Author: Chris Sturgis

The Courage to Confront Equity Issues in Competency Education

December 17, 2014 by
EPIC Schools NY

From the EPIC Schools NYC Website

Innovators and early adapters of competency education want to do right by kids. The vision of personalized education is that every student will be able to engage in meaningful and highly engaging learning experiences – with the right mix of instructional supports when they need it – so that everyone is successful. Failure is not an option; it’s just part of the learning process.

However, my stomach turns when I hear these very same incredible education leaders dismiss equity because “every student is getting what they need.” In the same ways the police and criminal justice systems have betrayed African-Americans for decades, so too have our schools betrayed low-income communities, African-American communities, Hispanic communities and Native American communities. People may not be in the streets because of their schools, but the distrust is there.

So here are five equity issues I think we are going to need to tackle. They aren’t new or created by competency education. They just get raised in competency education because of the transparency system and our need to constantly nurture respect and trust so that educators can partners with students, families, and communities to resolve issues as they develop.

Keeping Students in School: Policies regarding the graduation crisis have improved greatly over the past decade. Uniform ways of measuring graduation and dropout rates are helping us to be more honest. There have been investments in credit recovery to try and find a way to improve the probability of kids who get off to a rough start in high school still reaching graduation. As a result, graduation rates are increasing…except when they aren’t. Our African-American students, specifically young men, and Native American/Alaskan Native students aren’t seeing much of an increase. Students in ELL and special education hover around 61 percent.

There have been efforts to re-engage students into school (some call it multiple pathways to graduation; some refer to it as serving over-age, undercredited students; others use the terms re-engagement or recuperation). No matter what you call it, these are all efforts designed to help students get back into school and stay there. Competency education must take into account the structures needed to make sure students can climb back on board the college/career track, picking up where they left off.

The Christensen Institute highlights areas of non-consumption as a place to derive the benefits of disruptive innovation. Indeed, online learning can be beneficial, but only in the context of high-quality blended learning that draws on the best of face-to-face instruction for older youth who may have experienced substantial challenges and trauma in their lives. Too many districts are focusing solely on online credit recovery when they should be developing schools such Apex, Schools for the Future, Our Piece of the Pie, and Bronx Arena.

Addressing Inequity in Educational/Social Capital: How much of a child’s learning takes place in school compared to that of their community and family? What type of learning is happening in families and communities, and how does it impact students’ abilities to succeed in school? (more…)

Asking the Right Questions: Urban Assembly Maker Academy

December 16, 2014 by

UA MakerDesigning a school with only a blank page to start can be a daunting task. Where do you begin? Values? Themes? Needs of target population? Instructional approach?

I couldn’t stop thinking about design at the very, very new UA Maker (the twenty-fourth in the Urban Assembly network) because design itself is at the core of the school model. So are its values. A poster on the wall articulating the norms of UA Maker really brought this home:

We agree to center our work on the core values: curiosity, empathy, risk-taking, self-awareness and resilience.

We agree to:

  • Engage in Design Thinking and understand this work as iterative
  • Engage in growth mindset
  • Document our process
  • Respect each other’s time

The following highlights of their school design are based on conversations with Luke Bauer, Principal; Madelaine Hackett, Urban Assembly’s Carnegie Design Fellow embedded at the school site; Alexis Goldberg, Urban Assembly’s Achievement Coach; and members of the NYC Department of Education’s Digital Ready team Michael Preston, Jeremy Kraushar, and Joy Nolan. (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education

December 15, 2014 by

Gatherings and Site VisitsiNCL_CW_logo_K12iNCL_CW_logo_K12

  • Registration is open for the High School Redesign in Action is the New England Secondary School Consortium’s sixth annual conference for educators to share success stories, exchange best practices, and continue to build momentum for innovations that will prepare all students for success in the colleges, careers, and communities of the 21st century.  This is a great place to learn about competency education in action. Thursday + Friday, March 26-27, 2015 in Norwood, MA.
  • ACHIEVE held their annual meeting for state leaders has competency education last week. On the agenda:
  • From Seat-time to Mastery: Competency-based Pathways to Colleges and Careers  discusses approaches to moving away from measuring student knowledge as a function of time toward one that uses content mastery as the primary criterion. The unique role the postsecondary sector can play to signal support is also stressed. Speakers include: Ellen Hume-Howard, Curriculum Director, Sanborn Regional School District, New Hampshire; Dan Mielke, Executive Director, Eastern Promise, Eastern Oregon University; Rachelle Tome, Chief Academic Officer, Maine Department of Education and Cory Curl, Senior Fellow, Assessment and Accountability, Achieve.
  • Communicating the Potential of Competency-based Learning highlights effective advocacy and communications practices to promote competency-based education across interest groups.Speakers include: Theresa Bennett, Education Associate, ELA, Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development, Delaware Department of Education; Pete Janhunen, The Fratelli Group; and Lindsay Jones, Director, Public Policy and Advocacy, National Center for Learning Disabilities.

