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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Big Data Backlash

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

geoff zimmerman

Geoff Zimmerman, StrivePartnership


Aimee Guidera, Data Quality Campaign


Doug Levin, SETDA


Hanna Doerr, San Francisco Education Fund






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to your thoughts.


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When discussing preschool, quality is key

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Loss of a Colleague and Friend

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-10-27 14:25

William McNeese was a Senior Vice President and the CFO for KnowledgeWorks.

William McNeese worked at KnowledgeWorks from 2001 to 2014.

We at KnowledgeWorks are hurting today, as we just lost our great colleague and friend, Bill McNeese, last Friday.

Having worked closely with Bill for the past 13+ years, I came to appreciate him for much more than his incredible expertise in finance / accounting, investments and HR. You see, I marveled at how he had come to reconcile those “sciences” with KnowledgeWorks’ broad, somewhat abstract mission of helping to create meaningful, high-quality educational opportunities for young people who otherwise would not have access to them.

During the time I worked with Bill, he evolved from, “Given our policies, codes, etc., we cannot do that,” to, “Given our policies, codes, etc., this is how we can do that.” He always served as the voice of reason, calm and wisdom, in a sea of passionate, dreamy, we-can-change-the-world zealots. But don’t be fooled – he embraced our noble mission as much as anyone else here. And for that, I admired and appreciated him.

KnowledgeWorks is strong, vibrant and healthy, and Bill deserves as much credit for that as anyone.  He will be missed tremendously, but never forgotten.


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Innovation Pathways toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-10-27 13:16

I work with education stakeholders around the country to explore how they might use the trends shaping the future of learning to create better possibilities for all learners. Increasingly, these conversations reflect an acceptance that education is facing profound change, that we are moving from our outdated industrial-era system toward a diverse learning ecosystem. As I’ve articulated elsewhere , my great hope is that this future learning ecosystem will be vibrant for all learners and not just for those whose families have the time, money, or other resources needed to customize or supplement their learning journeys.

We won’t realize the potential of a vibrant learning ecosystem without pursuing large-scale systemic transformation. To help education stakeholders – including those who are stewarding the current education system and those who are working in other kinds of learning environments or innovating on the fringes of the current learning landscape – become active agents of change in creating the future, I collaborated with colleagues at KnowledgeWorks to create the innovation pathways framework shown below.

innovation pathwaysThis innovation pathways framework identifies key systemic levers of transformation that together promise to create a learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners. The innovation pathways fall into two categories:

  • Transforming the core of learning – These innovation pathways pertain most directly to learners’ day-to-day experiences.
  • Transforming supporting systemic structures – These innovation pathways represent enabling conditions that must be present to ensure that the learning ecosystem meets the needs of all learners.

My latest paper delves into each of these innovation pathways in detail to give education stakeholders a framework for aiming beyond reform toward transformation. It describes what we might accomplish if we do manage to deliver on the promise of a vibrant learning ecosystem for all young people. It also suggests strategies for how, over time, the sector might move from today’s reality toward that vision.

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. We can be active agents of change in transforming learning using the strategies offered in the paper and many others that education stakeholders will devise as the learning ecosystem continues to expand and evolve.

Please join me in exploring what it will take to make the future of learning work well and seamlessly for all young people. It’s our responsibility to make the future of learning both equitable and rigorous and to create a learning ecosystem that has the capacity to continue innovating and adapting to changing conditions.

You can also listen to KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight Jason Swanson and me discuss it on a recent EduTalk Radio show.


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Discussing Pathways for Transforming Learning on EduTalk Radio

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-10-22 12:14

 Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning.

We see that profound change is on the horizon for education, but how do we get there? That was one of the questions posed earlier today on EduTalk Radio in an interview with Katherine Prince and Jason Swanson.

A new paper authored by Prince offers answers to that question. In Innovating Toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning, Prince shares a framework designed to help education stakeholders become active agents of change in creating the future. While any given education stakeholder might contribute to only one or a few of the innovation pathways, the sector needs to advance along all of them in order to realize the best of future possibilities.

Listen to the full interview with Prince and Swanson to learn more about the innovation pathways framework.



