Author: Chris Sturgis

Six Trends at Lindsay Unified School District

March 2, 2015 by
Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney

This is the first post in a series on Lindsay Unified School District.

If your district is thinking seriously about converting to competency education, you should definitely bring a team to visit to Lindsay Unified School District. When I was last there, they had forty-plus educators from two districts in California, seven from Colorado, and one from Florida. You can register here for a site visit. (For funders out there – it’s worth considering figuring out how to do a virtual tour, as more people want to visit than Lindsay can accommodate and it’s expensive for districts to send a team. Just think how we could also reduce our carbon footprint if videos were available.)

One of the highlights of the visit was Superintendent Tom Rooney’s opening talk. I’ve known Tom for several years but have never heard him as sharp, urgent, and impassioned. After watching the video Transformational Learning (available in Spanish, as well), Rooney talked about graduation day as a great day for students. “This is a great day for educators, as well. We are saying to the world, ‘We’ve had them for twelve or thirteen years and we’re sending them out into society. They are our product, our contribution to society.’” He then continued, “The reality for many of our graduates is that they soon find out they didn’t get what they needed. Some of the kids fall into deep despair when they realize they have been betrayed. They were told that they are ready, but they’re not.”

Rooney then told a story that occurred when Virgel Hammonds was a new principal at Lindsay Unified High School (Hammonds is now the superintendent at RSU2 in Maine). It was late spring and Hammonds was just getting settled into his office, when in walked a father and his son who had graduated the week before. The father took a newspaper off the desk and gave it to his son, asking him to read it. After a few minutes of silence, the young man looked up with his tears in his eyes. “Dad, you know I don’t know how to read.”

Betrayal indeed. This is a betrayal that occurs all across our country. (more…)

All Together Now….the Magical Mastery Tour

February 27, 2015 by

BeatlesMonths later …and I’m still processing everything I learned on my Magical Mastery Tour of New York City.  Most of the schools I visited were profoundly student-centered in the sense of designing around the needs of those students who face the greatest challenges. Increasingly, I’m thinking that we need to draw from the schools that have designed for students with special education needs and language needs, such as Carroll Gardens and Bronx International. If these students are in the center of the design, rather than considered sub-populations, I think we have a much better chance of seeing improvements in equity.

I’ve organized all the links in one place below to make it easier for you to take the tour yourself.

And check out the video in Shifting to Mastery-Based Approaches in New York City Public Schools by Jeremy Kraushar of Digital Ready.

Beyond the Carnegie Unit

February 11, 2015 by

Chinese Proverb Quote“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”

– Chinese Proverb

It’s striking, isn’t it – the juxtaposition of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s recommendation that we keep using the Carnegie Unit (CU) because we don’t really have anything better, and Scott Marion’s incredible post describing a new, interlocking system that better defines student learning goals and targets, teacher goals and outcomes, and assessments that promise a more meaningful measure of learning. The contrasts could not be clearer: one is a system to engage students deeply in learning in a competency-based environment where schools claim responsibility for ensuring that students learn, compared to the less than meaningful Carnegie Unit, in which we only promise exposure to a topic, thereby leaving students to sit through one more lecture in a traditional classroom setting.

Across our country, educators are coming to the conclusion that we can’t wait for think tanks or federal policymakers to lead the way to a personalized system. Instead they are creating a new personalized system of education piece by piece. (You can read all about leading states, districts, and schools here at  CompetencyWorks.)

No one expects any one organization to come up with all the answers, but certainly the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) could have offered something more in their report than telling us what we already know – that the CU is rarely a barrier, with the exception of financial aid and getting the full benefit from online learning, but neither is it a valuable unit of learning. Thus, it allows the standardized system to continue to operate with lower quality than our students deserve and contributing to the inequity that plagues the standardized education system. The report by CFAT was a major disappointment at a time when our country needs leadership and creativity about how we can proceed in re-engineering the standardized system into a personalized one in which students are at the core.

There are three major problems with the paper in regard to the K12 public education system. (more…)

Performance-Based Home Schooling

February 10, 2015 by

7 alaskaThis is the seventh post in the Chugach School District series. Read the firstsecondthirdfourthfifth, and sixth posts here.

