on success, with funding levels tied to the strength of the evidence the applicant is able to present of their program’s effectiveness.

KnowledgeWorks will continue to advocate for these policies as the ESEA reauthorization process continues. We remain hopeful that the Every Child Achieves Act will advance to the floor in a timely manner and that the House of Representatives will complete their own version in time for a conference committee to resolve the differences.

But today, let’s celebrate these important wins. Their inclusion in a bipartisan bill approved unanimously by 22 Senators signals a new direction in the conversation about how to improve the nation’s schools. Now that’s what I call a breakthrough.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Senate Committee Gives Competency Education Major Boost in ESEA

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-04-16 11:22

photo (1)Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post celebrating the inclusion of competency education in a discussion draft for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). I called this entry to the national conversation a significant victory for competency education advocates.

As it turns out, that victory was just the beginning of the celebration. Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is expected to approve a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill called the Every Child Achieves Act that contains a new innovative assessment pilot program to advance competency education. (You can view the program on page 171 of the bill here).

This groundbreaking pilot would enable five states, or a consortium of states, to submit a proposal for an alternative assessment system to the U.S. Department of Education for approval. Once approved, a state would begin to implement its new assessment system either statewide or with an initial group of districts and would be allowed to incorporate that performance data into the state’s accountability system, if it wishes.

For a nation wrestling with big questions about how to better assess students and how long to assess students, this pilot program would provide an important picture of how to design assessment systems that do more than validate learning – they advance learning.

As someone who has worked intimately on the policy details on this pilot program, here are some of my favorite highlights of the Senate proposal.

  • Flexibility to Design a Balanced System of Assessments – The proposal would enable states to build a system of assessments that validates student mastery and generates important information to improve learning in real-time. This system could incorporate a combination of summative, interim, formative, performance-based, and high-quality local assessments.
  • Maintains Annual Assessments – Although the pilot would allow states to design more flexible assessment systems, the proposal would still ensure that any participating state continues to assess students once in each of grades 3-8 and once in high school. This annual testing requirement is critical to provide transparent and useful data for educators, students, and other key stakeholders.
  • Establishes Guardrails to Ensure High-Quality Implementation – States would be required to demonstrate that new assessments are comparable, valid, reliable, of high technical quality, and consistent with relevant, nationally recognized professional and technical standards. These guardrails are critical to ensure that every student is assessed in the same, high-quality way as his or her peers.
  • Aligns to Accountability – As mentioned above, states would have the authority to align their new assessment system immediately to their accountability system. This is important because the only way to determine the true impact of a new assessment approach is to ensure that all incentives in the system are aligned behind the same vision. This will ensure that assessment and accountability drive real-time improvements to student learning instead of the end of year, look-back approach of today’s systems.
  • Creates a Pathway to a New Education System – The pilot is designed to test and evaluate these new systems before making a rash jump to a new approach to education. Once a state can demonstrate that the system improves academic outcomes for students, the state can transition to the new system indefinitely. This creates a pathway to reform that may prove invaluable if it takes Congress as long to reauthorize the next version of ESEA than it has to fix today’s version – No Child Left Behind.

While Senate HELP Committee passage is a critical step – it is not the end of the journey. KnowledgeWorks will continue to advocate for this pilot program as the bill advances to the Senate floor and hopefully, as the House passes their own bill and the two chambers move to conference. But despite the long process ahead, we are encouraged that Washington, DC is ready to see what competency education can do to transform teaching and learning in our K-12 schools.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Exercising Choice over the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-04-13 11:00


During a recent webinar with the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) at Penn State University, I had the chance to share highlights from our Recombinant Education forecast and the related infographic and talk with participants about the implications of future trends for learning. Their thoughtful comments grappled with the potential consequences of transitioning to a more learner-driven and disintermediated learning ecosystem and with the difficult and complex work of changing institutions and local ecosystems.

Some questions that arose included:

  • Do personalized learning pathways point toward discretionary outcomes for learners, as in not having to learn math if you don’t want to?
  • How can we support all learners, especially younger ones, in having clear goals around which to orient their learning?
  • What roles might educators play in self-organized approaches to learning?
  • Might some new learning agent roles be minimum wage?
  • To what extent might new forms of credentials gain acceptance by employers?
  • To what degree do current mainstream education developments support the expansion of the learning ecosystem?
  • What would happen to institutional enrollments in a complete à la carte approach?
  • How might we ensure that people are really learning what their credentials indicate and what they need to learn in order to function effectively in specialized occupations?
  • How can today’s educational institutions begin creating holistic approaches to personalized learning without dismantling current structures prematurely?

