Storify: First-ever #FutureEd Twitter Chat

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-02-10 12:16

On Friday, Feb. 6, KnowledgeWorks hosted its first-ever #FutureEd Twitter chat, focused on the Innovation Pathways. With almost 90 participants, the chat provided a venue for different voices to share their stories, thoughts and hopes for the Future of Education.

For reflections on the chat (and thoughts on her first-ever experience moderating a chat), see Katherine Prince’s recent blog.

Below is the Storify for the #FutureEd Twitter chat. Thanks to all who participated! Join us Feb. 20 for our next chat, focused on systemic structures.


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A Blueprint for a New Ohio: Competency Education Pilots Proposed in Ohio

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-02-09 13:13

photoEarlier last week Governor John Kasich of Ohio released his budget recommendations to the General Assembly. The recommendations, entitled “Blueprint for a New Ohio,” are incredibly strong on education.

In reviewing the blueprint, I’m impressed with the foresight and the focus on innovation exhibited. Gov. Kasich calls for investments in education innovation, blurs the lines between K-12 and higher education, and calls for increased funding in quality early childhood education.

Some of the highlights in the Department of Education budget:

  • Continue funding for the Straight A Fund providing districts and schools with grants to implement innovative practices.
  • Promote College Credit Plus by helping teachers in economically disadvantaged high schools get the credentials needed to teach college level courses and reward districts and schools that increase student participation in College Credit Plus and Advanced Placement courses.
  • Provide more funding for early childhood education and increase the number of opportunities for economically disadvantaged students to enroll in high quality preschools.
  • Increase the focus on the importance of career counseling by identifying best practices, funding professional development and regional workshops for school counselors on career counseling.
  • Engage students in learning by funding ten sites to pilot competency-based education programs that advance students when they master course content.
  • Fund the new adult diploma program to help Ohioans earn a high school diploma and an industry recognized credential. Extend the program to include up to five additional pilot sites at community colleges or technical centers.

The Department of Higher Education (Ohio Board of Regents) budget recommendations from the Governor have an expressed focus on affordability and innovation. Some of the highlights follow:

  • Fund the Student Debt Reduction Program for the purpose of reducing debt and financial burdens on students attending Ohio public institutions.
  • Fund a Competency Based Pilot Program to provide affordable, online, competency-based degrees for adults.
  • Provide Higher Education Innovation Grants to public institutions of higher education for innovative administration redesign proposals which will result in cost savings to students.
  • Increase the number of students who have access to a college education by providing need-based financial aid awards to over 90,000 students via the Ohio College Opportunity Grant.
  • Increase articulation of career-technical programs with programs provided at colleges and universities. This will be accomplished primarily through continued work on the articulation and transfer agreements that allow students to earn college credit for appropriate career-technical program coursework.

I’ve been pleased with a number of investments and strategies that have emerged in the state over the last few years including the Straight A Fund, the Innovation Lab Network (ILN), Alternative Accountability Waiver for ILN districts (HB487), investment in performance assessments, and, of course, the implementation of college and career ready standards and assessments. The state has a strong foundation of educational investments and strategies to build upon to help Ohio become one of the leading states in the country. Gov. Kasich’s budget recommendations build on that strong foundation.

I’m particularly excited by the funding of pilots at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels focused on competency education. Competency education provides a framework for learning with the goal of mastery of academic standards through personalized learning and differentiated supports for every student. This is a fundamental shift that allows for greater personalization of learning.

Gov. Kasich’s recommendations help to advance a competency-based system that has the ability to be a game changer for all students. The Governor, along with Congressional leaders Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Representative John Kline (R-Minn.), are all supporting a pilot-driven shift from a time-based system to a competency-based system.

KnowledgeWorks has been focused on competency education for the past few years and the future has never been brighter.


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Reflections on Transforming the Core of Learning

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-02-06 16:56

On February 6, Katherine Prince hosted a #FutureEd Twitter chat about transforming the core of learning.