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Finding inspiration in a 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-10-21 08:30

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.Over the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about why I went into the field of education. This is the type of reflection that typically happens around my birthday. The whole, “Why am I here and what the heck am I really doing?”

My answer was swift and to the point, “Education is a human right. It has the power to transform lives, lift people out of current circumstances, and propel human progress. Education is the life-blood of humanity.” To be clear, that is the power of education, not me. I’m just a guy that does some things from time to time.

However, the true power of life and of education came into even greater focus when Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and a teenager, became the youngest ever to win a Nobel Prize at age 17. I had known about her story, certainly, but given my life ponderings it was a powerful reminder of the transformative nature of education.

For those that are not familiar with her story, Malala is known for human rights and education advocacy in her home region of Pakistan where the local Taliban had, at times, banned girls from attending school. Malala’s advocacy has since grown into an inspirational, international movement. In early 2009, when she was 11 or 12, she wrote a blog, using a pseudonym, for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule, their attempts to take control, and her views on educating girls. This advocacy led to a New York Times documentary about her life, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu, and was awarded the National Youth Peace Prize. However, in October 2012, Malala boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani district of Swat. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. Malala, ever the fighter, survived as did her message of the power of education. She was quoted as saying, “I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”

With that poignant reminder of education as a basic right, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of England, launched a UN petition in Malala’s honor demanding the following:

  • We call on Pakistan to agree to a plan to deliver education for every child.
  • We call on all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls.
  • We call on international organizations to ensure the world’s 61 million out-of-school children are in education by the end of 2015.

This petition helped shape the ratification of Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill. Malala’s message not only changed opportunities for her home region but all of Pakistan and potentially the world.

We have universal, public education in the United States. However, we take it for granted and we struggle mightily to reach all children. We are still leaving children behind each and every day. We see bright eyes dim just as we see lives transformed. We see students fall deeper into the grips of poverty just as we see students graduate to become the first in their family to walk across a stage to earn a degree. We have an uneven dream in our country. Augustine once wrote, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are and the courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” We need to collectively have the anger, courage and hope to insure that all of our children have access to an education that helps them fulfill their potential and their dreams.


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Collective Impact: The End of Piecemeal Education Reform

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-10-20 08:55

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailDid you know the United States spends more educating its citizens than any other developed nation, yet we continue to fall in the middle of the pack on every international measure of academic performance? Some might use this as a rallying call to invest even more in the system. At KnowledgeWorks, we believe in a better solution– scale collective impact so every community in the nation can build the civic infrastructure necessary to support and sustain impactful education reform!

Last week, at StriveTogether’s annual convening in San Diego , KnowledgeWorks released “Improving Student Outcomes through Collective Impact: A Guide for Federal Policymakers.” This guide provides an overview of the emerging collective impact movement and a series of policy recommendations to bring this work to scale. My colleague, Jeff Edmondson (the Managing Director of StriveTogether) and I decided to write this guide after witnessing more than 50 communities in StriveTogether’s network  use the collective impact approach to move the needle on challenging education outcomes — without investing new resources in the system. Collective impact has the potential to revolutionize the way the nation approaches education reform, accelerating student success, closing achievement gaps, and expanding educational opportunity at every stage of the education pipeline.

As the largest investor in the nation’s education system, the federal government is in a unique position to bring collective impact to scale. Our guide encourages policymakers to take three simple steps:

1. Leverage resources for education reform by aligning all federal education place-based grants with local collective impact efforts and base eligibility for federal grants on where a community is on its path to reform.

2. Ensure that federal grants for place-based work help communities make strategic investments to further quality collective impact.

3. Establish a set of six essential outcome areas, or academic points along the education continuum, that will guide selection, monitoring and evaluation of all federal education place-based grants. The six essential recommended outcome areas include: Kindergarten Readiness, Early Grade Reading, Middle Grade Math, High School Graduation, Postsecondary Enrollment and Postsecondary Completion.

Our country will not maintain its international competitiveness if it continues to fund piecemeal strategies that lack stakeholder buy-in at the local, state and federal levels. A comprehensive approach will help stakeholders identify challenges and shift resources behind the strategies with the greatest potential to make a difference in the lives of America’s students.


