Author: Chris Sturgis

What’s Personalization Got to Do with It? On the Road to College and Career Success

August 26, 2015 by

I am delighted to have the chance to visit the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative in Hazard, KY and meet with educators in their Next Generation Leadership Academy this week. They are spending time reflecting on the different ways to think about college and career success. Below is my presentation on how we might begin to think about college and career success in a competency-based structure.

The districts that are part of the Next Generation Leadership Academy at the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative have been investing in many different ways to improve their schools. These include the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative to advance blended learning, efforts to raise student voice and leadership, personalized approaches to educator effectiveness, ways of approaching children wholistically, including early childhood health and trauma-informed services, and STEM.

What’s more even more impressive is that they are building their capacity to use design – enabling districts to begin to weave all these pieces together into the next generation districts and schools.

Slide 2

Designing anything always starts with having a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Sometimes, this is described as a problem you want to solve or something you want to improve, such as less expensive or more cost-effective. Or it may be described as your goal, the change you want to make happen in the world.

The question we have to ask ourselves in thinking about next generation education is what we want for our graduates of high school. We need to describe the change or, if you want to use a business lens, describe the product. However, there is also a big problem we are trying to solve that will shape every step of the design process. We haven’t yet been been able to figure out how to make sure all students become proficient in grade level skills, get a diploma, or are fully prepared for college. We need to think about the elements of a system that will be more reliable.

Today, we will spend sometime thinking about the goal, the system that would reduce inequity, and what it is going to take to get us from here to there. (more…)

Have You Made Plans for the iNACOL Symposium Yet?

August 25, 2015 by

AirplaneAs you may know, the only place to network with all your competency education colleagues from across the nation is at the iNACOL Symposium on Online and Blended Learning coming up on November 8-11 in Orlando, FL. iNACOL organizes an entire strand on competency education, highlighting approaches and issues for districts and schools that are already moving towards blended learning as well as those that are making the conversion without the help of technology.

I’ll be highlighting the competency education strand in the next couple of weeks. However, we wanted to let you know that there are two pre-conference workshops on November 8th just in case you are thinking about your travel plans.

In the morning on the 8th, you can find an advanced session on Expert Seminar on Standards (Data, Content Metadata, Technology) for Competency Education starring Liz Glowa, iNACOL; Jim Goodell, Quality Information Partners, Inc.; and Brandt Redd, SmarterBalance. The description is below:

Competency Education operates at the crossroads between achievement standards, student information standards, technical standards, systems of assessments and content metadata. An understanding of the landscape of education data and technology standards will help organizations select and build technology solutions to support their competency initiatives. CEDS, system integration and data transfer options and challenges, interoperability and the role of metadata in relating learning content to learning maps will be discussed.

This workshop will bring together leaders in designing and delivering competency education to discuss the ecosystem of technology needed to support competency education and how the parts fit together to make a successful whole. To deliver competency education, we need:

  1. information about content,
  2. information about learners, and
  3. information about learner interactions… with content (e.g. assessments/activities) and with other people (teachers/peers)

NOTE: This session is for participants who have an advanced understanding of education data and technology standards.

(more…)

Teaching: The Most Intellectual Job in the World

August 24, 2015 by

IntellectualRecently I received the question below. It starts with a concern about choice and agency and then expands to a number of questions about teaching and learning. Although I certainly don’t know the answer to all these questions, I have had several conversations with educators in competency-based schools that might provide some insight. As always, we’d love to have others share their thoughts on these questions.

My concern is that the practical implementation of personalized learning in classrooms can and in many cases, will lead paradoxically and tragically to the diminution of choice and agency for students. An example of this might sound like: Sorry John, but you can’t go on to multiplication until you have demonstrated mastery of two digit addition.

This begs some other questions: Who decides what skills are essential to be granted access to the next series of content/instruction? On what basis (cognitive, research-based) is that determination of sequencing made? Under what circumstances is it helpful for students to have exposure to topics that are beyond their independent or even instructional level? What are the grouping (tracking) implications of the way competency-based learning is, or may be rolled out?