Such questihand upons highlight the importance of human choice in shaping the future. For example, we can, as a society, make a choice about the extent to which high standards for all learners intersect with the customization of learning playlists. Learning ecosystems might allow room for learners to differentiate what they learn after mastering basic competencies, or they might require all students to master the same competencies but enable any number of approaches toward achieving them. Some learning ecosystems might take different stances on this or any number of questions.

At KnowledgeWorks, we engage education stakeholders in strategic foresight to help illuminate strategic possibilities for the future of learning and to help learning ecosystem participants make intentional choices about how to respond to and shape the changing landscape. Our forecast suggests that there will be many right answers for learners and for local learning ecosystems. Our hope is that all learners and all geographies will have access to good answers.

For ideas on how to make the expanding learning ecosystem vibrant for all learners, see my paper, “Innovating toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning” and stay tuned for our forthcoming paper on cultivating learning ecosystem interconnections so as to create value webs that serve all learners well.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Exploring the Expanding Spiritual Ecosystem

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-04-06 13:08

future_church3What’s emerging on the spiritual landscape and what might those changes signal for mainline protestant denominations and local churches ten years out? That’s not a question I’d normally ask in my role with KnowledgeWorks, given our focus on education. But Rev. George Meier of the United Church of Canada reached out in the context of a project exploring microfinance as a way of fostering experimental and entrepreneurial ministries outside traditional church governance structures. I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with him to explore the implications of our work on the future of education for the spiritual domain.

As George astutely observed, many of the socio-cultural changes that are disrupting education are also affecting religious and spiritual practice. In applying our forecasts from “A Glimpse into the Future of Learning” and Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem to that domain, we found that the spiritual ecosystem is expanding, just as the learning ecosystem is expanding. Both domains are experiencing a time of disintermediation, wherein people’s relationships with traditional institutions are changing and, in some cases, ending entirely.

So what does that look like?  We’re seeing school take many forms, some of which are self-organized. Similarly, church is beginning to take many forms. We expect that trend to continue, often with no denominational accountability and sometimes without new forms of church even claiming that identity. We’re also seeing educator roles diversify, such that a whole host of specialized learning agent roles could emerge. It also looks as if denominational roles and professional staff positions will diversify as many new roles emerge to support people on their spiritual journeys.

These are just a couple of highlights from the booklet that George and I produced, “Transforming Church for North America’s Expanding Spiritual Ecosystem.” We forecast that, in ten years, it will no longer be necessary for an individual to adapt to the institutional church as it has so far existed. Indeed, we forecast the emergence of a recombinant church in which people will be able to put the pieces of the spiritual ecosystem together in new sequences, potentially creating a living system that can keep evolving as people’s needs and the world that we inhabit change.

The emergence of a recombinant church represents a huge adaptive challenge for mainline protestant denominations and local churches. George and I identified four pathways that could help those institutions contribute to transformational community life and the creation of the recombinant church:

  • Spiritual Cultures: Cultivate spiritual cultures that support individuals in pursuing authenticity and spiritual awakening
  • Organizational Structures and Roles: Support the development of diverse spiritual structures and professional roles
  • Church Offerings: Recast church offerings to extend beyond institutional boundaries and support individuals in pursuing customized spiritual journeys
  • Transformational Leadership: Lead toward the creation of a flexibly and radically personalized spiritual ecosystem.

The parallels between the educational and spiritual domains point toward a cycle of disintermediation, adaptation, and recombination that my colleague Jason Swanson and I think could be affecting many sectors.  We’re looking forward to exploring that cycle of change further.

In the meantime, check out George’s microfinance project for more ideas about fostering adaptive transformation.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Ten Things You Didn’t Know about Early College High Schools

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-03-31 13:39

Early College Week was last week, and we celebrated by launching two new papers (one on scaling Early College High Schools; another that makes the case for this model) and learning more with EDWorks during a staff Learn at Lunch in our office (which included colorful cookies and graduation decorations).