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Discussing Quality Collective Impact with USED Deputy Secretary

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-10-09 15:21

Throughout this year, StriveTogether and its collective impact approach have gained national attention from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the U.S. Department of Education and the White House.

Jim Shelton

And yesterday, U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed collective impact with StriveTogether during the Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact webinar.

“We recognize that there are other things that get in the way of children being ready to learn … and that by bringing these resources and assets together, we can dramatically improve the effectiveness and impact of each one of them,” Shelton said during the webinar. “That’s why this work has become so important. It recognizes the integrated nature of these challenges and how we need to work together to solve these challenges.”

The webinar proved that collective impact is quickly becoming a well-known method in aligning programs and dollars around measurable goals to support every child through school. StriveTogether’s unique approach focuses on rigor, structure and accountability to build civic infrastructure in communities. Cradle to Career Network partnerships work to advance common educational goals in their communities, while following the Theory of Action to advance their work on the ground.

“All the communities doing My Brother’s Keeper and other federal initiatives like it are going to need to do rigorous collective impact if they’re going to get it right,” Shelton said during the webinar.

He also noted that communities should share the barriers they face in the collective impact work and how the federal government can help overcome them.

“The smarter we get about how to blend funding streams, the more sustainable this work to build on what works will become. … We need to make sure we structure programs at the federal level to support collective impact and the infrastructure these communities are building,” Shelton said during the webinar.

Next week, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy Lillian Pace and StriveTogether Managing Director Jeff Edmondson will release a paper, “Improving Student Outcomes through Collective Impact: A Guide for Federal Policymakers.” The paper focuses on the StriveTogether collective impact approach, the potential for impacting federal education reform, and recommendations for the federal government in aligning resources to support the work.

Webinar panelists also included Living Cities President Ben Hecht, All Hands Raised CEO Dan Ryan and The Commit! Partnership Executive Director Todd Williams. Both All Hands Raised and The Commit! Partnership are a part of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.

For more takeaways from the Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact, check out the Striving Together blog.


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Focusing on What’s Best for Students

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2014-10-03 07:54

My hot coffee sat in front of me, a promising start to any morning, as I cracked open the local paper. “Worn out on tests?” the front page read. “Graduation exams triple for Ohio freshmen.”

Reading past the first paragraph, I quickly learned that Ohio is abandoning the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) for freshmen this year. Instead of five OGT exams needed to graduate, the state will require students to take Next Generation Assessments, or “end-of-course” exams. It will increase the number of exams from five to seven, with two parts for each subject.

According to my math, this means our freshmen will now be facing 14 exams, almost three times the number in previous years.

But is this what’s best for students?

We need to take a step back. We must consider what is best for every student to succeed in college, career and beyond. We need to refocus our education system on personalized learning and competency education, ensuring every student graduates with the knowledge and skills to think critically, intelligently and innovatively.


As a high schooler, I was never fond of standardized tests. I still remember the dread of waking up in the morning of testing days, already anxious for the Scantron-filled hours ahead. Sitting silently in rows of desks, rushing to beat the clock, extra #2 pencils within my reach— it just wasn’t (and still isn’t) my learning style. But when teachers set up more creative working environments, I thrived.

During sophomore year, my English teacher assigned “Catcher in the Rye” and gave us three post-book project options. I chose to create a CD mixed by Holden Caulfield with a corresponding paper that explained the song choices through his voice. It wasn’t a multiple-choice test, verifying we remembered that Holden attended and was expelled from Pencey Prep. Rather, it creatively proved our comprehension and understanding of a complex character in a timeless novel.

This is how we create relevancy for today’s students (maybe using an iPhone instead of a CD). Not days filled with standardized state testing, but days filled with creative, stimulating learning environments, including performance assessments to promote deeper learning that revolves around what is best for each student.

At KnowledgeWorks, this is what we strive for: An extensive learning ecosystem that puts the student at the center. By partnering with schools and communities throughout the country, pushing for policy change on a statewide and national level, as well as forecasting future learning trends, we challenge communities and educators to imagine school in a new way: a way that allows each student to thrive.

Because every student, no matter what, deserves the opportunity to succeed. It’s our job to create highly personalized, healthy learning environments that encourage, challenge and support each individual student every step of the way.