Why do parents choose the Chugach homeschool program? Parents want a clear roadmap of what their children need to accomplish, ways to determine if they are learning, and indicators that help them understand how they are doing. Parents want to make sure their kids are learning everything they need to without any gaps or holes in their learning.  – Annie Dougherty, head homeschool teacher

One of the eye-openers for me during my visit to Chugach School District was the conversation with CSD’s FOCUS homeschool teachers. It had never crossed my mind that homeschooling programs could be performance-based, or that they play a powerful role in education throughout Alaska and for families with high mobility (parents of course enrolling students for a whole host of reasons). CSD serves 230 students all across the state, from both rural and urban areas. The teachers, living all over the state, work with between forty to sixty students at a time. I could try to summarize our discussion, but I think you’ll appreciate hearing it directly from them.

The Benefits of Taking Time Out of the Equation

Janet Reed started off the conversation with, “The performance-based system takes time out of the equation. Parents really like it that kids can spend more time where they need it. They also really appreciate knowing their kids aren’t just being shuffled forward.” (more…)

Where to Meet Up with Competency Educators

February 5, 2015 by

AirplaneFor those of you ready to network with your colleagues, there are a few meetings that include competency education in the strands of sessions and speakers.

New England: Coming up soon is the New England Secondary Schools Consortium High School Redesign in Action conference on March 26-27 in Massachusetts. (Note: there are only about 100 spots left.)

Oregon: The Oregon Annual Proficiency Conference co-sponsored by BEC and COSA is scheduled for April 10, 2015. Jaime Robles, Principal at Lindsay High School, is a keynote speaker.

National: The 2015 iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium will take place on November 8-11 in Orlando, Florida at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. A request for breakout sessions and workshop proposals opened on February 4th if you would like to share your knowledge and lessons learned. Registration for the Symposium will open in March.   (more…)

Teaching Through the Culture: Native Education in a Performance-Based System

February 4, 2015 by
5 student at t

A Student at Tatitlek

This is the sixth post in the Chugach School District series. Read the first, second, thirdfourth, and fifth posts here.

Living in New Mexico, I think and learn about Native education more than I ever have before. In Alaska, over 16 percent of the student population is Alaska Native, which means it is even more important that schools there are designed to fully serve the interests of the eleven language groups and twenty-plus dialects: Athabascan, Alutiiq (you might be more familiar with this spelled as Aleutic), Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Inupiaq, and St. Lawrence Island Yupik.

Above all else, Chugach School District values it students, families, and communities; therefore, they value the culture of the Alutiiq people who live in Chenega Bay and Tatitlek. The CSD performance-based system has been co-designed with Alutiiq communities. Given that CSD is the first district to design a competency-based district, it raises the question, “Is competency education rooted in Alaskan Native values?”

There are several aspects of how Chugach School District embraces Native Education within a universal structure and process:

1. It Starts with Respect; Respect is Shown Through Listening and Partnership

It all started when school board and community members from Whittier and the Alutiiq villages of Chenega Bay and Tatitlek questioned district leadership about low achievement scores and the fact that their children were not reading and writing at grade level. The first response was the same as in most districts; a scripted reading program was selected and implemented throughout the district. However, the district leadership listened and realized there was a fundamental issue that needed to be addressed: the CSD education system wasn’t designed to meet the needs of their students. The next step was redesigning to be able to personalize education and adapt to the changing needs of students, families, and communities. The school board made a five-year commitment to ensure there would be time for effective implementation and mid-course adjustments. (more…)

What Would Andrew Do?

January 29, 2015 by
Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

(See the second post on this topic Beyond the Carnegie Unit)

Earlier today, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) released their report The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape. [Disclaimer: I was a member of the Advisory Committee.] It’s a beautifully written report with sweeping historical context and fun little details. (Why is liberal arts college four years? Because CFAT, in designing the requirements for institutions of higher education to have access to Andrew Carnegie’s pension plan, said so.) It’s a must-read for the summary of how competency education is evolving in the K12 and higher education sectors.

However, if you are expecting something as big and bold as Andrew Carnegie himself would dream up, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, I imagine that deep under the snow in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York, Andrew Carnegie is wishing he could find a way to join the conversation.