We also stopped by EduTalk Radio about dropout prevention and Early College High Schools. KnowledgeWorks Vice President Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams and EDWorks Chief Innovation Officer Debbie Howard chatted with host Larry Jacobs about Early College High Schools’ growing success throughout the country and what we can do to scale the model to reach more students in need.

Here are 10 things you may not have known about ECHS:

Early College is a way to blend high school and college experiences.

1. Early College is a way to blend high school and college experiences. “Instead of spending time remediating, spend time accelerating,” Matt said.

Early College is a strategic learning experience.

2. It’s a strategic learning experience. “It’s not some random acts of dual enrollment. We’re talking about a fully integrated experience,” Debbie said. “We really sit down and work at the local workforce needs, look at the needs of the students, and design a plan for students to earn 60 hours of college credit.”

Each Early College looks a little different.

3. Each Early College looks a little different. “For instance, in Birmingham, Alabama, they have a burgeoning music industry. So some students will be looking at music technology degrees,” Debbie said. “When they get out of the Early College High School with an associate’s degree, the local workforce is ready to put them to work.”

4.	There are policy barriers to scaling Early College models. 4. There are policy barriers to scaling Early College models. “Fundamentally, the way we are set up to fund schools and the way we set up our structures doesn’t really allow for ECHS,” Matt said. “We fund K-12 education at a certain level; we fund higher education at a certain level. For a student to be in an ECHS and access college courses, there needs to be some sort of support from a policy and funding standpoint.

It’s hard work to change mindsets about what ‘high school’ should be. 5. It’s hard work to change mindsets about what ‘high school’ should be. “There’s a lot of tradition out there in high schools,” Debbie said. “Sometimes it’s tough to break down those barriers. Sometimes there’s a lot of focus on other programs in a community and it’s not easy. It takes a lot of work to get people to understand that you can blend high school and college experiences.”

Texas, Ohio and North Carolina have embraced Early College High School. 6. There are states that have really embraced this model. Texas, Ohio and North Carolina are good examples of states that are building Early Colleges throughout their education systems, Matt said.

An EDWorks graduate, whose senior year prepared her for college.7. Early College focuses not only on helping students attend college, but also complete and graduate from college. “We not only have a college-going issue in this country. We have a college completion issue. That’s really what’s going to drive our economic development as a nation,” Matt said.

Early College High School is free for students and parents. 8. It’s free for students and parents. “This is part of their high school education and so there’s no cost to students and parents,” Debbie said. “So what we do is look at ways to blend funding streams.”

early-college-high-school-student9. High school students are able to handle college courses. “We make sure they’re ready,” Debbie said of the EDWorks model. Students take courses during summer bridge programs to ensure they are ready for Early College High School. Then, they often take intensive English and math during freshman year to ensure they are on track. “They rise to the occasion,” she said.

Early College High Schools help students who are traditionally underserved.10. Early College High Schools help students who are traditionally underserved. “With our growing population, it’s even more important that everyone has a living wage and more,” Debbie said.

Learn more about EDWorks by visiting www.edworkspartners.org. Listen to the full EduTalk podcast here.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Early College High Schools: Building a New Normal for an outdated education system

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-03-27 13:55

graduationThe country is experiences sluggish education outcomes, a prevalent job skills gap, and a growing population of traditionally underserved students.

And by 2020, research shows, 65 percent of all jobs will require post-secondary education. Today, only 43 percent of Americans have a college degree.

We need an innovative solution to increase the number of college degrees to grow the workforce. We need an option to offer traditionally underserved students the opportunity to succeed in college and career.

Early College High Schools could be the answer.

Throughout this week, we’ve celebrated Early College High School Week with our subsidiary, EDWorks, and our friends at JFF.

As a promising approach to increasing college access and attainment for traditionally underserved students, Early College High Schools traditionally offer students the opportunity to earn college credit on college campuses with college professors… during high school.

And through EDWorks partner schools, students have the opportunity to earn up to 60 hours of college credit – the equivalent of an associate’s degree – all before high school graduation.

– – – – –

Aries Brown is a graduate of the first class from Akron Early College High School in Akron, Ohio. As a first-generation college-goer, Aries praises her ECHS experience for preparing her to succeed in college.

“My mom didn’t go to college and she didn’t really know the ways of going about it,” Aries said. “It was really a big support system for knowing what college was and getting me prepared and ready for it.”

