With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, the federal government peeled back many of the most prescriptive provisions of its previous education laws in exchange for greater state-level flexibility. The new law encourages states to capitalize on this flexibility by developing innovative strategies to improve student outcomes and advance educational equity for all. In response, many states are launching bold new plans to make student-centered learning a centerpiece of their education systems. No doubt, such plans aim to shift the focus of education from the one-size-fits-all, factory model of old to a system built to foster the individual success of each and every child in the 21st century.
One of the most exciting opportunities within ESSA to advance student-centered learning lies in Title II of the law, Support for Educators. Several states have revealed groundbreaking new strategies to prepare teachers and leaders for student-centered learning environments. In today’s post, I’ll share a few of the most common, promising trends we’re seeing around educator support systems and highlight some of the pioneering states that interested readers might want to check out. Here are our top trends so far:
Personalized professional development for teachers
A number of states are updating their professional development PD systems to include personalized supports aligned to the individual needs of each educator—a shift from the old paradigm of “sit and get” PD delivered in a whole group setting. Some of the more innovative concepts include individual professional growth plans tied to teacher evaluations and educator competencies, personalized PD aligned to such growth plans, one-on-one mentorship provided to new teachers and micro-credentialing opportunities offered to advance progress towards individual career goals or pathways. While only a few examples, they signal states’ increasing recognition of the need to focus on individual growth, both at the student level and the teacher level. The most progressive states are exploring ways to integrate many of these concepts into a seamless continuum of support. States to watch include Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee, among others.
Self-paced, online PD opportunities
Truly personalized PD means not only that the content of PD is selected based on individual needs, but also that the method of accessing that content is based on individual needs. Several states are now developing a menu of online PD offerings that can be accessed anytime, anywhere in addition to more traditional face-to-face PD opportunities. Such online offerings may allow teachers to progress through professional learning at their own pace and choose from a broader array of PD opportunities, in addition to those offered in face-to-face settings. Some of the more advanced online PD portals may be linked to online educator dashboards or learning management systems and may lead to micro-credentials. Check out Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Oregon for innovative models.
Training for 21st century teaching and learning
As states transition from factory model education systems to a focus on student-centered learning, many are thinking about the preparation their educators will need to better facilitate student success in a new environment. Some states are proposing to launch statewide training initiatives—often delivered regionally via cooperative educational agencies—on best practices in 21st century teaching and learning, and some are creating digital trainings to be embedded within online PD systems. Though the method of delivering such training opportunities may vary by state, the more common topics for state trainings have included the following: competency-based education, personalized learning, blended learning or social-emotional learning. Any strategies designed to deliver training on one of these themes would signal the state’s intention to ensure that educators are prepared for 21st century pedagogy. Look to Arkansas, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire and South Dakota for models of training strategies on 21st century teaching and learning.
Aligned educator preparation programs
As the frontlines of the teacher pipeline, educator preparation programs are perhaps the most fertile and critical grounds to begin preparing teachers for success in student-centered learning environments. Although higher education can sometimes be a more challenging sector to transform using policy as a lever, some states have developed collaborative partnerships with institutes of higher education to prepare teacher candidates for student-centered learning environments. In fact, some have gone so far as to update accreditation standards for educator preparation programs, requiring that such programs incorporate student-centered learning principles. Some states are even exploring ways to partner with postsecondary institutions to begin preparing the next generation of educators while they are still in high school. Among those advancing student-centered learning principles in educator preparation programs are Idaho, New Hampphire and New York.
Multiple pathways to certification
By eliminating the highly-qualified teacher requirement, ESSA gives states an opportunity to design a new strategy for educator quality that aligns to a vision for personalized learning. Many states are implementing strategies that will align their certification and licensure requirements to reflect new teaching roles and competencies for instruction in student-centered learning environments. To ensure that students have access to teachers with the content knowledge and expertise needed to offer a well-rounded array of educational opportunities, forward-thinking states have proposed multiple pathways to credentialing and flexible routes to re-certification. Additionally, some states are looking at creating multiple tiers of certification aligned to compensation. Compelling proposals around certification can be found in the plans from Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii and Mississippi.
Personalized leader development systems
ESSA permits states to reserve up to 3% of their Title II, Part A grant dollars to build a workforce of principals and other school leaders with the skills to help schools transition to personalized learning environments. Recognizing the importance of preparing today’s school leaders to be stewards of growth-oriented teaching and learning environments, numerous states have set forth plans to establish leadership development programs, leader competencies and leader evaluations. Several are proposing personalized PD for leaders, and a few have even proposed the establishment of new leadership roles aligned to student-centered learning. See plans from Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Utah.
While ESSA offers unprecedented opportunities for flexibility and innovation, states nevertheless face profound challenges in meeting the needs of 21st century learners. As each state reflects on its current educational landscape and attempts to build for future needs, it is our hope that our educational leaders keep one truth front-and-center: that one size can no longer fit all. By sharing some of the most innovative proposals to advance student-centered learning, we hope in this blog series to encourage more states to explore new ways to improve student outcomes and advance educational equity for the children of today and tomorrow.
Tyler Barnett is the Director of State Policy for KnowledgeWorks. In this role, he provides leadership and support in the development of a state policy agenda for KnowledgeWorks with a focus of providing policy flexibility and alignment to support the expansion of personalized learning. His responsibilities include authoring policy documents and white papers to advance educational transformation, leveraging strategic opportunities to provide thought leadership around personalized learning, and working with key partners in targeted states to develop and advance policy recommendations.