I’m excited to announce the release of a new paper that I’ve authored long-time collaborator Andrea Saveri and KnowledgeWorks colleague Jason Swanson. “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems” explores how education stakeholders might make the expanding learning ecosystem vibrant for all learners. Specifically, the paper explores:
- What kinds of learning ecosystem interconnections might help participants create vibrant learning ecosystems
- What learning ecosystems might look like in different high-need geographies.
By learning ecosystem, we mean a network of relationships among learning agents, learners, resources, and assets in a specific social, economic, and geographic context.
As we look ten years out, we see great potential for education stakeholders to create diverse learning ecosystems that are learner centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient. But we worry that we might be more likely to create fractured landscapes in which only those learners whose families have the time, money, and commitment to customize or supplement their learning journeys have access to high-quality personalized learning that reflects their interests and meets their needs.
We worry about equity because our current education system is not equitable, despite judicial and legislative intentions. In writing this paper, Andrea, Jason, and I grounded that concern by taking a close look at four high-need geographies. We imagined how ecosystem participants might address learners’ needs in new ways through flexible value webs to which many kinds of organizations and individuals might contribute.
Here are some highlights of our stories about vibrant and equitable learning ecosystems of 2025:
- Poor urban neighborhoods – Urban learning crews provide personalized learning and deep social support to middle and high school aged students, causing dropout rates to plummet.
- Disrupted suburbs – An education-employment consortium expands job mobility in struggling suburbs by creating flexible and intersecting education and career pathways.
- Poor rural communities – A rural learning commons provides a new layer of infrastructure that seeds educator development and expands access to cross-cultural learning experiences.
- Incarcerated settings – A restorative justice network facilitates classroom- and community-based learning opportunities for inmates through social entrepreneurship, linking inmates’ learning experiences in jail to productive work and projects in local communities.
These stories reflect value webs created by ecosystem participants occupying three kinds of structural roles: concentrators, fragmenters, and catalysts. To read more about these structural roles and current signals of change pointing toward new possibilities for learning ecosystems in high-need geographies, take a look at the full paper. We’ll look forward to hearing what you think!
A colleague likes to joke that forecasting is akin to sausage making: the end products are great, but he doesn’t necessarily need to see the full process. With KnowledgeWorks’ fourth full forecast on the future of learning coming out this fall, Jason Swanson and I have begun rolling up our sleeves to do the messy work of looking ahead ten years and imagining what the emerging landscape might mean for education.
At a work session with collaborator Andrea Saveri earlier this month, we began solidifying our list of big shifts outside education that could change not just how people approach learning, but also the reasons why and the purposes for which people pursue it. The changes on the horizon look really big this time: the fundamental substrate of the economy appears to be changing in ways that could shift education’s very foundations. We titled our last forecast Recombinant Education. Now it looks as if we could be moving toward a recombinant society in which many of our traditional structures and interrelationships are taking multiple new forms as a result of exponential changes in technology and society, not the least of which is the changing nature of work.
Right after sketching out our initial understanding of what that might mean for learning, Jason and I used Uber to get a ride across San Francisco to attend the Institute for the Future’s ten-year forecast retreat. IFTF’s 2015 forecast “explore[s] the different platforms that might transform our corporate and consumer economies, build new creative, collaborative, and civil economies, and even disrupt the global economy of crime.” It points toward new ways of defining and pursuing value, of connecting resources to achieve our ends and exploring the interstices between them. Networked structures continue to seem like a salient feature of the future, while automation promises to come ever more to the fore.
As with Uber’s matching of passenger need with driver availability, application programming interfaces (APIs) are playing a role in executing more and more activities. Robots are increasingly serving as partners not just in manufacturing but also in less likely sectors such as healthcare and food services. New encryption technologies such as blockchain are enabling new models for handling secure financial and legal transactions and could eventually impact some learning transactions and data flows. I’m still trying to get my head around the rationale behind distributed autonomous corporations even as I find myself intrigued by how expanding insight into microbiomes might affect human health and food systems.
While our forecasts take into account far more than technology and science, such developments underscore our sense that the changes on the horizon could be foundational this time. The next decade could see us forming new kinds of partnerships with machines, pursuing new transactional models, and navigating uncertain landscapes. We’re working on forecasting what such changes might mean for people, organizational structures, and cultures and will look forward to sharing more as our next forecast continues to unfold. We’ll try to share the good bits without revealing too much of the mess!
As a student and even into adulthood I really had no concept of the future that I wanted for myself. Coming from a futurist, that may seem a bit odd. Thankfully, after a lot of exploring, I found something that I am highly passionate about and the feeling of being lost eventually went away.
Many people, especially – and tragically – many of our young learners, also lack a vision of the future for themselves. This can and should change, and our education system can be a vehicle for exploring the future and helping to foster learners’ aspirational vision of what they may want from their lives after school.
Dr. Peter Bishop’s Teach the Future initiative is aimed at bringing the future into our schools by introducing foresight to middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the country. Students will learn how to anticipate and influence the future in a world of rapidly accelerating change. Or to put it another way, students will learn how to think about the future and then act decisively to create it.