At the end of high school, Aries graduated with 72 college credit hours. All of those credits transferred when she attended Spelman College in Georgia. But, more importantly, Aries said she received supports in ECHS to be confident in her own ability to succeed in undergraduate studies.

“I felt like I was ready,” she said. “I knew myself as a college student. My Spelman sisters didn’t know themselves as college students yet. That made a big difference.”

Aries graduated from Spelman College in 2014. She is headed to medical school to pursue a dual degree: a masters in anatomy and a medical doctorate.

– – – – –

Currently, too many students are falling through the cracks of our education system. It’s time for a change. It’s time for a New Normal. It’s time to make Early College High School an option for more students.

Learn more:




Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Visionary Leadership for Personalized Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-03-23 10:26

Moving a district toward personalized learning is hard but necessary work, observed one of the participants in the session on district conditions for scaling personalized learning that Matt Williams and I led at the National School Board Association’s (NSBA’s) conference on Saturday. Another emphasized the importance of starting with a vision for learning and building out supporting elements, such as district technology policy, around that vision, instead of addressing each element piecemeal.

Indeed, all of the district leaders whom my colleagues interviewed about district conditions for scaling personalized learning emphasized the importance of having a shared vision supported by everyone from board members to educators to community partners. Other meta-themes spanning interviewees’ more detailed strategies included cultivating a district culture that is consistent with the vision and operating transparently so that all stakeholders can see how plans are unfolding and can feel free to take risks while pursuing new approaches.

Saturday’s NSBA conference session focused on moving innovation beyond isolated pockets of excellence to systems of excellence that align the elements of their student engagement and operations such that districts can scale personalized learning environments. The session looked not just at what KnowledgeWorks has learned from speaking with district leaders, but also at the future possibilities described in our infographic on the future of learning and our recent paper on innovation pathways toward vibrant learning ecosystems.

In so doing, the conversation highlighted the excitement that can come from pursuing a new vision for learning, whether that involves changing the physical learning environment, using real-time data to inform instruction, or personalizing professional development and its certification so that teachers can experience the kind of learning to which we aspire for students.

School boards have a unique and integral role to play in implementing conditions that help districts scale personalized learning environments. Without school boards’ vision and leadership, and without their partnership with district staff, establishing the conditions necessary to foster innovation, scale new and successful practices, and prepare for the future of learning is impossible. The district policies required to enact personalized learning at scale will reflect a school board’s visionary leadership.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Discussing how to scale innovative learning at NSBA conference

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-03-20 13:20

Over the years,annual-conference-logo elements of innovative schools has gotten a lot of attention. While this focus has helped to shape student-centered practice in classrooms, it has done little to scale successful innovation beyond “pockets of evidence.”

This weekend, KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams and Senior Director of Strategic Foresight Katherine Prince are presenting at the National School Boards Association 75th Annual Conference during their session, “District Conditions for Scaling Innovation.”

The session will discuss the conditions for success that a K-12 school district should put in place to support the scaling of innovative learning environments. It will also focus on KnowledgeWorks’ District Conditions for Scale.

If you are attending the NSBA conference in Nashville, stop by to say ‘hello’ to Matt and Katherine! Their session is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. on March 21 in room 104A at the Music City Center in Nashville.

For more information on NSBA and their work, visit NSBA.org.



Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Top Five Competency Takeaways from RSU 2 Superintendent Virgel Hammonds

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-03-10 11:11

CBE insightThroughout the past two months, competency education has been gaining a lot of attention.

With shout-outs in an ESEA discussion draft by Sen. Lamar Alexander, potential pilots proposed in Ohio, a new study released by KnowledgeWorks and Nellie Mae Education Foundation and today’s webinar on K-12 Competency Education and Policy (shameless plug), competency education is a growing movement throughout the country, intriguing leaders and educators on local, state and federal levels.

Last month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Virgel Hammonds, a superintendent who implemented a competency-learning model in RSU 2 school district in Maine. Throughout the hour, he shared his insights into building, modifying and sustaining a competency-learning model within his district.

We chatted about how RSU 2 developed support among parents and community members, and a pumpkin cannon competition Virgel attended to talk with parents to help build public will. Parents were apprehensive about competency education, especially since the district was already seeing steady academic success from students. During the local pumpkin cannon competition, he explained to parents that with higher expectations of a competency system, students would not only be able to fire pumpkins in homemade cannons, but also be able to predict the distance and velocity during flight.