This Week’s Learning Journey

Wow! I’m a little dizzy from hosting my first #FutureEd Twitter chat about transforming the core of learning but wanted to highlight a few of the themes that emerged thanks to the thoughtful contributions of many participants.

Comments about what a vibrant learning ecosystem might look like in ten years’ time emphasized the need for equity along with the need for learning to flow around and with students. Customized pathways, flexibility, and unbounded learning independent of set time or place also stood out.

For each of the innovation pathways that the chat highlighted, here were some more particular themes:

  • Learning Cultures – We need networks and partnerships in order to connect traditional schools and other environments in intentional and transparent ways.
  • Learning Structures – We need to foster common visions and goals, along with new mental models that help people re-imagine ways in which learning can extend beyond the walls of traditional schools. In addition, teachers can be leaders in creating new learning structures, and accountability systems should support rather than dictate those structures.
  • Human Capital – In an expanded and highly personalized learning ecosystem, educators will need strong capacity in areas such as empathy, data literacy, and innovation. They will also need time and systemic supports, along with new cultures of teaching that enable the creation of new cultures of learning.
  • Data Infrastructure – While our current data systems and incentives are far too narrow, an enriched and more interconnected data infrastructure will be most meaningful in the context of relationships among people who are using it to support learning.
  • Assessment and Credentialing – Context, granularity, and demonstration of mastery are essential for meaningful assessments and credentials. We have opportunities to think not just about new possibilities for students’ credentials but also for teachers’ credentials and community partnership assessments.

On February 20, we’ll be delving into another #futureed chat on the five innovation pathways that focus on transforming supporting systemic structures. Maybe, having hosted one chat now, I’ll feel more prepared to read and synthesize lots of great ideas at high speed!


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Learning Ecosystems: High-Need Geographies, Common Challenges, Unique Needs and Constraints

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-02-05 16:21

In working with our current forecast on the future of learning, Recombinant Education, KnowledgeWorks has developed a visios trying to adapt to school. In our ideal future, that vibrant learning ecosystem reflects diverse learning formats and structures, while integrating talent and resources to support every learner in preparing for college, career and life.

To help expand our thinking, KnowledgeWorks’ entire Policy and Strategic Foresight team got together a while back for a day-long workshop with friend and contributor, futurist Andrea Saveri. Using the adaptive cycle to help us imagine what sustainable transformation in learning ecosystems might look like, the group generated ideas about the kinds of high-need geographies that can present challenges to learning. Below is the list of geographies that we came up with and whose needs we felt were particularly pronounced:


Poor Rural Communities:

Poor rural communities can include areas such as farming communities, rural towns, mountain villages and other locations that are geographically isolated.

Disrupted Suburbs:

Disrupted suburbs include suburban communities that are experiencing some manner of disruptive change, such as economic decline or a shift in demographics.

Poor Urban Neighborhoods:

Poor urban neighborhoods typically have very few economic resources despite being in such close proximity to the resources and institutions of the surrounding city.

Incarcerated Settings:

Incarcerated settings include learners who are confined to settings such as jails or prisons.


After identifying the above list of high-need geographies, we began to brainstorm ideas about what unique needs and constraints learners in each of the high-need geographies might face. From the initial brainstorming session, we began to see that the unique needs in each of the high-need geographies stemmed from what might be described as a common set of challenges that are often felt in across all the geographies.

Those common challenges are:

  • Isolation in various forms and barriers to accessing resources can prevent vibrant learning ecosystems from developing.
  • Instability of, or extreme constraints to, an area’s economic base can undermine effective planning and prevent consistent movement toward solutions that could make the local learning ecosystem vibrant.
  • Cultural barriers and stigma can prevent viable solutions from taking hold in meaningful ways. For example, cultural barriers can include how stakeholders in a particular geography define success, leading to conflicting narratives about what it means to be successful along with resulting variation in attitudes towards education. In another example, people who are incarcerated often face significant stigma, such that the general public might question whether inmates deserve access to high-quality education

This exercise helped us develop a lens for considering particular circumstances relating to the question of how we might make the future learning ecosystem vibrant for all learners.

