Author: Chris Sturgis

What Would Andrew Do?

January 29, 2015 by
Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

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…)

ACHIEVE’s Communication Took Kit – Must Use!

January 16, 2015 by

achieveI had a chance to see ACHIEVE’s Communication Tool Kit during a webinar on communication strategies for state policy leaders. The materials are truly terrific…absolutely every person should read them and start using the language and talking points. They are so good and so important to read that I’m publishing the Core Messages right here.

The one word I would caution is that the ideas haven’t been message tested – for you funders out there, it would be a great investment to do some focus groups with different constituencies and stakeholders, especially communities that have historically received less-than-adequate educational services.

FYI, there are lots of resources – including planning tools and an infographic – that will be coming soon.

Competency-Based Pathways: Definition, Key Messages, and Talking Points (more…)

Chugach Teachers Talk About Teaching

January 13, 2015 by
3flying to tatitlek

Flying to Tatitlek

This is the third post in the Chugach School District series. Read the first and second posts here.

Chugach School District is a teacher’s district. Bob Crumley, Superintendent, started as a teacher in Whittier Community School (WCS). (There is a story about his coming face to face with a bear that had wandered into the school in search of sausage.) Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, signed up to teach at Whittier before realizing that the only way to get there at the time was to travel through a tunnel sitting in absolute darkness…and this after driving one’s car onto the back of a railway flat. Doug Penn, District Principal, has worked in the communities of Chenega Bay and Whittier.

It’s also a learner’s district, because everyone at CSD is willing to learn in order to do better by their students and their families.

Not every person is cut out to teach at CSD. You’ve got to want a bit of adventure. You’ve got to have a love for the incredible mountain-meets-sea landscape. You’ve got to be willing to live in small communities that have limited access. And you’ve got to love kids.

There were incredibly rich conversations with teachers throughout my three days at CSD. Here are a few of the highlights:

On Being a Generalist or Not-Yet-Specialists (more…)

Chugach School District’s Performance-Based Infrastructure

January 7, 2015 by
2 hydroponics class

Students in Chugach School District

This is the second post in the Chugach School District series. Read the first post here.

I’ve noticed that in the first year of transitioning to a competency-based system, schools often dive headfirst into creating the competencies and rubrics without thinking about the pedagogical platform upon which the entire infrastructure is going to rest. What could be a powerful discussion among educators about what we want students to learn and be able to do can quickly become a bureaucratic process eating up reams of paper.

Not so at Chugach. The spirit of empowerment, student ownership of their learning, and a shared understanding that the schools are preparing students for life, not just graduation, permeated every conversation. Absolutely every conversation.

This post, although long, will cover four elements of the Chugach performance-based system: student empowerment, a system of assessments, the domains of learning (content areas), and preparing students for life.  (more…)

Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

January 6, 2015 by
Debbie Treece

Debbie Treece

This is the first post in the Chugach School District series.

I’ve never been to Alaska before. All I can say is that it was beyond any and all expectations – as was my visit to Chugach School District (CSD).

I’m sure you’ve heard about Chugach. It’s the first district to transform itself into a competency-based model (or what they refer to as performance-based). It’s the basis of the must-read Delivering the Promise. CSD has stayed the course for twenty years, developing a sophisticated system that provides flexibility to their schools while keeping a firm eye on student achievement and progress. And they aren’t done – they are continually exploring ways to increase access to knowledge, expand hands-on and college/career readiness opportunities, and more.

It’s not easy to see the CSD performance-based system in practice. Seventy-seven percent of their students are homeschoolers, the schools in the Alutiiq communities of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay require boarding a charter flight, and the road to Whittier…well, it goes through a one-lane tunnel where you have to decide whether you want the wheels of your car to fit on top of the railroad track or to the sides, and where you have to be prepared to share the road with moose if the snow gets too deep! (There is also the Voyage to Excellence, a statewide variable-term residential program to expand learning opportunities, which I’ll talk about in future posts.)

I spent three days with the CSD team in order to fully understand their approach – and I am forever grateful for their willingness to share their knowledge and their love of Alaska. I learned so much about performance-based education: how it looks in tiny, rural schools; how it can be structured for Native education; how it supports special education students; and how the infrastructure can be intentionally designed to capture all aspects of learning and student development.

A special thanks to Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, who organized the tour, answered a thousand questions, and drove me through a wintery-white landscape to Whittier. (more…)

Explorations in Competency Education

January 5, 2015 by
0 me in alaska

In Tatitlek

This post introduces the upcoming series on Chugach School District.

I learned a lot during my trip to Alaska to visit Chugach School District and Highland Tech Charter School. If a moose licks his lips at you, it’s time to back away carefully. Slowly wave your arms if a black bear comes your way. Get on your belly and cover your neck if a brown bear shows more than a passing interest in you. However, there is no advice if you encounter a grizzly! (I did encounter a moose in Anchorage’s Kincaid Park, including a bull, who did, in fact, a bit of lip-licking.)

It makes sense that one of the places that competency education developed is in the Alaskan landscape. Alaska is about the essentials. Alaska requires adaptability. And with the incredible mountains all around, peeking out here and there from the clouds, one cannot be anything other than humble. Humility is the breeding ground for competency education. It is humility that allows all of the adults to become learners rather than decision-makers, experts, and teachers. It is humility that creates school cultures that embrace the concept of ‘not yet.’ Students may not yet be proficient. More importantly, educators may not yet know what students are capable of or how to best support their learning.

It’s this combination of the essentials, adaptability, and humility that is required to go forth to redesign our education system without knowing exactly how the pieces fit together, let alone which pieces are required in the first place. We just know it’s important to do better than we are doing now for the sake of our children.

This is the beginning of a series of posts on my trip to Alaska to visit Highland Tech Charter School (HTC) and Chugach School District (CSD). In this post, I share a bit about my trip and a few of my big takeaways. In future posts, I’m going deep into CSD, as there is so much to learn from them. CSD has been staying the course for nearly twenty years, and we’ll look at how they began the process of transformation; the structure of their performance-based system; the experience of teachers; how they structure their district so that it works for all students and cultures, including the important influence of the Alaska Native culture upon the education system’s development; lessons learned for small, rural schools; and implications for homeschooling.

Three Big Leaps (more…)

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