We also discussed the equitable side of competency education, and he explained how students are placed in learning cohorts for the best academic progress. We talked about local difficulties and challenges of scaling, but also about the incredible potential to helping all students succeed.

Here are my Top Five Competency Education Takeaways from our conversation:

  1. Students in competency-based settings are learning more quickly and retaining more from summer to fall. RSU 2 assesses all students in the spring and early fall to ensure retention to prior learning. In the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, primary students showed a 30 percent gain in growth scores from the previous fall. According to Virgel, this shows that, by holding students to higher expectations at cognitively appropriate levels, learning is accelerated and allows teachers to spend more time teaching new material, rather than reviewing previous content.
  2. No matter what you think about NCLB, it inspired us to think about personalized education and outcomes differently.
  3. Building competency-based systems isn’t necessarily about fixing outcomes, but about doing what is right and what the data shows is best for students.
  4. Competency education is in its infancy phase, but it’s where the country is heading because of the growing success of this personalized learning model.
  5. For policymakers to help districts and states build competency systems, we need to create policy that takes away timecard and grade level. Learning communities will, in turn, take advantage of flexibility and run with it to create systems that benefit local students.

Measuring student success by seat time and grade level is outdated. We need to move to a new system, one that recognizes each student as an individual with interests, learning styles and needs.

Competency education seems like a good option. And one that schools and districts throughout the country, like RSU 2, are already seeing success in helping each student succeed.

– – – – – – – – –

Today, the KnowledgeWorks policy team will host a webinar to explore how to support K-12 competency education through current federal policy. The webinar is free and will feature panelists from iNACOL and CCSSO. There’s still time to register! Join us by registering here.

And, don’t forget to check out our new report, “Building Consensus and Momentum: A Policy and Political Landscape for K-12 Competency Education.”



Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

District Conditions for Scale: Exploring the Meta-Themes

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-03-06 15:34

In the falMatt Williamsl, KnowledgeWorks released the District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning. The report focuses on the conditions a K-12 school district should put in place to support the scaling of personalized learning.

Last week, Matt Williams shared deeper insight on three meta-themes throughout the paper with Getting Smart. These themes — vision, culture and transparency — are the reason that a district must implement each of the 10 conditions in order to successfully scale practices to improve teaching, learning and student achievement.

Matt writes:

“It is our hope that these conditions begin to help districts from across the country to implement a more aligned, supportive education system that is oriented towards putting the student at the center of the system through an expressed focus on personalized learning. A systemic focus on personalized teaching and learning demands a coordinating move from pilot phase to true scale. To truly get to a focused, sustained scale we need better alignment between school and district, district and state policy, and state policy and federal policy; only then will we fully unlock the potential of our education system.”

Read Matt’s full post on Getting Smart, “Moving Beyond Pilot Phase: District Conditions for Scaling Personalized Learning.”


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Helping parents navigate the system to find best learning for students

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-03-06 15:05

How would education change if families had access to learning sherpas?

cutmypicKatherine Prince explored the topic on Getting Smart, a website that explores accelerating and amplifying innovations in teaching and learning that puts students at the core. In her column, she shares her own experiences of choosing the right neighborhood and school experience for her three-year-old daughter, Chloe.

Katherine shares:

“It isn’t realistic to expect parents to navigate the expanding learning landscape without guides. And it’s irresponsible to hope that somehow parents and kids will create their own solutions. Some will.  But a lot of parents and kids, from a lot of different circumstances, will not. If we don’t create new educator roles such as learning sherpas, we’re pretty much saying that we’re okay letting the learning ecosystem fracture. Accepting that some kids will have access to highly personalized learning while others will find their full potential stifled in limited or simply ill-fitting learning environments. We can’t afford to let the learning landscape fracture in that way.”

Read Katherine’s insight on Getting Smart, “I Need a Learning Sherpa.”


