Author: Julia Freeland Fisher

Teachers are Managers – So Let’s Give Them the Tools to Manage

February 16, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on January 24, 2017. 

julia-freeland-fisher

Julia Freeland Fisher

Good management is hard. Typically, employees grow into manager roles over time. In most industries, employees must first prove themselves effective at their own job; then, they may take on some administrative duties; and only much later do leaders oversee large groups of employees and become responsible for motivating, training, and retaining them.

But two major institutions buck this trend: our schools and our military. In both, newly minted young professionals are asked to take on management roles from the very start. And surpassing even the number of direct reports young military officers oversee, teachers must manage upwards of 30 people the moment they set foot in school: their students.

For any manager, numbers like these are daunting—and having the right systems in place to manage effectively can make all the difference. Good managers motivate and inspire; they move their charges forward toward individual and shared goals; they create structures that provide predictability; and they provide feedback that helps their employees improve over time. And amidst all of this, workplaces are changing and management practices have to adapt alongside them.

As theories of effective management have continued to evolve in the 21st century, teachers—some of our most unsung and overworked mangers—stand to benefit from developments in management science. This begs the question: how might teachers borrow from promising management practices in our country’s top companies?

In a new playbook out this week, our Adjunct Fellow Heather Staker tackles this question. “How to Create Higher Performing, Happier Classrooms in 7 Moves: A Playbook for Teachers” looks at vanguard management practices that are making their way into exciting new classroom models. The playbook summarizes findings from a yearlong pilot project in the San Francisco Bay Area. The project, led by Mallory Dwinal, David Richards, and Jennifer Wu, looked systematically at the structures and processes that high-performing managers at cutting-edge companies like Google, Zappos, and Geico have put into place to create their dynamic cultures. The researchers chose their target companies by consulting Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” list, case studies from Harvard Business School, and analyst reports.

What are managers at these firms doing right? (more…)

Education Innovation in 2017: 4 Personalized Learning Trends to Watch

January 21, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on January 4, 2017.Library

At the Clayton Christensen Institute, we track disruptive innovations in K–12 schools that upend the traditional factory-based model of school in favor of instructional approaches that better center on each individual student. Here are four trends in personalized learning we’ll be watching unfold in the coming year:

1. Platform plays will play themselves out

Over the past few years, we have witnessed homegrown learning platforms crop up inside of schools trying to push the boundaries of personalization. In 2016, a number of these new cloud-based learning platforms—such as Summit Public Schools’ Personalized Learning Platform, Matchbook School’s Spark, Brooklyn Lab’s Cortex, Alt School’s Alt School Open, and Leadership Public Schools-Gooru’s Learning Navigator—proliferated beyond their original founding school networks. These next-generation platforms all represent bold attempts to digitize the instructional and logistical coordination at play in successful personalized learning models. The hope is that traditional schools adopting these platforms might be able to likewise buck traditional instruction in favor of more individualized pathways and supports. 2017 will see the first robust data sets coming out of partner schools adopting these new platforms that they themselves did not develop. These schools, in turn, will provide an initial test case of an operating hypothesis in the personalized learning space: that a high-quality platform and professional development supports surrounding platform implementation could be critical levers to scaling personalized approaches across traditional settings.

2. Big assessment decisions will hit the states

The past year saw states ramping up for a new reality under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which places far greater leeway and oversight in state’s hands rather than residing with the feds. In 2017 states will get their ESSA plans off the ground and make important tactical decisions. States’ approaches to assessment will prove to be key harbingers of instructional changes to come. Watch for increased focus on performance assessment throughout K–12 and better proxies for postsecondary preparation and readiness at the high school level. The assessment instruments states ultimately choose will offer clues as to what emerging definitions of 21st-century “success” will look like; these decisions will also have major implications for content providers and publishers in the short term. (more…)

Should Instructional Choice Trump School Choice?

January 3, 2017 by

typingThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on November 23, 2016.

Today, President-elect Donald Trump appointed school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as our next secretary of education. Given DeVos’s decades support for charter schools and tax-credit scholarships, most are speculating that this signals Trump’s commitment to follow through on his promise to commit over $20 billion to expanding charter schools across the country.

Looking ahead, Trump and DeVos would be wise to embrace an expanding notion of educational choice. Indeed, in the 21st century, a choice agenda should focus on optimizing instructional choices, not just school choices. A next generation vision of choice should be about schools—of the district, charter, or private varietal—providing numerous and flexible learning pathways tailored to each of their students. In the long run, we believe that a robust supply of personalized instructional options within schools may be the most potent driver of combatting stubborn achievement gaps and graduating more students college and career ready.

Historically, the quality and experiences that a given school could offer were fairly uniform within that school. All students sat in the same rows, with the same educators, receiving the same lectures, reading the same materials, and taking the same tests. School was designed like a factory assembly line, providing all students with the same—regardless of whether that particular version of “same” was a good fit. As decades of research have shown, this led to variable and often unequal learning outcomes among different students, both within and between schools. But because of the manner in which most school districts operated, if a school model proved ill-suited to a student or his family and couldn’t pay out of pocket for another option, then he was essentially out of luck.