The workshop certainly helped stretch my thinking in terms of imaging what the “connective tissue” might be in a vibrant and connected learning ecosystem. It was interesting to see how the common challenges among the geographies manifested themselves, especially across environments that I would have considered to be quite dissimilar.

As we continue our research, I am curious to know what other geographies might face challenges around equity. What are their needs today? What might their needs be in the future?


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Haircuts and love notes don’t matter, supporting personalized education does

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-02-03 17:36

photoThe last few weeks have been a pretty exciting time, both personally and professionally. No, it isn’t because of my family, although my six year-old did give himself a haircut at school and my three year old got his first “love note.” No, it isn’t because of anything I am doing through volunteer work, although I did get to attend a pretty cool leadership conference recently. It isn’t because of any of those things.

What is it you ask?

It’s the Super Bowl and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization, of course! One of my favorite sporting events and potentially the biggest education policy development in the last decade are happening at the same time.

I enjoy monitoring both of these events, not in the least because of the lead-up for each. “Testing is terrible.” “Testing is absolutely necessary.” “Or maybe it’s somewhere in between?” “I’m only here so I don’t get fined.” “No, I didn’t let any air out of those footballs.”

Watching it all unfold is pretty interesting (and sometimes entertaining).

Part of that lead-up are the recommendations KnowledgeWorks and iNACOL published around the support of competency education in the ESEA reauthorization. Several of the recommendations resonate with the research we’ve done about the district conditions necessary to scale personalized learning.

Recommendation four stood out to me because it focuses on supporting learning infrastructure to enable competency education. One of the biggest barriers we’ve identified to scaling personalized learning, which would include competency education, was the lack of data system solutions at the district level.

Here is what our paper says about a comprehensive data system:

Districts should maintain a comprehensive data system consisting of learning management, assessment, and student information systems. These systems should be able to track student achievement history, teacher comments, supports and interventions, and other indicators while protecting student-level privacy.

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University offers several examples of how increased use of data, made easier by a comprehensive data system, positively impacts student learning, including educators using assessment data to pinpoint knowledge and skills gaps, principals using data to uncover patterns of performance, and instructional coaches using data to improve instructional performance. Without direct funding to help with start-up costs or the “flexibility to use state and district activities funds in applicable formula and discretionary programs to establish or improve learning infrastructure,” it is likely districts will continue to struggle using data and data systems to enable these activities.

However the ESEA reauthorization turns out, whether it involves Senator Alexander throwing a Hail Mary pass to Senator Murray or Secretary Duncan being called for pass interference on Representative Kline, I truly believe comprehensive data systems are the backbone of personalized education and desperately need to be addressed in any version of ESEA.

To learn more about our district conditions for scale, you can visit KnowledgeWorks’ policy page and signup for our email newsletter to stay up-to-date on this developing work.


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How to find balance on mandated testing? Ask the right questions.

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-02-02 10:48

testing questionsLast week, I posted, as an Education Insider, for the National Journal, the following in reaction to Fawn Johnson’s excellent post, “The Jockeying Over Testing Mandates Beginson the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog. Fawn Johnson put forth a well-researched and thoughtful post on the current discussions in the U.S. Senate regarding ESEA and assessment policy. She does a great and balanced job in outlining the issue as well as elevating multiple voices across the landscape. The Education Insiders were asked to deal with the following questions:

For our insiders: How do federally mandated tests differ from the curriculum being taught to students during the rest of the year? What do they measure well? What do they miss? How many other tests is a typical student subjected to each year? How do they differ from the federal tests? Is grade-span testing a better way to measure achievement? How can state tests show the progress of a student from grade to grade, rather than comparing one year’s fourth-graders to the next year’s fourth-graders? What is the best answer on testing?

The discussion over testing is a complex one. In our current conversations we tend to divorce testing from discussions of accountability, school improvement, and student supports, and we too often blur the lines between summative and formative assessment.