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Working to prepare our Next Generation of Globally-Minded Citizens: Mulder Appointed to Center for International Understanding Board

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2014-10-01 14:31

Cris-Mulder_ProfileCongrats to Cris Mulder, our Vice President of Communications and Marketing, for her recent board appointment to the Center for International Understanding at the University of North Carolina.

Mulder will bring a broad array of experience, from public to private sector both internationally and nationally, to the CIU’s Board of Directors.

“It’s imperative that we prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to work within and amongst a global society, and that we broaden the perspectives of our leaders in schools, communities and businesses with a global competency,” said Mulder. “I am honored to join the CIU board and look forward to sharing my experiences and contributing to the future direction and work in preparing our next generation of globally-minded citizens.”

CIU serves North Carolina, Mulder’s home state, by promoting awareness, expanding understanding and empowering action through global education. As part of the University of North Carolina, the center offers programs for business, policy and education leaders to help North Carolina’s international efforts in becoming more engaged on the global stage.

“Cris brings a wealth of international experiences and perspectives, combined with her communications and marketing background that will help guide our efforts to support North Carolina’s global engagement at all levels,” CIU Interim Executive Director Jim Fain said. “Her knowledge, skills and diverse backgrounds will enhance our education and business partnerships and infuse our work with energy and valuable new ideas.”

For more information, visit CIU’s website and follow Mulder on Twitter.



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Catering to Digital-Age Students with “Gaming Mentality”

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2014-09-29 12:31

Matt WilliamsLast week I posted, as an Education Insider for the National Journal, the following in reaction to Fawn Johnson’s excellent post, “Teaching the Digital Native”, on the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog:


Fawn Johnson put forth a well-researched and thoughtful post on Teaching the Digital Native. She does a great job of dealing with the technology questions that are significant. She also does a great job of dealing with the technology questions that are significant. Yes, we need more broadband; high-speed internet is a must; professional development and supports for teachers must improve significantly; pedagogy must improve so device integration can move beyond just an expensive spiral notebook; and bring-your-own device policies need to be embraced, as well.

There is significant work to do to properly, responsibly and effectively integrate technology into the daily teaching and learning for all students. I’m going to take a different path with my comments. Part of teaching a digital native moves beyond technology. These students are gamers. From the moment they could turn on a device they were gaming. Gaming provides a clear progression through levels with measurable objectives. This has a wiring effect on the way they think and it doesn’t line up with the way we do “school.”

Today’s students have grown up in a digital, gamified world from Wii, to Xbox, to World of Warcraft, to Minecraft, and beyond. A competency-basvideo gamesed education system would better serve them as it provides a clear, measurable way to navigate the education system to gain mastery of both content and skills. It is akin to progressing through levels by acquiring skills and building mastery. Check out the alignment between the definition of competency education as defined by iNACOL and the CCSSO:

  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 these five elements, competency education ensures that each student graduates with the knowledge and skills he or she needs to be successful in college and career. This approach provides a stark contrast to today’s traditional system which advances students based on the amount of time spent in a class, not on mastery of critical content knowledge and skills. This emphasis on time-based policies often exacerbates significant learning gaps for many students.

Imagine the opportunities if we capitalized on the “gaming mentality” that our digital natives already possess. We might just have something if we gamified school, infused it with technology, and provided students with a clear, articulated path to mastery. Imagine the possibilities? Now that’s teaching the digital natives.


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When Success and Failure Look the Same

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-09-25 16:03

You don’t have to spend too much time in education to run into two often-frustrating facts:

  1.  Too many children are being devastatingly failed by their schools and the system as a whole.
  2. Different people have radically different ideas of how to support the most vulnerable children in the system.

One second, I’m fired up about new ideas to improve students’ education experiences; the next, I remember that most victories have to be taken with a grain—or a heap?—of salt. It seems that there are always two sides to any set of data.

Enter various state actions to create new districts for turnaround schools: Louisiana’s Recovery School District, Tennessee’s Achievement School District, or Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority. Are they on their way to success? It looks like it if you’re reading this, this or this. But if you’re getting your information here, here or here, you may soon be convinced that these districts have achieved nothing but total failure.