Agency and Choice: Let’s tackle the question about student agency and choice: If we are comparing a personalized classroom to a traditional chalk and talk/pacing guided classroom, I can’t imagine how student agency and choice can be much less. However, I do think as a field we need to be much more clear about what it means to be personalized, the techniques for helping students to build agency, and the different ways to structure learning experiences to enable the three concepts of agency, voice and choice.

Certainly, there are schools that have chosen to use adaptive software programs that provide little personalization other than pace, with students plodding through a pretty boring curriculum, answering questions at the level of recall and comprehension. I’ve seen this most often in credit recovery programs and mediocre alternative schools. However, I’ve also seen it in a school that is touted as an innovative school, described as personalized because of the flexibility in pacing.

However, the example above about John who hasn’t learned two-digit addition isn’t as much about choice (assuming that we don’t consider choosing not to learn something as an option) as it is about teaching and learning. (more…)

A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education

August 19, 2015 by

GraphEach summer, CompetencyWorks takes a bit of time to reflect on where we have come from, accomplishments, and emerging issues. Our advisory board is absolutely instrumental in this process, helping us to understand nuances and variations across states.

Below are the highlights of our discussion this year. It’s long, but I think sharing in detail is worth it, especially as each week people contact us seeking help in understanding the field. Please, please, please – we would love to hear your insights and understanding of where we have come from and what we need to think about in terms of advancing competency education. It’s the richness of multiple perspectives that allow us to be as strategic as possible.

I. How Are We Doing in Terms of Expansion?

When we wrote the first scan of the field in 2010, there were only pockets of innovation across the country, each operating in isolation. Five years later, eighteen states are actively pursuing competency education through a range of strategies including proficiency-based diplomas (ME, NH, CO, AZ), integrating competency education into the education code (VT, NH), innovation zones (KY, WI, CT), pilots (OR, IA, OH, ID), and task forces in partnership with districts (SC, WY, OK, HI, DE). Federal policymakers are now familiar with competency-based education in the K12 and higher education sector, with ESEA policy discussions considered pilots for new systems of assessments.

Districts are converting to competency education across the country, with or without state policy enabling the change. In addition to the northern New England states, which have strong state policy initiatives, districts are converting in AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, MI, and SC.

New school models are developing that push beyond the traditional organization of school to high levels of personalization, including those at Summit Public Schools, Building 21, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Making Community Connections Charter School, EPIC North, and Bronx Arena. Schools for the Future has recently announced record-breaking results in its first year of operation.

Some people think the rate of expansion is too slow. Personally, I think we need to really “get it right” – robust competency-based structures, high levels of personalization so our most historically underserved populations of students are thriving, upgraded instruction and assessment aligned to higher levels of knowledge, and effective use of online learning – before we worry about the speed of expansion. Let’s practice what we preach. We are in the midst of huge learning as we deconstruct the traditional system and put into place a more vibrant, personalized system, and it may take us a bit of time. It took us well over 200 years to create the traditional system, and its rituals are deeply rooted into our own personal lives. I don’t think it is a problem if it takes us a few more years to get it right.

The Results from our Early Adopters: The early adopters are now three to four years into implementation (with the exception of Chugach School District, which has been using a competency-based model for nearly two decades). Many have developed the systemic framework within a traditional agrarian, course-based model, which means that at first glance, it appears there is little innovation…until one looks deeper to see the benefits of greater personalization, student agency/voice/choice, consistency of proficiency scales across the school, and greater responsiveness to students who are struggling. (more…)

What I Am Learning from Anthony Kim

August 14, 2015 by
Instructional Models

Click Image to Enlarge

Sometimes I’m a little slow.

I loved the ideas that Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements, put together in his post Interested in Innovative School Models? What to Consider to Make Sure They Are Successful – merging together 1) depth of learning, 2) acceleration of learning, and stages of student independence or student agency.