Much of the testing we currently administer is tied to measures put in place through the standards movement, which generally was propelled forward with bi-partisan support. These policies have been consistent in many ways with a long tradition of American educational reform with an eye towards improving the achievement of all students (see disaggregation of data by sub-groups).

The current tension around testing is fueled by many issues and layers of the system. It is not simply a Federal issue. State and district policy play a role, as well. For example, Ohio recently released a report that outlines some of the largest levels of testing happened in kindergarten, third grade and tenth grade. There are state policies that affect each of those grade levels, including a new kindergarten readiness assessment, third-grade reading guarantee, and graduation assessment. I’m not making an argument against any one of those policies but just illustrating the fact that all levels of the system, and the very underpinnings of our current education system, add to the various tests students take throughout a given year.

How do we strike the right balance using the right means? I could argue that we should first begin to answer some of the following questions before we throw the good out with the perceived bad:

  1.  What are the salient historical themes of our testing policy over the past 30 years? What was the primary rationale for these actions?
  2. What are the strategic goals (and related rationale) of our current testing policy? What success criteria are linked to this strategy?
  3. Have federally/state mandated tests produced greater local school district accountability for student achievement, which, in turn, has built pressure to identify and utilize more effective strategies to improve student academic outcomes?
  4. How much time do students and educators devote to state assessment test preparation and test taking (formative and summative)? Are test results provided to students and educators in a prompt manner thus facilitating student learning?
  5. How much time do students devote to locally discretionary test taking?
  6. What is the relationship between the federal and state mandates and local discretionary tests? Do they add up into a comprehensive assessment system?

Questions drive the answers we gain. I worry that we aren’t pausing long enough to ask the right questions as we discuss student testing in our country. We are only thinking about “how much?” and not enough about “why?” or “to what end?”. The current conversation on testing is an important one, to be sure.

The discussion is linked to civil rights and equity, student growth, school improvement, and teacher evaluation, just to name a few key issues. This is why at KnowledgeWorks, we are recommending the following as part of our overarching principles for ESEA reauthorization:

  • Maintain a rigorous accountability system that disaggregates data by subgroup and asks states to set goals and performance targets to ensure high expectations for all students. Empower states to incorporate multiple measures and student growth to provide a comprehensive picture of school and district performance.
  • Maintain annual assessments in grades 3-8 and once in high school to provide transparent and useful data for educators, students, and other key stakeholders and empower states to build better assessment systems that drive real-time improvements in student learning.

My colleague Lillian Pace will provide a more comprehensive look at our recommendations later in the week. Check back for her post.




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

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

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

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

More detail on these recommendations, created and offered in partnership between KnowledgeWorks and iNACOL, can be found at the following link: http://www.knowledgeworks.org/sites/default/files/KW-iNACOL-ESEA-Recommendations-2015.pdf


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Stepping into the complex world of education data systems

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

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

In short, more kids = more money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Personalized Learning for Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Competency Education Gains a Seat at the Congressional Negotiating Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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ICYMI: 2014 Blogging Favorites

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

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

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

      “As ReSchool Colorado’s vision for Colorado’s new learning system articulates so well, we can orient learning around learners while also situating learning in community and articulating shared learning outcomes,” Katherine writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Launching the District Conditions of Scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Way We’ll Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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From Vision to Practice: Building the Next Generation Educator Workforce

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

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

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

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

competency continuum

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

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


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Exploring Possibilities for Districts in Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Micro-Credentials Today, Employer-Issued Credentials Tomorrow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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A menu of opportunities: Education with your own flavor

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

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

Grande iced peppermint mocha with whip and chocolate drizzle.

Venti soy chai tea with a shot of espresso.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Reading List: Cold Weather Edition

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

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

allure of orderThe Allure of Order (Jal Mehta)

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


teacher warsThe Teacher Wars (Dana Goldstein)

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


the testThe Test (Anya Kamenetz)

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

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

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

building a better teacherBuilding a Better Teacher (Elizabeth Green)

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


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


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Teaching for Competency Education and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Sharing educational insight at iNACOL annual symposium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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