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Testifying for Competency-Based Education Pilots in Ohio

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-03-05 09:20


Ohio Statehouse

Yesterday I testified before the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Sub-Committee on Primary and Secondary Education in support of the broad contours of Governor Kasich’s proposed FY 2016-2017 education budget as contained in House Bill 64.  In particular, KnowledgeWorks is especially supportive of the Governor’s call for up to 10 Competency-Based Education Pilots for K-12, which would be funded in aggregate at $2.5 million per year. The following is an excerpt from my testimony:

“KnowledgeWorks believes that competency-based education provides a significant opportunity for Ohio’s children. Our ability to compete as a state—and for communities’ ability to attract growth industries and create jobs—demands a fresh approach to public education. The one-size-fits all philosophy of our past and too much of our present doesn’t ensure our future economic and democratic success. Personalized, student-centered approaches to teaching and learning are on the rise in schools across Ohio. We encourage policymakers and applaud the Governor to advance competency-based practices that give all students the opportunity and intensive supports to master the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and career.

KnowledgeWorks defines competency education by the following elements (aligned to the definition created by iNACOL and CCSSO):

  1. Students advance upon mastery, not seat time.
  2. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  3. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  4. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  5. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

By integrating all five elements, high quality competency education ensures that each student graduates with the knowledge and skills he or she needs to be successful in college and career.

The pilots, proposed by the Governor, would breathe greater life into Ohio’s personalized learning and education innovation investments by offering new opportunities to districts, schools, and, most importantly, students.

These pilots should ensure districts address the following elements in their respective plans:

  1. Focus on high quality implementation of competency-based approaches that emphasize mastery while closing achievement gaps between subpopulations of students.
  2. Administer a balanced system of summative, interim, performance, and formative assessments that measure student mastery of academic knowledge and social and emotional competencies.
  3. Build capacity of the state and districts to continuously improve competency-based approaches, identifying what works and refining strategies to maximize success.
  4. Implement a personalized and adaptive system of learning and supports to close achievement gaps and ensure all students remain on pace to graduation.

Furthermore, to ensure that the investment is both systemic and sustainable, KnowledgeWorks calls on the General Assembly to enact two specific recommendations essential to the success of the Governor’s competency-based education proposals:

  1. The competency-based pilots should not only plan for implementation, an important element in success, but be implemented at a district and not just at a school level. For example, in larger districts this could be within a feeder pattern (elementary, middle, and high school) with support and alignment from the district central office. This approach will allow for greater scale and sustainability post-pilot.
  2. In addition to the current recommendation of $2.5 million included in the Governor’s budget, 2.5% ($2.5M/Year) of the recommended Straight A allocation of $100M/Year should be allocated to support these competency-based pilots to not only ensure that grants are district-wide, but also to invest adequately in essential tools, assessments, and professional development needed to support the move to competency-based instruction; provide an evaluation to allow for the data needed to scale this approach further in the state; and lastly provide connective tissue between the proposed competency-based investments in K-12 and higher education.”

I underscored that this is a critical moment for the state of Ohio. Ohio has the potential to invest in pilots that begin to build a system that can transform the way we educate all of our students. A competency-based pilot is the next step in this transformation – one that will help districts identify high-quality strategies while empowering policymakers to build a policy framework that will work in Ohio to maximize student success.



Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Rebuilding education’s future to serve students rather than politics

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-03-02 13:29

guaranteeThe first time I laid eyes on a KnowledgeWorks forecast was a game changer. While doing research for the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s ReSchool Colorado initiative, I stumbled across this treasure trove exploring our education system’s potential.

Leading up to that moment, I had been in a slow spiral of despair over education. As a teacher, I saw the deep inequities that my students faced daily when showing up to a school permeated by low expectations. In the policy arena, I learned the reality that good ideas do not win on merit, and I experienced the preference for shredding others’ ideas rather than collaborating towards solutions. When I started to understand that we do not have to be permanently bound to the disheartening chaos of today’s education system, my hope and enthusiasm began to be restored.

Fast forward to today when I have the privilege of being on a team that is not hindered by the often discouraging reality of education. In the classroom, I backwards planned to the end of the school year when my students would be ready for second grade. Now, I backwards plan my work to a future education system that serves students rather than politics or the interests of industrialism.

My research on the future of education, as well as innovations towards a personalized approach to learning, has set a powerful foundation from which to consider what education could look like in the not-too-distant future. As I build on this foundation, my perspective has been fundamentally shaped by my former students. I was a teacher in schools where the zip code led many adults, teachers and otherwise, to believe that success was unattainable and that failure was a guarantee.