But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to hear Kim present at the New Hampshire Educators Summit last week (click here for video) that I actually started to really comprehend what this all means. And honestly, my guess is that these ideas are so profound that I’m just starting a journey of understanding what this means for competency-based schools. (I might call these types of inquiries a “learney” – a journey of learning.)

One of my huge pet peeves is that a lot of writing about blended learning only talks about the tech part and fails to provide an overall picture. Rarely does it talk about what is needed for blended learning  to address the tremendous change that is happening with the introduction of the Common Core – moving from a focus on recall and comprehension, the first two levels in most knowledge taxonomies, toward the higher (and deeper) levels of analysis and application. Much of the knowledge base on blended learning focuses on models, products, and the necessary tech infrastructure….but not about what needs to be happening the rest of the time in the classroom to provide deeper learning.

Kim did not fall into this trap. Instead, he illuminated how blended learning can help us build capacity for deeper learning. By using the three-part axis of depth of knowledge (such as Bloom’s or Webb’s), stages of independence (students move dependent on direction from the teacher and toward self-directed learning), and acceleration (students start at different points and progress at different rates, meaning a student who is behind grade level may actually be learning at a much faster rate of learning), he provides a robust picture of what schools need to be able to do and how they can best do it using technology. (more…)

How Competent Are We at Competency Education?

August 6, 2015 by

Below is the presentation I prepared for the New Hampshire Education Summit on the topic How Competent Are We at Competency Education? (here is link to video)

What a pleasure it is to be here in New Hampshire – the well-spring of competency education. When Susan Patrick, my partner in co-founding CompetencyWorks, and I did the scan of competency education in 2010, we found that there were pockets of competency education across the country. However, there was only one state – and that state was New Hampshire – that had the foresight, courage, and leadership to set a new course for their schools and for their children. Now look at you, setting the course for federal policy by having the courage to imagine a new way for the state and districts to co-design a system of quality assurance – what we used to call state accountability.

State Policy Snapshot

Competency education is spreading across the country. As soon as CompetencyWorks updates this map, we hear of another state taking a step forward. For example, in June, Idaho and Ohio both decided to invest in pilots. However, the thing that convinces me we are going in the right direction is that districts, without the help of any enabling state policy, are converting to competency education – Lindsay in California, Warren and Springdale in Arkansas, Charleston in South Carolina, Henry and Fulton in Georgia, Freeport in Illinois, and Lake County in Florida. (more…)

It’s Simply Buzzing in New Hampshire

August 5, 2015 by

innovation2:15 pm ET

I’m sitting amidst 500 very energetic educators from all around New Hampshire (it’s 2 percent of the teacher workforce). To get access to the 2015 New Hampshire’s Educator Summit, districts had to be willing to send a team of people that had identified problems of practice to drive their learning….and it is just electric in the room as we wait for Virginia Barry, Commissioner of Education to launch the meeting with the introduction of the New Hampshire 2.0: A Blueprint to Scale Competency-Based Education Across a P-20 System.

The event is around six strands: Competency-Based Education, Community Engagement, Co-Teaching, Data Literacy, Early Childhood Education, and STEM. Several folks who are part of the CompetencyWorks network are leading sessions, including Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements; Rose Colby, consulting superstar; Jonathon Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary School, Sanborn Regional School District; Scott Marion, the Center of Assessment; and Joe DiMartino, Executive Director, Center for Secondary School Redesign. Other presenters include Lindsey Lapointe, Epping Middle School and Monique Temple, Maple Street Magnet School (emphasizing inquiry-based and project-based learning). I wish I could go to every session!

3 pm ET

Here are a few highlights so far:

Building a Big Voice: Bill Duncan, member of the NH School Board, spoke to the need to tell families, community members, and political leaders from the most local to statewide positions about their experiences in the classroom in an effort to build out a big voice to support schools and teachers. We need to get to the people who know and can influence those who have the decision-making power to stay the course.