Bringing foresight into our schools has another benefit beyond thinking about the future; it has the ability to change the learning cultures of our institutions. Katherine Prince, in her paper “Innovating Toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem : Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning, highlighted learning cultures as one of the 10 pathways that are critical to transforming our current system of education. A vibrant learning culture is, according to Katherine, one where “…approaches go beyond simply pacing learning to each individual; they cultivate inquiry, creativity, play, and other attributes that support people in following their interests in meaningful collaborative contexts. Some learning cultures extend beyond formal learning environments to include, or facilitate connections with, community-based or informal learning experiences.”
Futures thinking can contribute to vibrant learning cultures. Thinking about the future teaches us to relish what we do not know yet encourages us to find out more, to become comfortable with uncertainty, and to fearlessly explore ideas and areas of study we may not have considered otherwise.
As a young learner who had no concept of his own future, I hope you will consider joining me in support of Teach the Future. As a futurist, I know how powerful these methods are and how potentially transformative they can be for all levels, from the young learner to the education system in need of systemic change.
How will changing technology platforms, such as ebooks and mobile devices, alter how we educate learners?
I recently had the honor of exploring this question, among many other insightful topics, during Library 2.015 Spring Summit, hosted by The Learning Revolution The theme for the summit was The Emerging Future: Technology and Learning.
Together with my fellow panelists, we explored the many ways technology is affecting education. During the course of the session I noted that quite a few questions from the audience happened to center around the changing platforms we use to educate learners, specifically ebooks and mobile platforms.
The emergence of ebooks and mobile platforms are a result of miniaturization and dematerialization. Miniaturization is a trend where the technology we invent and manufacture becomes increasingly smaller in size, as the term might imply. A great example for this can be seen in the images above, where what used to take up a great amount of room and multiple devices can now fit in the palm of the user’s hand.
Dematerialization might be thought as an extension of the miniaturization trend, but rather than shrinking in size, we see technology being off loaded into things like the digital cloud, no longer needing a physical presence, merely an access point such as a computer or smart device.
In my latest publication, “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: 4 Scenarios on the Future of Credentials”, I explore how miniaturization and dematerialization might affect credentials as part of an alternate futures scenario titled “Every Experience a Credential.” This scenario imagines what might happen if skill tracking technologies, such as the learning record store were to become common place in education, cataloging a learner’s experiences to be certified by schools and other learning institutions, thus moving credentials from something physical, like a diploma or certificate and effectively shrinking and dematerializing them in such a way that our experiences and credentials live in the digital cloud.
I would like to express my gratitude to Steve Haragdon and Dr. Sue Alman for the invitation to participate in the panel. It was a great learning experience, and a lot of fun exploring the ways technology might impact education. In what ways do you see miniaturization and dematerialization affecting learning?
Steve Dackin joined the KnowledgeWorks Board of Directors in March, bringing to the table experience in improving student achievement throughout the preschool to college educational continuum.
As former superintendent of Reynoldsburg City Schools in Ohio, he has experience working with EDWorks and a local early college high school. He also worked with EDWorks to implement STEM education curriculum in kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms in Reynoldsburg. Today, Steve serves as superintendent of schools and community partnerships at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio.
We asked Steve a few questions about education, KnowledgeWorks and his goals for the future.
Why did you decide to join the KnowledgeWorks Board of Directors?
When presented with the opportunity to join the board, there was no hesitation in accepting. KnowledgeWorks has been a leadership staple in the educational landscape for decades. My familiarity with the organization dates back to 2001 when I served as the Interim Director of the Office of Regional School Improvement Services with the Ohio Department of Education. I worked closely with KnowledeWorks as they implemented the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative as well as their work on Early College.
It was during this time that I learned about the value of the organization and the impact their work had on education in this state. During my tenure as the Reynoldsburg City Schools superintendent, I saw, first-hand, the quality professional training and curriculum development of the EDWorks’ staff as they worked side-by-side our principals and teachers to develop our STEM programming. Being a part of an organization so highly regarded is both humbling and an honor.
Why are you passionate about this work?
It’s about difference-making. There are few things I can think of that rival the importance of educating our youth. In the information economy, it will be critical to ensure that we prepare our young people in such a way to fully enjoy the fruits of a productive life. We will only be successful to that end, if we have the collective will to leverage our resources in such a way as to ensure that ALL children have access to a great school.
What does education in the future look like to you?
I have often remarked, that school is no longer a noun, but rather it is a verb. In my day, in order to learn, one had to literally travel to a place (library, school, etc.) or visit with a person to access knowledge. Today, technology affords us an opportunity to make learning truly a ubiquitous endeavor. This doesn’t remove the importance of adults working with young people, but rather puts a premium on a different kind of interaction that will contribute to their learning.
Perhaps, in the future, for our older students, there will be more of a “brokerage/advocacy” interaction between students and adults. In that system, adults would assist students in customizing an educational plan, which includes a significant work-based learning component, aligned to their personal aspirations. Students would demonstrate competency through an accumulation of credentials that are recognized and embraced by the workplace. An ambitious goal of our system would be to assist ALL young people to “find their way” and to ensure they have the capability of providing value (goods and/or services to make a living wage) and to be contributing members of our society.