While each argument does have compelling points to consider, education debate prefers to settle into a comfortable dichotomy of all or nothing, depending on who you like to follow on Twitter (Ravitch or Rhee, anyone?). When it comes to state interventions in Louisiana, Tennessee and Michigan, I tend to think that the smallest progress is a step towards success, while the true signs of victory or failure are further down the road. Of course a district of the lowest-performing schools will be a low-performing district. The real question is: What are the benchmarks for improvement, and are they being met?

A layer deeper into this discussion hits on how to measure the success of these districts. Most would agree that test scores, while valuable, should not be the sole measure. KnowledgeWorks has even started to dig into what a new and improved accountability system could look like to support a competency-based system, thinking through what indicators, academic and beyond, that best convey the success of a school.

One potential indicator for a better accountability system involves how families feel about the school. In a 2013 article from The Atlantic, Sarah Carr touches on the community response in Memphis to the takeover of a number of their schools. Like the academic results, the community response has been mixed, often due to alienation between communities and apparent outsiders coming in to run the schools. School leaders recognize their initial shortfalls in valuing their students’ communities, and like the academics, it remains to be seen whether the community aspect of these turnaround districts result in success or failure.

Will the Recovery School District, Achievement School District, Education Achievement Authority prove to be assets or detriments to the communities they serve? Given the schools’ poor performance leading to the formation of these districts and beyond, anything possible must be done to do better by kids. In her article, Carr says that “whether the ‘portfolio’ approach succeeds in Memphis in the long-term will likely depend on whether its backers can strike a balance between respect for localism and desire for results.” While only time will tell the success of state interventions in Memphis and beyond, shorter-term results should continue to be heeded to create the best possible education for the students involved.


What do you think about turnaround districts? How should we measure their success?


Sarah JenkinsSarah Jenkins is the Policy and Research Analyst for the KnowledgeWorks Policy and Strategic Foresight team.







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Meet Jason Swanson: Futurist and Director of Strategic Foresight

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-09-23 14:41

The KnowledgeWorks Policy and Strategic Foresight Team has expanded to include Jason Swanson as the Director of Strategic Foresight. Jason will be working with KnowledgeWorks to expand our research into the future of learning, authoring publications and delivering presentations to help plan for the future.

Meet Jason:

Jason travelHello world! I currently live in Pittsburgh, Pa., and I am a graduate of the University of Houston’s Masters of Foresight program, as well as an Emerging Fellow with the Association of Professional Futurists.

Prior to joining KnowledgeWorks, my background in strategic foresight has included working as a consulting Futurist, as well in the education system itself, working in a cyber-charter school. I have been fortunate to work on a wide variety of projects, from looking at the future of learning management systems, exploring what student needs will be like in the year 2025, all the way to thinking about what the future of user experience might be like, as well as scenarios focusing on the world economy. Futurist and Director of Strategic Foresight for KnowledgeWorks.

I have a strong passion for studying the future, and believe that studying the future is empowering. By looking at change and thinking about how that might shape the future, we can move beyond simply letting the future happen to us, and to create the aspirational visions that we all hold. Being part of KnowledgeWorks allows me to share that passion with our educational stakeholders, helping to build a future of learning that is vibrant for every learner.

When I am not studying the future, I enjoy reading, movies, practicing martial arts, looking for new places to eat, and very occasionally trying to paint a picture.


Watch for Jason’s work in strategic foresight and follow him on Twitter.


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Will Teaching Diversify into Many Learning Agent Roles?

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2014-09-19 10:31

This post is the last of five in a series exploring the future of teaching.

Katherine PrinceWhat might teaching look like in ten years if a diverse set of learning agent roles and activities supported rich, relevant and authentic learning in an expanded and highly personalized learning ecosystem that was vibrant for all learners? In this scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching – which represents my ideal future – such learning agents working in multiple settings and capacities could help ensure that all students have access to high-quality personalized learning.