School choice regimes, in part, emerged as an answer to that embedded constraint of our factory model education system. (more…)

The Hidden Goal that XQ Winners Share: Relationships

October 5, 2016 by
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Graphic from original post

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on September 28, 2016.

This month, U.S. high schools got a healthy dose of innovation investment—the XQ Super School project announced 10 winners, each of which will receive $10 million to support their efforts to reinvent high school. Although the winners are pursuing a pretty dazzling array of approaches, all 10 are exploring ways to personalize high school in an effort to crack open the monolithic model of cohort and age-based instruction that undergirds traditional school.

But across their diverse models, there’s another common, if not subtler, effort afoot: to invest in students’ relationships and networks. As Eric Tucker, head of the winning Brooklyn Lab, said, “What we’re committed to doing is making sure that the school is the connector.” And as a school leader at another winner, Washington Leadership Academy (WLA), noted, relationships rank among the school’s top four values: “Building strong relationships between, staff, students, families, and our local and global community is core to our work at WLA.”

There’s a powerful message underlying this commitment: If high schools are going to step up to the 21st century and level the playing field of opportunity, then they can’t focus on students’ human capital alone; they have to invest in students’ social capital as well. Human capital refers to what people can do—their skills and dispositions—that they can, in turn, convert into labor market returns down the line. Social capital, on the other hand, refers to the reservoir of relationships that people can bank on for supports or opportunities. Social capital is not singular in its benefits. As MIT Professor and Ford Foundation Vice President Xavier de Souza Briggs aptly put it, “Individuals of all backgrounds need a two-sided treasure chest of social capital: access to social support that helps us cope with life’s stresses and challenges (‘get by’) and access to social leverage, the key to mobility or ‘getting ahead.’” In other words, people—especially young people—need relationships that provide critical care, supports and encouragement. They also need relationships that can connect them to new opportunities—like jobs, ideas and learning experiences—that are otherwise beyond their reach. (more…)

What Life before EdTech Can Teach Us about Personalized Learning

August 8, 2016 by

TypewriterThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on July 21, 2016.

In many circles, edtech and the future of learning have become synonymous. This is unsurprising given the enormous uptick in online courses and technology tools in K–12 schools nationwide, not to mention the promise that technology holds to dismantle barriers to access and experience that have plagued the education system for years.

Yet, with excitement over new gadgets and possibilities, schools and edtech entrepreneurs alike often miss a key step: defining what the ideal student experience should look like absent technology. Before building, trying, or buying new technology tools, we should start by asking, “In an analog world, how would we personalize learning to drive student outcomes?”

This question can refocus edtech enthusiasts on the right unit of innovation: instruction. All too often, when we talk about edtech innovations, technology takes the lead and instructional models are relegated to playing a supporting role. By first taking the time to imagine an ideal tech-free instructional model, schools can avoid the temptation to merely digitize their traditional systems or cram hardware into classrooms ill-equipped to take advantage of what technology can offer. Instead, by establishing an ideal vision of learning in a tech-free world, schools and edtech companies stand to more effortlessly deploy technology in a manner that predictably drives outcomes in the long run.

My colleague Thomas Arnett’s new case study, “Connecting ed & tech: Partnering to drive student outcomes,” highlights an example of a school, and one particularly innovative teacher, that took this order of operations to heart. Starting in 2008, Michael Fauteux, a veteran math teacher at Leadership Public Schools (LPS), created Academic Numeracy, a companion math course to Algebra 1 for all 9th graders who were below grade level in math. The course was designed in line with two textbooks and a supplemental online software program that Fauteux’s colleague, Todd McPeak, had developed. After showing dramatic results in students’ math scores, LPS expanded Academic Numeracy to all three schools in the San Francisco Bay Area network the following year. (more…)

Will Eliminating the “F” Eliminate Bad School Design?

July 9, 2016 by

F GradeThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on July 6, 2016.

The dreaded “F” is going out of vogue in schools. This week’s Washington Post article, “Is it becoming too hard to fail?”, chronicled a host of K–12 school systems that are moving away from the age-old tradition of failing students whose work doesn’t cut it, in hopes of keeping students motivated and on the road toward graduation.

The article, however, does not answer the most important question that these new policies must consider: by eliminating the “F,” are students in turn less likely to fail?

There is an obvious tautology to this question. The answer depends on how we measure failure, if not by letter grades. The reality is that in our current system some students may not master a semester’s worth of Algebra or social studies in the time allotted before a final exam determines their grades. Simply eliminating bad grades does not minimize that fact. Commentators like Mike Petrilli are right to point out the risk, then, that making it impossible to fail reeks of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

But skeptics of eliminating failing grades must likewise acknowledge that our current grading system perpetuates school designs that are already failing to ensure students’ long-term success. Indeed, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, just 37 percent of high school seniors are prepared for college-level math and reading. These low levels of performance are disappointing but not surprising if we pause to think about the fundamental structure of our K–12 education system. By design, we move students forward grade by grade based largely on the amount of instructional hours they have spent in class—dubbed “seat time”—rather than their mastery of academic skills and content. This structure permeates even week-by-week instructional methods: as schools rush to cover the bevy of standards on state tests each spring, and as teachers instruct students spanning a wide range of mastery levels, classes tend to move forward to new course material regardless of whether students have proven that they understand the concepts covered in the days and weeks prior. (more…)

In Search of On-Ramps to Competency-Based Learning

March 2, 2016 by

OnrampThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on January 26, 2016.