What are your hopes for KnowledgeWorks?
I would like for the organization to continue to be dynamic and responsive to the evolving nature of the educational landscape. KnowledgeWorks has a demonstrated history of being at the forefront of the next change by contributing to the literature, working with schools, and providing leadership in important policy decision-making. I hope, in some small way, I can contribute to that legacy.
What, in your opinion, is the most important issue in education today?
We need to develop a collective urgency to address the increasingly complex and evolving state of our educational system. In large measure, the system we have is performing better than ever; however, the needs of our society have changed.
We need a system that ensures ALL students acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to compete in a global economy. Today, too few children are reading at or above grade level. Too few children are competent in numeracy. Too few students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful.
Our system is monolithic, slow to respond to the rapid changes in the knowledge base of our culture. Incredibly, we have an abundance of caring, committed adults who desperately want to be the difference that they seek, yet they often find themselves trapped in a system that inhibit their talents to help children to reach their fullest potential. We must be willing to transform our system to respond the new realities that we face. In 1961, President Kennedy challenged the country to be the first to reach the moon. That challenge unleashed an unparalleled investment of resources and political capital to accomplish the goal. If we have the will, we can do better. Our children deserve better.
On Friday, May 1, KnowledgeWorks hosted a #FutureEd Twitter chat, exploring the future of credentialing in the education and employment sectors.
Taking a further dive into the newly launched white paper, “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials,” the discussion explored tracking informal learning, meeting the needs of the employment sector and new technology to track credentials.
KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight Jason Swanson hosted the chat. For reflections on the chat, Exploring credentials’ role in #FutureEd.
Below is a Storify for the chat. Thanks to all who participated. Please join us on May 29 to explore another #FutureEd topic!
I have just finished hosting my first #FutureEd Twitter Chat exploring my new paper, Certifying Skills and Learning: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials. For this chat, we explored some of the uncertainties surrounding new forms of credentials, ranging from what technologies might be impacting credentials, to the roles that learners might play in the development of new credentials. I have to thank the participants of today’s chat. Their insights were truly great and we enjoyed a thought-provoking discussion.
Here are a few key themes emerged during our discussion:
- The role that civic institutions such as libraries and museums might take in brokering and curating micro-credentials.
- The need for new roles, such as a Learning Pathway Designer or a Micro-Credential Examiner, as assessment and credentialing diversify.
- The role standards will play in emerging credentials.
- The power that skill tracking technology has to build a bridge between formal and informal education.
- The critical uncertainty that acceptance plays in the survival and proliferation of new credentials. It is not enough to develop them and put them into the world.
Today’s session really helped to stretch my thinking around the future of credentials. As the worlds of education and work continue to change at a breakneck pace we can expect credentials to continue to change as a result, and many of the key themes mentioned in our discussion to become increasingly salient.
What key themes do you see emerging for the future of credentials?
Since publishing our paper on the district conditions to scale personalized learning, the policy team at KnowledgeWorks has been moving through the next phase of our work, aiming to make personalized learning a system-level reality rather than an occasional success story. To this end, we are creating tools for states and districts interested in fundamentally transforming learning and moving towards student-centered systems.
At a convening at the beginning of April with a group of great thinkers in personalized learning, KnowledgeWorks shared prototypes of a district strategic planning and communications toolkit and a state policy framework. We received a tremendous amount of feedback that will help us produce materials that will really support districts to undertake this transformative work and maximize states’ ability to support them appropriately.
In sifting through the feedback and refining our work, three big ideas from the convening have stuck in my mind and will shape my thinking in next steps.
- It’s easy to underestimate the size and complexity of a transformation-minded approach to the education system. It can be tempting to think that if we get personalized learning in schools right, some magical alignment will occur and kids will have vastly expanded access to all kinds of great opportunities. The truth is that K-12 education is just one piece that must be aligned with a number of other systems—health, early childhood, higher education, social services, etc.—that are learner-centered (our strategic foresight team has explored this idea in a number of publications). As our team refines our work, I will keep in mind that any opportunity to extend our impact through partnerships and alignment with similar-minded people should be taken to really lead towards a personalized learning ecosystem rather perpetuating existing siloes in thinking.
- While navigating our work in the K-12 sector with an eye towards partnerships and alignment, we must remember our work includes a diverse group of people who represent many different perspectives. Even in the microcosm of the convening, the easy part was agreeing that learning has to become more student-centered, but there are many different, even seemingly opposed, proposed ways to get there. While we may not all agree on a range of issues, I saw that working through that tension, even if we end up agreeing to disagree, makes our ideas better. A foundational premise of the district conditions is encouraging a culture of innovation and risk-taking. To me, that means that we need to allow space for thinking that diverges from the norm and encourage the testing of new ideas in the face of uncertainty. By discussing and testing a variety of ideas, we are ever more likely to create a system that adapts to individual student needs and truly serves its learners.