My Ideal Future: Diverse Learning Agent Role 

As the learning ecosystem expands and diversifies and the formal K-12 school system no longer dominates the learning landscape, many new learning agent roles emerge to support learning. Some learning agents support students in creating customized learning playlists that reflect their particular interests, goals and values. Other learning agents help students attain success within their chosen learning experiences. Learning agents operate both inside and outside traditional institutions, collaborating to adapt learning for each child and to support learners in demonstratinoutside the classroomg mastery. Some learning agent roles resemble the traditional teaching role, while others vary widely.

With “school” taking many more forms, educators trained in the industrial-era school system have redefined their roles to match their strengths, creating more differentiated and satisfying career paths. Professionals working in museums, libraries, art centers, scientific labs, hospitals and other settings have also recast their roles to reflect their organizations’ increasing contributions to learners’ playlists, including the playlists of learners in other communities. Some adults contribute to learning in part-time, even micro ways, either as part of diverse career portfolios or through mechanisms such as business-education partnerships.

Sophisticated learning analytic tools help learning agents target learning experiences and supports to match learners’ academic performance as well as their social and emotional conditions. In addition, new forms of infrastructure, such as data backpacks that follow the child and flexible funding streams, help learning agents collaborate across learning experiences and organizations where appropriate and help learners and their families manage and access their customized learning playlists.

With so many options for supporting learning, a diverse system of professional branding and validation has emerged to help ensure learning agent quality. Communities also play a vital role in creating vibrant local learning ecologies, in monitoring both learning agents’ contributions and learners’ success, and in helping learners access resources that are not available locally. Schools that receive public funding place particular emphasis on brokering learning opportunities so that all young people can benefit from the expansion of the learning ecosystem.

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This is my ideal scenario for the future of teaching based on my understanding of the potential for education stakeholders to use future trends to transform today’s education system into a more distributed learning ecosystem that is vibrant for all learners. I recognize that it might not be yours. Indeed, your preferred future might contain elements of several of the scenarios I’ve developed or might draw upon different key drivers of change.

Whatever your ideal future of teaching, the important thing is to engage in strategic foresight – to step out of today’s reality long and far enough to plan for how you and your organization might make best use of future trends and to prepare for how you will meet your objectives and support learners no matter what the future of K-12 teaching ends up looking like.

For key drivers, signals of change, and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper. For job descriptions and videos illustrating possible future learning agent roles, see KnowledgeWorks’ learning in 2025 resources.



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ESEA Waivers Stunt Education Innovation

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-09-18 11:06

Matt WilliamsLots of ESEA Waiver news bouncing around these days from Washington losing its waiver to the continual twists and turns with teacher evaluation (the principle reason that Washington lost its waiver). There is uneven implementation of states’ waivers across the country and what seems to be inconsistent monitoring and enforcement from the Department of Education. For example, Washington had its waiver revoked because of teacher evaluation issue and then the Department announced a more flexible timeline for implementation. This was also an issue that kept Illinois in waiver purgatory for nearly three years. To be fair to the Department, it is difficult to monitor nearly 50 separate state and district education systems versus enforcing one across the nation. But this was both a policy choice and political calculation by the Administration.

As a reminder, Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the waiver opportunity in a letter to state chiefs on September 23, 2011. He provided an overview of the progress that states had made over the past few years to enact reforms, launch innovations, assemble systems to turnaround low performing schools and evaluate teachers and leaders; and, of course, hailed the adoption of Common Core State Standards. With that, the Secretary built his arguments (pursuant to the authority in section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) for increased flexibility for states by laying out that many of the current innovations and reforwaiver statesms being put forth by states were not anticipated when NCLB was enacted nearly ten years before. Duncan went on to outline NCLB as a barrier to the transition to “college-and career-ready standards and assessments; developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; and evaluating and supporting teacher and principal effectiveness.” Thus making the argument not only for waivers but also for outlining the areas states would need to address in their applications.

While the waivers offered flexibility to states, there were issues as well. The top two Republicans in Congress on K-12 Policy – Rep. John Kline (R-MN) chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee – have called on the Government Accountability Office to examine the waivers. The Republican leaders added that they don’t have a clear grasp of how the department is implementing the program or how states have changed their laws to comply with the waivers or how states can modify or change their waiver plans as they implement and make course corrections. These are good questions. What processes are in place to make clear, consistent decisions to approve, deny, renew or revoke waivers? Sit in a room long enough with state chiefs and you will begin to see some of the inconsistencies.