New Reports and Resources

Bronx Arena: Organizing Spaghetti (Part 1)

December 10, 2014 by

BronxThis article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. For the full story, start with the overview of the Magical Mastery Tour and the three biggest takeaways. Part 2 about Bronx Arena is below.

Ty Cesene and Samantha (Sam) Sherwood, co-principals at Bronx Arena (BxA), opened our conversation with an unexpected reference to spaghetti:

Competency-based structures are just one part of our school. In fact, for us, they’re the back-end. Our primary focus has always been to have a student-facing school that makes sense to students and also constantly reminds staff that our job is to support students.

Once you take away the element of time, as we did, the door is opened wide to everything you ever wanted kids to know and do. Of course, then there has to be some way of prioritizing. That’s where defining the competencies has become really important for us. Yes, there may be lots of ways to organize instruction, but we know exactly what we want kids to be able to do when they graduate from Bronx Arena.

As we started to put together all the ideas – asynchronous learning; responding to the intersection of our students’ social-emotional lives and their cognitive development; competency-based learning; flexibility in staffing, structures, and how we use time – we felt like we were trying to organize spaghetti.  (more…)

Bronx Arena: Innovating Until 100% of Students Graduate (Part 2)

by

One Hundred PercentThis article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. For the full story, start with my overview of the Magical Mastery Tour and the three biggest takeaways. Part 1 of the Bronx Arena visit can be found here.

Students at BxA are unquestionably at the core of everything the school sets out to accomplish. You can see this in the way students are arranged academically.

Instead of traditional grades, students at BxA are “leveled.” Those assigned to Level 1 are focused on passing the Regents exams based on tenth grade skills, while those at Level 2 are in eleventh and twelfth grades. Students at Level 2 prepare for their senior portfolio, which includes designing their own capstone project for a course. Students select the competencies they will be demonstrating, as well as the rubric that will be used for assessment. This demonstrates that they know how to structure their own learning experiences – a skill that will be very handy in college and taking on new challenges in the workplace.

Designing Curriculum: Two Challenges and a Capstone

BxA has created a course model for teachers to follow. Every course is organized around two “challenges” and a capstone. A challenge is designed around one to two competencies and tends to be a bit larger than a unit. The challenge has a summative project by which students demonstrate proficiency. The capstone is designed for students to transfer the skills into a new context. (more…)

A Deeper Dive into the EPIC North Design (Part 2)

December 8, 2014 by
Mr. Dash

Mr. Dash’s Science Class

This article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. For the full story, start with my overview of the Magical Mastery Tour and the three biggest takeaways. Part 1 of the EPIC North visit can be found here or just scroll down the page.

The EPIC North school design is best explained by the students themselves.

Teachers give us guidelines for our projects. We can learn in different ways, including learning from outside of school. We have to figure things ourselves and we have to learn how to do it ourselves. But we are never all by ourselves. Teachers are always there to help us.

Like most mastery-based schools, EPIC is founded on the idea of student ownership, transparency of learning expectations, and demonstrating proficiency before advancing to the next stage of learning. In this case, EPIC embeds the mastery-based structure within a tightly woven culture and programming based on youth development and future focus through CORE and Summer Bridge.

A Personalized, Mastery-Based Structure

Across the three EPIC high schools, staff and students use technology as a means to personalize learning. Students interact with the schools’ LMS (Educate) and relevant Google programs to receive, complete and submit assignments, collaborate, and track their learning progress. Currently the schools are implementing a one-to-one (student to device) program. In classes, teachers use both procured and teacher-generated digital content. In classes like targeted support, students use interactive software to practice and develop their skills towards mastery. As students access material and produce works, staff are available to provide direct support and guidance. However, it is important to note that at EPIC schools, teaching and learning is highly blended. In addition to technology use, students participate in class activities, discussions, and labs that require collaborating with peers and working with teachers. (more…)

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