Too many students are being failed by their schools on a daily basis. There is no time to waste in creating better education options, and spending time considering an ideal future could seem like an indulgence. While not an excuse to halt current efforts to create equity in the education system, I would argue that the greatest amount of future thinking needs to include these very students and their communities. In the realm of competency-based education, for example, Jobs for the Future (JFF) and RAND Education released a paper demonstrating a proactive approach to equity concerns.

In our recent KnowledgeWorks Twitter chats, so many individuals recognized that a more equitable system is needed, but similar to the JFF and RAND paper, there seem to be more questions than answers. Instead of facing these unknowns with discouragement, these questions create an incredible opportunity for those interested in actively shaping the future of education.



As we work to transform the education system, the processes that we use need to be transformed as well. No longer should we be creating committees and boards made up of the most highly-educated and powerful. The questions around equity need to be answered by groups representing the students being served. When the voices shaping the future of education are as diverse as the students we serve, we will be that much closer to a more rigorous dialog that will form a better, more equitable system.

I could not be more excited for the day when the students in neighborhoods like Denver’s Montbello and Five Points will be known and highly valued in their communities. I will know that we are on the way to educational equity for all students when communities rally around students, of all income levels and races, to actively support them to discover their passions and to meet their full potential. To achieve this vision, we must use collaborative approach that includes diverse perspectives and ideas. Working together, we can attain this vision for our education system.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Moving Personalized Learning out of “Pilot Phase”

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:44

Broadly speaking, personalized learning is stuck in the school pilot phase. There are countless examples of personalized learning environments, models and schools from coast to coast. But how do we reach a level of scale that provides these environments for all students?

Yesterjesseday, Jesse Moyer shares his thoughts with Personalize Learning, a blog founded on the idea that personalizing learning is the key design element to transform learning. For more than two decades, the team at Personalize Learning has worked toward empowering every learner to support and direct his or her own learning.

Jesse specifically discusses KnowledgeWorks’ District Conditions for Scale, which was developed based on an extensive listening tour with school and district leaders who are leading personalized learning movements and scaling success.

Read Jesse’s complete post on Personalize Learning, “Scaling Personalize Learning.”


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Highlights from second #FutureEd Twitter Chat

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-02-23 14:39

On Friday, Feb. 20, KnowledgeWorks hosted its second #FutureEd Twitter chat. This chat focused on the second five Innovation Pathways, which revolve around transforming supporting systemic structures to better serve student learning in the future.

KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight Katherine Prince hosted the chat. More than 90 people participated, sharing their insight, hopes and dreams for #FutureEd.

For reflections on the chat, see this summary by Jason Swanson, KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight.

Below is the Storify for the Feb. 20 #FutureEd Twitter chat. Thanks to all who participated! If interested in participating in upcoming chats, sign up here for more information.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Twitter Chat Wrap-Up: Transforming Supporting Systemic Structures

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-02-20 15:58

A wrap-up of the #FutureEd Twitter chat discussing transforming supporting systemic structures, hosted by KnowledgeWorks' Katherine Prince.

And that’s a wrap! I have just finished participating in the second installment of our #FutureEd Twitter Chat looking at Katherine Prince’s Innovating Toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem paper.

For this chat, the focus was on the second set of innovation pathways which focus on transforming supporting systemic structures. It was great to see such a varied audience and to read such thoughtful contributions.

Something I found particularly interesting was the importance of relationships in creating systemic change. The theme of relationships came up quite often across all the pathways we explored today.

Looking across the innovation pathways that we covered today, here were some themes that were highlighted during the chat:

  • Funding: Funding needs to follow the learner and span learning environments. Funding should also move away from the property tax model.
  • Quality Assurance: The teaching profession could play a key role in quality assurance. There is a need for new learning credentials and new assessment structures. Competency based education was also a key component, with quality and equity are demonstrated by the focus on mastery.
  • Community Ownership: We need to create a shared vision for learning, establish partnerships and encourage collaboration between the education system and community. Transparency will also be a key component, as well clear lines of communication.
  • Leadership and Policy: Leadership should focus on the long view, and work to be active agents of transformation rather than protectors of the status quo. Other interesting ideas included the establishment of community-based governance structures.
  • Public Will: Surfacing and extending innovations, setting visions, and taking the long view will help to cultivate public will.