From Improving the System We Have to Creating the One We Need: Virginia Barry kicked off her discussion with a video giving voice to teachers and students who are using extended learning, project-based learning, and place-based learning. There was an interesting story about a class in Surry Village Charter School using their own community to learn about the civil rights movement, finding a local leader, Jonathon Daniels, who was murdered while trying to register African-American voters in Alabama. (more…)

Introducing a New Definition of Competency Education

August 4, 2015 by

RELAs you probably know, five years ago CompetencyWorks developed a five-part working definition with the help of 100 innovators to help provide some stability to the field. (Our introductory materials explore competency education in more depth.) The definition was designed to describe what a new competency-based structure should be able to do with enough openness that it could be used to guide discussion about policy, systemic issues, school designs, or classroom practice.

As organizations continue to try to improve the definition of competency education as well as clarify the relationship of competency education to personalized learning and blended learning, it gives all of us a chance to deepen our understanding and strengthen our work together.

On Monday August 17th, from 3–4:30 p.m. ET, REL Northeast & Islands researchers will present a new study on definitions and policies related to competency-based education and implementation across the New England region. If you haven’t learned about New Hampshire’s efforts to develop a new system of assessment that includes performance-based assessment, this will be a chance to listen to Paul Leather discuss the implementation of PACE in several pilot districts. Register here.

Presenters include Aubrey Scheopner Torres, PhD, Assistant Professor, Saint Anselm College; Research Consultant, REL Northeast & Islands and Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of Education, New Hampshire Department of Education. The Discussant is Julia Freeland, Research Fellow, Clayton Christensen Institute. The webinar will be be moderated by Jessica Brett, Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance, and Joshua Cox, Researcher, Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance.

Revisiting Threads of Implementation

August 3, 2015 by

MaineDOEI had the chance to re-read Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based/Learner-Centered Systems, a summary of the six case studies prepared by the Maine Department of Education. It is such a helpful overview of the early work in Maine that I’ve decided to reprint it here. It’s also an example of one of the new functions for state education agencies – sharing tools, documenting processes, and helping districts to learn from each other.

Beginning in February 2012, the Maine Department of Education through its Center for Best Practice (Center) began publishing a series of in-depth case studies of school districts who were implementing proficiency-based/learner-centered systems. These districts were in very different stages of their implementation journeys. For example, the member districts of the Western Maine Education Collaborative (WMEC) were just beginning implementation while Poland Regional High School (of RSU 16) had been completely proficiency-based since it opened in 1999. Though each of the districts featured in the Center over the last two years took decidedly different paths on their way to change, there were common themes that emerged throughout the case studies. Their experiences serve as lessons for other Maine districts just beginning this transition in preparation for all schools in the state issuing diplomas starting in 2018 to students based on demonstrated proficiency.

Vision and Framework (more…)

Think of Competency Education as a GPS System

August 1, 2015 by

GPSWe still haven’t fully conquered the communication challenge regarding competency education, although we are getting closer with the help of Achieve’s Communication Toolkit.

Although this explanation written by three school board members from Chittenden South Supervisory Unit in the Shelburne News is focused on standards-based learning I think it is worth sharing because it can help us strengthen our communications. They start off with the analogy of a GPS system—helping students to reach their destination with lots of ways of getting there and then emphasize three important points. If we were to use the GPS as a metaphor — what are the 2-4 things we should emphasize in competency education? – how about making sure students get the learning they need for the next level; able to build and develop skills anywhere; schools responding to students when they need help; able to apply what they are learning to real-world problems?  Or would you start with pace? Is flexible pace really the most important aspect of competency education? How do we communicate that flexible pace doesn’t mean letting kids fall behind?

What is standards-based learning?

One way to think about SBL is through the metaphor of a Global Positioning System (GPS). Our goal as educators is to help students reach their destinations—the standards. In a standards-based system, education focuses on three areas:

Articulate: Educators design Learning Targets for their classes aligned with national, state, and local standards. These targets clearly articulate what students should know, understand, and be able to do for each unit of study. The targets are like the “destinations” in a GPS. We decide where we want to go, and we enter the location—we need to be specific about our destinations in order to get the best directions. Teachers, students, and parents are aware of the destinations, so there is no mystery about where we are headed. (more…)

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