- The transformation we want to see in our education system will not come from a traditional course of action. To transform, we may need to completely redefine the key levers for change and how we approach them. For example, a current trend in moving towards student-centered learning is focusing on increasing flexibility in time, the thinking being that if we give more time or release restrictions on time, learning can finally be personalized. In reality, even though it is a powerful tool, time does not drive personalized learning. We do need to be able to maximize the tools that lead to personalized learning (time, technology, etc.), but our work needs to first transform the foundational vision and culture of a district that is wanting to implement high quality personalized learning.
Keeping these takeaways in mind will help to frame my thinking so that I can focus on realistic collaboration, encourage thoughtful risk taking, and question traditional ways of doing things. Our work is only one part in the big picture of a personalized learning ecosystem, but thanks to the valuable input of the convening participants, we look forward to moving closer to seeing a more personalized education system.
As the education and workforce sectors become more personalized environments, credentialing systems will also need to reflect 21st-century learning and working. We need to figure out how to better track learning environments to better understand an individual’s qualifications and skill sets.
This was the hot topic on a recent EduTalk Radio interview with Jason Swanson, KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight and author of “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials.”
This new KnowledgeWorks paper explores possibilities for the future of credentialing. The paper’s four scenarios consider relatively small changes to today’s credentialing environment to an inventive future in which educators would examine a learner’s cognitive abilities to more accurately portray his or her experiences.
“What are ways I can best capture my formal & informal learning?” Jason asked during the EduTalk interview.
It is with great excitement that I can announce that today marks the release of “Certifying Skills and Knowledge: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials.” As the name implies, this paper seeks to describe four possible futures for credentials. During the research process for the paper, we were fortunate to have quite a few rich discussions about where credentials might be headed. The response we received during these discussions was typically one of excitement.
Generally speaking, most of our future of learning work has touched on credentials, but only as a piece of the larger emerging future of learning. So why focus solely on them for this paper?
It is not uncommon to hear that we are living in a “VUCA” world. “VUCA” is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, or to put it another way, “It feels like the world is going crazy!” Part of living in a VUCA world is dealing with accelerating change and disruption. The rate of change we experience is increasing, leading to increased disruption, and as a result contributing to those feelings of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. How might this relate to credentials?
We are currently witnessing disruptions to many of our industries and institutions. We can count our educational system and employment sector among the list of those having to contend with deep levels of disruption, and as a result what it means to acquire knowledge and skills and also how we might credential those accomplishments is changing. Fundamental changes in how we educate people promise to change how we credential learning. At the same time, changes to how we work could alter the value that we place on current credentials, affect how we assess and award credentials, and give rise to new forms, which could in turn have the potential to disrupt the education sector even further.
As forecast in KnowledgeWorks’ Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem and the related infographic, A Glimpse into the Future of Learning, education in the United States is facing a decade of deep disruption as the digital revolution and the accompanying cultural and social changes reshape its structure. These disruptions point towards a future in which education will be increasingly personalized to each learner, school will take many forms, and a variety of learning agents will guide students in their learning journeys. With education becoming increasingly learner-centered, assessment is likely to become increasingly focused on mastery instead of time, with new uses of both formative and summative assessments to inform learning.
The employment sector is also experiencing change, affecting how, when, and where people might work. Current trends are pointing towards a future of work in which people are likely to think less in terms of climbing a career ladder and more in terms of navigating a career lattice. Employment is increasingly becoming ad hoc and networked, with full-time employment for a single organization declining as employers increasingly seek talent on demand. At the same time, drivers of change such as new forms of automation, an aging workforce, mobile technologies’ blurring the line between work and home life, and economic globalization are pushing employees to hold multiple careers across their lifetimes and sometimes even at the same time. Such shifts could push many people to be in a mode of constant learning and continuous career readiness and could increase the need for specialized training similar to that required for professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists.
With future trends pointing toward profound shifts in the structures of both education and work, credentials could evolve considerably over the next ten years. Given the roles that credentials play as symbols of knowledge, motivators for pursuing training and education, and the primary means of gaining access to as well as navigating today’s job market, it is important to consider what credentials might look like in ten years, how they might be earned, and how they might be evaluated.
During my webinar with the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) at Penn State University earlier this month, a participant asked where educational institutions might start in transitioning to a new learning ecosystem.
For quite a while after we released KnowledgeWorks’ Recombinant Education forecast, I would have answered that we need to make our learning structures more flexible and more diverse. I still think that we need to enable the development of diverse learning structures that enable learners and their families to access the right learning experiences at the right time and make use of many kinds of resources across community landscapes.
But over the last year I’ve come to place learning cultures first. In light of our vision for vibrant learning ecosystems in which all learners have equitable chances of thriving, I think that incumbent education organizations would do well to start by working to enable new personalized learning cultures. Those learning cultures would cultivate inquiry, creativity, and play. They would support learners in following their interests in meaningful collaborative contexts. They might accommodate some degree of choice over what individual learners chose to master, or at least over how learners pursued common learning standards.