I had a wonderful time exploring the future with all of today’s participants. Dealing with change, let alone systemic change, is a difficult task. I am reassured by the responses of today’s participants that the future of education will be a bright one as there are so many great ideas on how to move things forward. It is tough work, but the consequences keeping the current system the same, of only reforming rather than transforming, are much worse. This is work that every one of us has to have a hand in, to ensure every child has positive learning experience and the best chance at success.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

Breaking down the Policy Barriers Facing K-12 Competency Education

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-02-20 11:03

When I ask advocates of competency education what they see as the biggest hurdle to its adoption, the answer is almost always the same:

CBE LandscapeToday’s education system is not set up to enable competency education. Its policies are in direct conflict, and it’s impossible to build a new system while spending time and resources propping up the old one.

But despite clear consensus of the problem, the field still lacks a clear policy solution that will support this work at scale.

Fortunately, in partnership with the Nellie Mae Foundation, the policy team at KnowledgeWorks decided to launch a deep dive into the three most challenging policy areas – Accountability, Assessment, and Student Supports – to provide a landscape scan of the points of consensus and emerging issues clouding policy conversations about competency education. Our goal was to establish a greater sense of ownership around the policies necessary to support competency education at scale. Thanks to the involvement of many talented thought partners and practitioners, we believe our final report does just that. You can access the full document, Building Consensus and Momentum: A Policy and Political Landscape for K-12 Competency Education, or a shortened abstract on the KnowledgeWorks website.  

While the journey to finalize this paper was long, it was necessary in order to fully capture the expertise and opinions of the field. Our year-long study included the following steps:

  • A field survey of forward-thinking practitioners across the country to better understand the demand and barriers in competency education. The survey (not surprisingly) found that nearly 89 percent of respondents were interested in implementing competency-based education, but despite this high interest, 63 percent said they have not been able to take action, citing accountability and assessment policy barriers as the primary reason.
  • A convening of practitioners and policymakers working on the front lines of competency education to unpack the policy barriers uncovered in the survey and react to potential policy solutions.
  • Interviews with several dozen superintendents implementing competency-based models to better understand the system of supports necessary to make competency education work for every student.

Each step of the process helped solidify a set of policies that will enable the shift to competency education. The process also uncovered a number of emerging issues that we explore in depth in the report. We believe these issues should serve as the new starting point for conversations focused on building a policy framework that enables the growth of competency education.

In the meantime, KnowledgeWorks and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation believe there are enough compelling points of evidence and policy consensus that federal policymakers should empower states to begin building, evaluating, and refining competency-based education systems. As such, our organizations kick off this new report by calling on the 114th Congress to establish a set of state-level pilots that focus on high-quality implementation of competency-based assessment and accountability systems. A competency education pilot is the next logical step in this movement – one that will help states identify high-quality strategies while empowering federal policymakers to build a policy framework that will maximize student success.

Read Building Consensus and Momentum: A Policy and Political Landscape for K-12 Competency Education as a PDF or e-book. Learn more about Competency Education resources on KnowledgeWorks website.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds

A game-changer for education: Personalized learning and the common core

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-02-19 15:37

Every child deserves high-quality, personalized learning that focuses on how he/she learns best. Since the development of common core, we have seen a huge increase in personalized learning models, such as blended, competency and project-based, says Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy.

This week, Lillian writes on the Alliance for Excellent Education blog about how common core can be the gateway to personalized learning. The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, D.C.- based national policy and advocacy organization that works to promote high school transformation so every child graduates prepared for postsecondary learning and success in life.

Lillian also focuses on four reasons why she believes common core can be the gateway to personalized learning. She writes:

“Since the development of the common core, there has been a huge increase in personalized learning models such as blended, competency, and project-based learning. Classrooms across the country have replaced rows of desks with vibrant learning centers that encourage collaboration and help students follow customized pathways to mastery. These classrooms are busy, noisy, and at first glance, distracting. But the closer you look, the more you realize that the noise and activity are signs that every student is engaged in his or her learning journey. There are no struggling students who can’t keep up or bored students who can’t engage. This is a game-changer for education.”

But according to Lillian, there’s more work to do to ensure every student – regardless of neighborhood, background or socioeconomic status – has an equal chance to succeed.

Read Lillian’s complete blog post, “Common Core: The Gateway to Personalized Learning” to see why she thinks common core can be the gateway to personalized learning.


Categories: , Blog, Multiple Feeds