As more and more school systems across the country explore “going competency-based,” we need to be attentive to the processes that will actually allow such innovations to thrive. Current time- and age-based accountability measures have a stronghold on schools, even those trying to break away from the factory model of education. As a result, we would predict that time-based metrics and incentives could cannibalize many efforts to reinvent learning in a competency-based manner. School systems need to heed this warning and take pains to protect innovative competency-based approaches from the tug of status-quo pressures and performance measures.

Systems will likely get into trouble if they attempt to make just a few aspects of their models competency-based, while retaining an otherwise traditional structure. Indeed, a school district may spend scarce resources building out a list of desired “competencies” that it wants students to master, but lack the resources or capacity to rethink scheduling and assessment. As a result, these competencies will end up as an iteration or improvement on standards, rather than as a new approach to teaching and learning. Other systems might invest in competency-based grading reform but retain cohort-based course and semester schedules that keep students tied to lock-step progressions. As a result, report cards may more accurately reflect what students actually know, but classroom models will be no better suited to filling in gaps reflected in those grades. In other words, efforts to transform to a competency-based system risk ending up as tweaks on the traditional factory-based approach to teaching and learning, rather than as whole-school redesign.

These challenges are highly predictable if you consider the trajectory that many innovations take. Oftentimes school systems that think they are investing in a wholly new education model are actually investing in sustaining innovations—that is, innovations that improve against existing performance metrics. There is nothing wrong with sustaining innovations—oftentimes these innovations delight customers with better features or functionalities. But sustaining innovations reinforce existing performance metrics rather than reinventing them. (more…)

Advancing Personalized Learning with Purpose

January 14, 2016 by

PencilThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on November 19, 2015. 

At last week’s iNACOL Symposium, the conference halls were abuzz about the promise of personalized learning. In the same week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released a report in partnership with RAND profiling promising academic results across schools pursuing a range of personalized approaches over the past two to three years. These conversations and findings mark an encouraging departure from our industrial model of education. Champions of personalized learning are rejecting the century old premise that students ought to experience school on the basis of standardized curriculum, age cohorts, grade levels, and seat time. And increasingly, there’s data to support this case. (more…)

Competency-Based and Blended Learning: Friends or Foes?

October 14, 2015 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on October 6, 2015. 

Last week, I presented a webinar for the Michigan-based EdTech Specialists’ webinar series on blended learning and competency-based education. The presentation provided me with a chance to revisit a blog post I wrote two years ago on the overlap—or lack thereof—between competency-based and blended approaches to teaching and learning. Early on, as many in the field do, the overlap of blended and competency-based learning felt obvious to me. What better way to allow for flexible pacing than to use technology in classrooms? But over the years, I’ve come to realize that competency-based education advocates are calling for a vision of education that goes far beyond pacing reforms, and that online and blended learning are on a rapid growth trajectory that only sometimes appear to be moving in a competency-based direction. The two may be converging as the call for personalized learning grows louder, but just how much do we understand about how the two interact?

At the start of the presentation, I decided to sketch out my latest thinking on how these two aspects of education reform work for and against one another and why. Check out my quick explanation below:

See also:

Charting the Future of Competency-Based Education Policy

September 10, 2015 by

ChartingThis post originally appeared at the Clayton Christensen Institute on September 8, 2015.

A few weeks ago, during a webinar hosted by the Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance, New Hampshire’s Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather outlined his state’s strategy in order to continue to develop competency-based education approaches. Leather is a leader in the world of competency-based education policy and his current efforts mark an important harbinger of how these policies must evolve over time.

Those looking to expand competency-based education should take note: not once did Leather mention the word “seat-time.”

Although New Hampshire’s bold mandate in 2005 eliminated the Carnegie Unit from the state’s high school graduation requirements, a decade later Leather’s concept of statewide competency-based policy goes far beyond eradicating the credit hour. Rather, Leather and his colleagues are working on building out pilot projects and systems of support that will usher in new school models centered on a wholly new vision of education that includes (1) competency-based pathways, (2) performance assessment, (3) learning pathways and (4) dynamic grading. Some of the state’s initiatives to build this new model are included in 2Revolution’s latest detailed report on New Hampshire, New Hampshire Goes First: A Vision to Scale Competency-Based Education across a PreK-20 System.

New Hampshire’s example should caution state policymakers against taking too simple a view of competency-based reforms. Too often, we talk about competency-based education as a one-off effort, a tweak to the existing system. Frequently, indeed, we talk about competency-based education as a thing that education officials can adopt, rather than a new philosophy that will touch every aspect of an education system. (more…)

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