I see learning cultures as a starting point for incumbent institutions because any organization can attempt to change its culture. That work is hard and time-consuming. But it can be easier to approach than restructuring a long-established institution, and it can happen at multiple levels of hierarchy and scale. Cultures are foundational. They tend to persist across changes of organizational structure, with people reverberating back to their old ways of working and learning unless they come to interact with one another in new ways and orient around their activities around clear values.
Each education organization has to decide what kind of learning culture it wants to foster in pursuit of its vision for learning. As I outlined in “Innovating toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning,” large-scale educational transformation will require many organizations’ pursuing complementary trajectories of change simultaneously. But, because learning cultures are so central to students’ experiences, I think that fostering them can be a good starting point for schools, universities, and other educational organizations seeking to explore their place in the expanding learning ecosystem.
School improvement is one of the hottest topics in national education policy debates. Many of us can probably recall a pointed conversation or two about whether the federal government, states, districts, or even parents know best when it comes to improving underperforming schools. Fortunately, years of conflict finally resulted in a breakthrough – one that is spelled out clearly in the Every Child Achieves Act passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Thursday, April 16.
The Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate’s most recent proposal for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), does two important things to further this national debate. First, it preserves a federal role for school improvement without prescribing narrow definitions of reform strategies. And second, it emphasizes rigor and relevance for our nation’s schools – particularly our high schools where students are just one step away from the reality of postsecondary or career.
Here is a quick summary of how the Every Child Achieves Act accomplishes these two goals.
School Improvement Highlights
- Maintains federal grants to states and school districts to help improve low-performing schools, but provides flexibility to school districts in the selection of evidence-based interventions.
- Permits grantees to conduct a planning year to increase stakeholder buy-in and effectiveness of strategies and requires grantees to demonstrate in their application how they will sustain the reform beyond the term of the grant.
Rigor and Relevance
- Requires states to set annual, accountability goals that take into account the progress that students need to make in order to graduate high school ready for success in postsecondary and career.
- Elevates the importance of advanced coursework indicators as important measures of success in the following ways:
- Accountability – Permits states to incorporate student access to or success in advanced coursework into their state accountability system.
- Reporting – Requires states to include information on the annual state report card regarding student enrollment and access to rigorous coursework that enables them to earn postsecondary credit while still in high school (such as dual enrollment and early college high school programs).
- Requires states to include in their Title I plan a description of how they will prepare students to transition from high school to postsecondary education.
- Ensures better identification of high schools for Title I funding by requiring states to use a 50 percent poverty threshold for high schools instead of the 75 percent threshold for elementary and middle schools. The bill would also permit high schools to use a feeder pattern calculation to determine the poverty rate instead of free and reduced lunch participation (which results in inaccurate data because high school students are less likely to turn in free and reduced priced lunch forms).
- Authorizes an Investing in Innovation (i3) type program modeled after the successful Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program that would provide flexible funding for schools, districts, non-profits, institutions of higher education, and small businesses to develop and grow innovative programs to improve student achievement. Grants would be awarded based on success, with funding levels tied to the strength of the evidence the applicant is able to present of their program’s effectiveness.
KnowledgeWorks will continue to advocate for these policies as the ESEA reauthorization process continues. We remain hopeful that the Every Child Achieves Act will advance to the floor in a timely manner and that the House of Representatives will complete their own version in time for a conference committee to resolve the differences.
But today, let’s celebrate these important wins. Their inclusion in a bipartisan bill approved unanimously by 22 Senators signals a new direction in the conversation about how to improve the nation’s schools. Now that’s what I call a breakthrough.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post celebrating the inclusion of competency education in a discussion draft for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). I called this entry to the national conversation a significant victory for competency education advocates.
As it turns out, that victory was just the beginning of the celebration. Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is expected to approve a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill called the Every Child Achieves Act that contains a new innovative assessment pilot program to advance competency education. (You can view the program on page 171 of the bill here).
This groundbreaking pilot would enable five states, or a consortium of states, to submit a proposal for an alternative assessment system to the U.S. Department of Education for approval. Once approved, a state would begin to implement its new assessment system either statewide or with an initial group of districts and would be allowed to incorporate that performance data into the state’s accountability system, if it wishes.
For a nation wrestling with big questions about how to better assess students and how long to assess students, this pilot program would provide an important picture of how to design assessment systems that do more than validate learning – they advance learning.
As someone who has worked intimately on the policy details on this pilot program, here are some of my favorite highlights of the Senate proposal.
- Flexibility to Design a Balanced System of Assessments – The proposal would enable states to build a system of assessments that validates student mastery and generates important information to improve learning in real-time. This system could incorporate a combination of summative, interim, formative, performance-based, and high-quality local assessments.
- Maintains Annual Assessments – Although the pilot would allow states to design more flexible assessment systems, the proposal would still ensure that any participating state continues to assess students once in each of grades 3-8 and once in high school. This annual testing requirement is critical to provide transparent and useful data for educators, students, and other key stakeholders.
- Establishes Guardrails to Ensure High-Quality Implementation – States would be required to demonstrate that new assessments are comparable, valid, reliable, of high technical quality, and consistent with relevant, nationally recognized professional and technical standards. These guardrails are critical to ensure that every student is assessed in the same, high-quality way as his or her peers.