Lately, the question of innovation has also been brought up. Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, Terry Holliday two weeks ago offered the following, “the current waiver process is stifling innovation and intruding on a state’s ability to implement state requirements contained in state legislation.” First, Commissioner Holliday is hardly a firebrand. Second, he is absolutely correct. Kentucky is one of the most innovative states in the country and it has struggled to align its state laws, waiver expectations, and its Districts of Innovation work. New Hampshire, a leader in competency based education, struggled to gain a waiver. Two other states, which are viewed as being innovative, Iowa (denied) and Vermont (withdrew), do not have waivers. The waivers had a promise of innovation. KnowledgeWorks put out ESEA waiver recommendations to assist states in capitalizing on the opportunity to think outside the box. Instead the waiver process has unfortunately become “innovation-in-a-box.”

The waivers have always been a slippery slope to some degree. This was pointed out both humorously and poignantly by my edu-friend Rick Hess back in 2011 in a post about an administration run by President (Gov.) Perry and his Secretary of Education (Rep.) Bachmann. Beyond the obvious satire and political ramifications of a waiver process, Rick hits on policy truth. I believe that the federal government’s role is to define the outcomes and allow states to achieve those outcomes. The level above should define the “what” and allow the level below, in this case the states, to define the “how.”

In the coming weeks and months, I will be examining the ESEA waivers in more depth via the World of Learning Blog. I believe that the President’s signature program may not be Race to the Top (RTTT), as we all thought, but in fact the ESEA Waivers. When the final chapter is written, the amount of funding behind the waivers will exceed the total for RTTT (think Title I, Title II, SIG, etc). Moreover, the significant opportunities and the equally significant challenges for ESEA Waivers will extend far beyond January of 2017.



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Will Learning Agents Outside Schools Form a Supplemental Profession?

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2014-09-18 09:40

This post is part four in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.

cutmypicWhat might teaching look like in ten years if today’s public education system does not change significantly but professionals from other organizational contexts become increasingly involved in supporting young people in engaging in authentic and relevant learning opportunities outside of school? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching assumes that these adults could create a new learning agent network that remained largely separate from the teaching taking place in K-12 schools.

Alternative Future 2: A Supplemental Profession

With learning experiences proliferating across places and platforms, some through formal institutions and some through virtual and place-based networks, adults whose primary jobs lie outside the formal K-12 education system emerge as a new cadre of learning agents offering learning services and supports. These learning agents serve as facilitators of relatively structured learning experiences designed by their organizations and also as coaches, mentors, and guides of student-driven projects and inquiries.

Some of these adults develop hybrid careers where part of their compensation comes from their involvement in learning experiences. But for many, serving as a learning agent becomes a kind of professional volunteerism, a paying-isupplemental professiont-forward dimension of their primary (paid) profession. Whether compensated or not, some of them pursue training in working with young people or supporting learning. However, very few of them acquire any sort of formal teaching credential, as those credentials remain oriented toward the needs of full-time educators rather than those of part-time learning agents.

In some instances, these learning agents collaborate with teachers in the formal K-12 education system; for example, when innovative school designs open the door for traditional classroom teaching to shift toward team collaboration or to morph more profoundly toward student-driven instruction. But in most cases, these learning agents form a supplemental profession that operates largely separate from traditional school systems, both because these learning agents have little incentive to push their way into those settings’ regimented, compliance-oriented structures and because those settings’ structures continue mainly to be designed around traditional disciplines, grade levels, and teaching roles.

However, as more ways of credentialing informal and community-based learning experiences emerge and gain acceptance, and as an increasing number of students seek to fulfill needs and pursue interests that traditional school systems do not meet or support, these supplemental learning agents attract an increasing percentage of young people, at least for part of their learning journeys. In places with relatively few local resources, learners often look beyond their geographic communities when seeking support from supplemental learning agents.

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This second alternative future projects that the public education system will remain largely unchanged but that a parallel – but not necessarily equitable – system could emerge as a supplement or total replacement for some learners. For key drivers, signals of change, and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.


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Will Teachers Take Back the Classroom?