It’s easy to agree with the findings—that Carnegie Unit (CU) rarely acts as an actual barrier, as in actually prohibiting innovation, with a few important exceptions such as federal financial aid. However, there is an enormous difference between an idea acting as a barrier and  catalyzing improvements in the education system. In focusing the scope of the report on whether or not the CU is a barrier to improvements, CFAT trapped themselves in either-or-ness, rather than engaging in an open inquiry into how we might be able to move beyond the confines of the CU to a more equitable, flexible, and transparent system. Even an analytical report that takes us up close to how the CU operates in administering the education system, specifically higher education, would have allowed us to think more deeply about how to re-engineer the system. (more…)

Chugach School District: Performance-Based Education in a One-Room School House

January 27, 2015 by
6tatitlek

Tatitlek

This is the fifth post in the Chugach School District series. Read the firstsecondthird, and fourth posts here.

How does competency education work in small, rural K-12 schools?

When I first started reading about Chugach School District five years ago, I just didn’t get it. After spending much of my adult life in New England, rural meant a small town an hour away from another small town. When I moved to New Mexico, Landon Mascareñaz (now at Denver Public Schools) insisted I join him on a road trip into the northwestern corner to understand the dynamics of serving Native Americans in rural areas. The expanses of land and sky between each town were staggering. So was the realization that rural and remote schools had to balance being deeply community-based (valuing the cultures, communities, and assets surrounding them) with the need to expand students’ horizons.

My personal horizons expanded tremendously about what remote means on my trip to  Chugach School District. I first realized that I was on the edge of my comfort zone as I accompanied Debbie Treece, Special Education Director, on a trip to the Whittier Community School (WCS). (more…)

Helping HELP: Paul Leather’s Testimony on Assessments and Accountability

January 21, 2015 by
Paul Leather

Paul Leather

Earlier today, Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner at NH’s Department of Education, testified at the Senate HELP Committee Full Committee Hearing on “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability” about improving assessments and accountability systems. His testimony is provided below or you can watch here. Additional resources on ESEA include:

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Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify about testing and accountability in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

I am Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of Education of the NH Department of Education.

In NH, we are working to explore what the next generation of assessments might look like, beyond an end-of-the-year test.

We have coordinated with the Council of Chief State School Officers on its Priorities for ESEA Reauthorization. These Priorities contain three important ingredients that are in line with the work we are doing:

  • First, it would continue to support annual assessments of student performance to ensure every parent receives the information they need on how their child is performing, at least once a year.
  • Second, it would allow states to base students’ annual determinations on a single standardized test, or the combined results from a coherent system of assessments.
  • Third, it gives states the space to continue to innovate on assessment and accountability systems, so important when the periods of authorization can last 10 years or longer. (more…)

Ownership, Not Buy-In: An Interview with Bob Crumley, Superintendent Chugach School District

January 20, 2015 by
Bob Crumley

Bob Crumley

This is the fourth post in the Chugach School District series. Read the firstsecond, and third posts here.

In October, I had the chance to meet with Bob Crumley, Superintendent of the Chugach School District. He’s worked his way up, starting as a teacher in the village of Whittier, becoming the assistant superintendent in 1999 and superintendent in 2005. Crumley has a powerful story to share, as he’s been part of the team that transformed Chugach into a performance-based system and sustained it for twenty years.

Crumley has tremendous insights into every aspect of creating and managing a personalized, performance-based system. The emphasis on empowerment, situational leadership-management styles, and courage reminded me of my conversation with Virgel Hammonds, Superintendent of RSU2 in Maine. Below, Crumley addresses several key elements of managing a performance-based system:

Personalized is Community-Based: On the Importance of Community Engagement

Creating a personalized, performance-based system starts with engaging the community in an authentic way. Our entire transformation started with the communities and school board challenging us – they wanted to know why their children were not reading at grade level. Our communities were not sure they trusted the schools and teachers. This was partially based on the history of Alaska and how Native Alaskan communities were treated. However, it was also based on the fact that we were not currently effective in helping our children to learn the basics or preparing them for success in their lives. We had to find a way to overcome that.

The superintendent at the time, Roger Sampson, was committed to responding to the community and implemented a top-down reading program. Reading skills did improve, but it also raised questions for all of us about what we needed to do to respond to students to help them learn. With the leadership of Sampson and Richard DeLorenzo, Assistant Superintendent, we took a step back in order to redesign our system. (more…)

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