- Aligns to Accountability – As mentioned above, states would have the authority to align their new assessment system immediately to their accountability system. This is important because the only way to determine the true impact of a new assessment approach is to ensure that all incentives in the system are aligned behind the same vision. This will ensure that assessment and accountability drive real-time improvements to student learning instead of the end of year, look-back approach of today’s systems.
- Creates a Pathway to a New Education System – The pilot is designed to test and evaluate these new systems before making a rash jump to a new approach to education. Once a state can demonstrate that the system improves academic outcomes for students, the state can transition to the new system indefinitely. This creates a pathway to reform that may prove invaluable if it takes Congress as long to reauthorize the next version of ESEA than it has to fix today’s version – No Child Left Behind.
While Senate HELP Committee passage is a critical step – it is not the end of the journey. KnowledgeWorks will continue to advocate for this pilot program as the bill advances to the Senate floor and hopefully, as the House passes their own bill and the two chambers move to conference. But despite the long process ahead, we are encouraged that Washington, DC is ready to see what competency education can do to transform teaching and learning in our K-12 schools.
During a recent webinar with the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) at Penn State University, I had the chance to share highlights from our Recombinant Education forecast and the related infographic and talk with participants about the implications of future trends for learning. Their thoughtful comments grappled with the potential consequences of transitioning to a more learner-driven and disintermediated learning ecosystem and with the difficult and complex work of changing institutions and local ecosystems.
Some questions that arose included:
- Do personalized learning pathways point toward discretionary outcomes for learners, as in not having to learn math if you don’t want to?
- How can we support all learners, especially younger ones, in having clear goals around which to orient their learning?
- What roles might educators play in self-organized approaches to learning?
- Might some new learning agent roles be minimum wage?
- To what extent might new forms of credentials gain acceptance by employers?
- To what degree do current mainstream education developments support the expansion of the learning ecosystem?
- What would happen to institutional enrollments in a complete à la carte approach?
- How might we ensure that people are really learning what their credentials indicate and what they need to learn in order to function effectively in specialized occupations?
- How can today’s educational institutions begin creating holistic approaches to personalized learning without dismantling current structures prematurely?
Such questions highlight the importance of human choice in shaping the future. For example, we can, as a society, make a choice about the extent to which high standards for all learners intersect with the customization of learning playlists. Learning ecosystems might allow room for learners to differentiate what they learn after mastering basic competencies, or they might require all students to master the same competencies but enable any number of approaches toward achieving them. Some learning ecosystems might take different stances on this or any number of questions.
At KnowledgeWorks, we engage education stakeholders in strategic foresight to help illuminate strategic possibilities for the future of learning and to help learning ecosystem participants make intentional choices about how to respond to and shape the changing landscape. Our forecast suggests that there will be many right answers for learners and for local learning ecosystems. Our hope is that all learners and all geographies will have access to good answers.
For ideas on how to make the expanding learning ecosystem vibrant for all learners, see my paper, “Innovating toward Vibrant Learning Ecosystems: Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning” and stay tuned for our forthcoming paper on cultivating learning ecosystem interconnections so as to create value webs that serve all learners well.
What’s emerging on the spiritual landscape and what might those changes signal for mainline protestant denominations and local churches ten years out? That’s not a question I’d normally ask in my role with KnowledgeWorks, given our focus on education. But Rev. George Meier of the United Church of Canada reached out in the context of a project exploring microfinance as a way of fostering experimental and entrepreneurial ministries outside traditional church governance structures. I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with him to explore the implications of our work on the future of education for the spiritual domain.
As George astutely observed, many of the socio-cultural changes that are disrupting education are also affecting religious and spiritual practice. In applying our forecasts from “A Glimpse into the Future of Learning” and Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem to that domain, we found that the spiritual ecosystem is expanding, just as the learning ecosystem is expanding. Both domains are experiencing a time of disintermediation, wherein people’s relationships with traditional institutions are changing and, in some cases, ending entirely.
So what does that look like? We’re seeing school take many forms, some of which are self-organized. Similarly, church is beginning to take many forms. We expect that trend to continue, often with no denominational accountability and sometimes without new forms of church even claiming that identity. We’re also seeing educator roles diversify, such that a whole host of specialized learning agent roles could emerge. It also looks as if denominational roles and professional staff positions will diversify as many new roles emerge to support people on their spiritual journeys.
These are just a couple of highlights from the booklet that George and I produced, “Transforming Church for North America’s Expanding Spiritual Ecosystem.” We forecast that, in ten years, it will no longer be necessary for an individual to adapt to the institutional church as it has so far existed. Indeed, we forecast the emergence of a recombinant church in which people will be able to put the pieces of the spiritual ecosystem together in new sequences, potentially creating a living system that can keep evolving as people’s needs and the world that we inhabit change.