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-09-16 16:42

This post is part three in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.  cutmypic

What might teaching look like in ten years if public educators reclaim the learning agenda by helping to shape the regulatory climate to support their visions for teaching and learning? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching assumes that, with support from visionary district and school administrators, public school teachers might manage to take back the classroom, reorienting education based on their professional wisdom.

Alternative Future 1: Take Back the Classroom

As continuing inability to reach political agreement on reauthorization of the nation’s major K-12 education law deepens the disconnect between policy and the classroom, and as state legislators continue to debate highly-charged education issues, public educators come together to provide more coordinated direction about how states should steer and fund education. They also expand networks and platforms for establishing and pursuing new visions for education. Yet even as they start to set greater direction for the learning agenda, public educators also increasingly find ways to sidestep the regulatory system so that they technically comply but do not concede too much time or attention to its demands.

take back the classroomSuch movements and actions, both generative and defensive, develop and coalesce enough that public school teachers develop new independence from the regulatory system and find new space to focus on learning. In so doing, they reclaim key dimensions of the learning agenda, including curriculum and assessment. Teachers experiment with multiple pathways toward designing meaningful learning experiences for young people. Rather than purchasing pre-made curricula, schools and districts increasingly provide time and resources for teachers to collaborate in designing curricula that reflect their deep knowledge of how students learn and allow for customization to local conditions. Teachers also seek ways to use authentic assessments to inform learning rather than to pursue compliance.

With this renewed focus on learning, teachers take back their power as expert craftspeople. They find channels for raising their collective voice against policies that have less to do with supporting learning than with policing the system. As teachers increasingly come into their power as professionals, legislators and other education stakeholders – including educator preparation and development programs – take notice and work to support teachers’ new visions for teaching and learning, shifting the broader educational climate slightly.

Read More This alternative future assumes that the fundamental structure of the education system would remain unchanged but that education stakeholders might make minor changes to learning cultures and structures. For key drivers, signals of change and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.


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Will Teaching Become A Plastic Profession?

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:07

This post is part two in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.

cutmypicWhat might teaching look like in ten years if we do not alleviate current stressors on the profession and do not make significant changes to the structure of today’s public education system? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching projects that, as the federal accountability system continues to emphasize narrow measures of student and teacher performance and districts face daunting fiscal challenges, many public school teachers could find their creativity increasingly constrained.

Expected Future: A Plastic Profession

As educator evaluation systems aligned with student performance mature, many teachers remain uncertain about the impact of these systems on their profession. Furthermore, the now long-established “new normal” of constrained government resources, combined with public distrust of educators, limits districts’ scope for innovation. With reauthorization of the nation’s major K-12 education law long overdue, state legislatures and special interest groups work actively to change the K-12 education system at the state level. This combination of heightened political activity and shrinking education budgets causes distraction for many teachers, making it challenging to set compelling visions for the future of learning.

Without strong visions for the future of learning, public will for change remains limited even as anxiety over whether the U.S. will be able to educatTom Forbes on creating an ECHSe a future-ready workforce reaches new heights. Schools and districts continue to pursue limited school reform – including limited differentiation of teaching roles – in the context of the existing educational paradigm. Likewise, teacher preparation programs make minor changes in an attempt to improve their programs and attract more candidates. However, nothing makes a significant impact on learning or on teachers’ job satisfaction as the fundamental design of the education system remains unchanged. Some new learning platforms emerge, offering learners new options, but they remain largely self-organized and on the fringes and do not yet offer full-time educators remunerative career pathways. Many learners who see and have the means to exercise better options – in their local communities, via distance learning platforms, or from a mix of sources – exit the public education system, especially in those places where the system has long struggled to turn around low-performing schools.

Similarly, many teachers leave not just the public education system but the field of learning in order to pursue more lucrative and satisfying careers. Those who remain feel increasingly disenfranchised. Just as students in the system are treated largely as cogs moving lockstep through an industrial machine, many teachers begin to feel as if they have become production line supervisors.

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This is just one scenario for how the future of teaching could play out. I don’t regard it as a positive one, but I see it as being the likely baseline if we don’t make significant changes to the education system. For key drivers, signals of change and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.





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