The emergence of a recombinant church represents a huge adaptive challenge for mainline protestant denominations and local churches. George and I identified four pathways that could help those institutions contribute to transformational community life and the creation of the recombinant church:
- Spiritual Cultures: Cultivate spiritual cultures that support individuals in pursuing authenticity and spiritual awakening
- Organizational Structures and Roles: Support the development of diverse spiritual structures and professional roles
- Church Offerings: Recast church offerings to extend beyond institutional boundaries and support individuals in pursuing customized spiritual journeys
- Transformational Leadership: Lead toward the creation of a flexibly and radically personalized spiritual ecosystem.
The parallels between the educational and spiritual domains point toward a cycle of disintermediation, adaptation, and recombination that my colleague Jason Swanson and I think could be affecting many sectors. We’re looking forward to exploring that cycle of change further.
In the meantime, check out George’s microfinance project for more ideas about fostering adaptive transformation.
Early College Week was last week, and we celebrated by launching two new papers (one on scaling Early College High Schools; another that makes the case for this model) and learning more with EDWorks during a staff Learn at Lunch in our office (which included colorful cookies and graduation decorations).
We also stopped by EduTalk Radio about dropout prevention and Early College High Schools. KnowledgeWorks Vice President Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams and EDWorks Chief Innovation Officer Debbie Howard chatted with host Larry Jacobs about Early College High Schools’ growing success throughout the country and what we can do to scale the model to reach more students in need.
Here are 10 things you may not have known about ECHS:
1. Early College is a way to blend high school and college experiences. “Instead of spending time remediating, spend time accelerating,” Matt said.
2. It’s a strategic learning experience. “It’s not some random acts of dual enrollment. We’re talking about a fully integrated experience,” Debbie said. “We really sit down and work at the local workforce needs, look at the needs of the students, and design a plan for students to earn 60 hours of college credit.”
3. Each Early College looks a little different. “For instance, in Birmingham, Alabama, they have a burgeoning music industry. So some students will be looking at music technology degrees,” Debbie said. “When they get out of the Early College High School with an associate’s degree, the local workforce is ready to put them to work.”
4. There are policy barriers to scaling Early College models. “Fundamentally, the way we are set up to fund schools and the way we set up our structures doesn’t really allow for ECHS,” Matt said. “We fund K-12 education at a certain level; we fund higher education at a certain level. For a student to be in an ECHS and access college courses, there needs to be some sort of support from a policy and funding standpoint.
5. It’s hard work to change mindsets about what ‘high school’ should be. “There’s a lot of tradition out there in high schools,” Debbie said. “Sometimes it’s tough to break down those barriers. Sometimes there’s a lot of focus on other programs in a community and it’s not easy. It takes a lot of work to get people to understand that you can blend high school and college experiences.”
7. Early College focuses not only on helping students attend college, but also complete and graduate from college. “We not only have a college-going issue in this country. We have a college completion issue. That’s really what’s going to drive our economic development as a nation,” Matt said.
8. It’s free for students and parents. “This is part of their high school education and so there’s no cost to students and parents,” Debbie said. “So what we do is look at ways to blend funding streams.”
9. High school students are able to handle college courses. “We make sure they’re ready,” Debbie said of the EDWorks model. Students take courses during summer bridge programs to ensure they are ready for Early College High School. Then, they often take intensive English and math during freshman year to ensure they are on track. “They rise to the occasion,” she said.
And by 2020, research shows, 65 percent of all jobs will require post-secondary education. Today, only 43 percent of Americans have a college degree.
We need an innovative solution to increase the number of college degrees to grow the workforce. We need an option to offer traditionally underserved students the opportunity to succeed in college and career.
Early College High Schools could be the answer.
As a promising approach to increasing college access and attainment for traditionally underserved students, Early College High Schools traditionally offer students the opportunity to earn college credit on college campuses with college professors… during high school.
And through EDWorks partner schools, students have the opportunity to earn up to 60 hours of college credit – the equivalent of an associate’s degree – all before high school graduation.
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Aries Brown is a graduate of the first class from Akron Early College High School in Akron, Ohio. As a first-generation college-goer, Aries praises her ECHS experience for preparing her to succeed in college.
“My mom didn’t go to college and she didn’t really know the ways of going about it,” Aries said. “It was really a big support system for knowing what college was and getting me prepared and ready for it.”
At the end of high school, Aries graduated with 72 college credit hours. All of those credits transferred when she attended Spelman College in Georgia. But, more importantly, Aries said she received supports in ECHS to be confident in her own ability to succeed in undergraduate studies.
“I felt like I was ready,” she said. “I knew myself as a college student. My Spelman sisters didn’t know themselves as college students yet. That made a big difference.”
Aries graduated from Spelman College in 2014. She is headed to medical school to pursue a dual degree: a masters in anatomy and a medical doctorate.
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Currently, too many students are falling through the cracks of our education system. It’s time for a change. It’s time for a New Normal. It’s time to make Early College High School an option for more students.
- Video: Student Panel at the EDWorks Experience Conference 2015
- Paper: Achieving the New Normal: A Discussion of Strategies to Realize the Goal of “College for All”
- Blog: Q&A with Marysville Early College High School Teacher Jodi Robertson
- Paper: Capitalizing on Potential: Scaling Early College High School
Moving a district toward personalized learning is hard but necessary work, observed one of the participants in the session on district conditions for scaling personalized learning that Matt Williams and I led at the National School Board Association’s (NSBA’s) conference on Saturday. Another emphasized the importance of starting with a vision for learning and building out supporting elements, such as district technology policy, around that vision, instead of addressing each element piecemeal.
Indeed, all of the district leaders whom my colleagues interviewed about district conditions for scaling personalized learning emphasized the importance of having a shared vision supported by everyone from board members to educators to community partners. Other meta-themes spanning interviewees’ more detailed strategies included cultivating a district culture that is consistent with the vision and operating transparently so that all stakeholders can see how plans are unfolding and can feel free to take risks while pursuing new approaches.
Saturday’s NSBA conference session focused on moving innovation beyond isolated pockets of excellence to systems of excellence that align the elements of their student engagement and operations such that districts can scale personalized learning environments. The session looked not just at what KnowledgeWorks has learned from speaking with district leaders, but also at the future possibilities described in our infographic on the future of learning and our recent paper on innovation pathways toward vibrant learning ecosystems.
In so doing, the conversation highlighted the excitement that can come from pursuing a new vision for learning, whether that involves changing the physical learning environment, using real-time data to inform instruction, or personalizing professional development and its certification so that teachers can experience the kind of learning to which we aspire for students.
School boards have a unique and integral role to play in implementing conditions that help districts scale personalized learning environments. Without school boards’ vision and leadership, and without their partnership with district staff, establishing the conditions necessary to foster innovation, scale new and successful practices, and prepare for the future of learning is impossible. The district policies required to enact personalized learning at scale will reflect a school board’s visionary leadership.
Over the years, elements of innovative schools has gotten a lot of attention. While this focus has helped to shape student-centered practice in classrooms, it has done little to scale successful innovation beyond “pockets of evidence.”
This weekend, KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams and Senior Director of Strategic Foresight Katherine Prince are presenting at the National School Boards Association 75th Annual Conference during their session, “District Conditions for Scaling Innovation.”
The session will discuss the conditions for success that a K-12 school district should put in place to support the scaling of innovative learning environments. It will also focus on KnowledgeWorks’ District Conditions for Scale.
If you are attending the NSBA conference in Nashville, stop by to say ‘hello’ to Matt and Katherine! Their session is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. on March 21 in room 104A at the Music City Center in Nashville.
For more information on NSBA and their work, visit NSBA.org.
With shout-outs in an ESEA discussion draft by Sen. Lamar Alexander, potential pilots proposed in Ohio, a new study released by KnowledgeWorks and Nellie Mae Education Foundation and today’s webinar on K-12 Competency Education and Policy (shameless plug), competency education is a growing movement throughout the country, intriguing leaders and educators on local, state and federal levels.
Last month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Virgel Hammonds, a superintendent who implemented a competency-learning model in RSU 2 school district in Maine. Throughout the hour, he shared his insights into building, modifying and sustaining a competency-learning model within his district.
We chatted about how RSU 2 developed support among parents and community members, and a pumpkin cannon competition Virgel attended to talk with parents to help build public will. Parents were apprehensive about competency education, especially since the district was already seeing steady academic success from students. During the local pumpkin cannon competition, he explained to parents that with higher expectations of a competency system, students would not only be able to fire pumpkins in homemade cannons, but also be able to predict the distance and velocity during flight.
We also discussed the equitable side of competency education, and he explained how students are placed in learning cohorts for the best academic progress. We talked about local difficulties and challenges of scaling, but also about the incredible potential to helping all students succeed.
Here are my Top Five Competency Education Takeaways from our conversation:
- Students in competency-based settings are learning more quickly and retaining more from summer to fall. RSU 2 assesses all students in the spring and early fall to ensure retention to prior learning. In the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, primary students showed a 30 percent gain in growth scores from the previous fall. According to Virgel, this shows that, by holding students to higher expectations at cognitively appropriate levels, learning is accelerated and allows teachers to spend more time teaching new material, rather than reviewing previous content.
- No matter what you think about NCLB, it inspired us to think about personalized education and outcomes differently.
- Building competency-based systems isn’t necessarily about fixing outcomes, but about doing what is right and what the data shows is best for students.
- Competency education is in its infancy phase, but it’s where the country is heading because of the growing success of this personalized learning model.
- For policymakers to help districts and states build competency systems, we need to create policy that takes away timecard and grade level. Learning communities will, in turn, take advantage of flexibility and run with it to create systems that benefit local students.
Measuring student success by seat time and grade level is outdated. We need to move to a new system, one that recognizes each student as an individual with interests, learning styles and needs.
Competency education seems like a good option. And one that schools and districts throughout the country, like RSU 2, are already seeing success in helping each student succeed.
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Today, the KnowledgeWorks policy team will host a webinar to explore how to support K-12 competency education through current federal policy. The webinar is free and will feature panelists from iNACOL and CCSSO. There’s still time to register! Join us by registering here.
And, don’t forget to check out our new report, “Building Consensus and Momentum: A Policy and Political Landscape for K-12 Competency Education.”