April 22, 2014 by Roger Cook
This post originally published on EdSurge. Author Roger Cook is the Superintendent of the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky.
Imagine, if you can, a school where students do not have specific teachers assigned to them, nor do teachers have specific students on their roster.
Imagine a school where students come each day with a list of standards to work on and accomplish–right when they walk in the door. They can go to the teacher of their choice in order to accomplish the completion of these standards. Or, they can do them on their own in any setting they wish, as long as they maintain accomplishing the minimum amount of standards in a minimum amount of time. Some students, for example, may work individually in the media center not having to go to any classroom.
And last but not least, imagine a district at large where the dropout rate is at zero percent.
In this type of environment, students would come and go as they please, but would be required to prove the successful completion of work and pass assessments to demonstrate understanding.
Sound crazy? Not to educators in the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky. In fact, that is our district’s ten-year plan. (more…)
April 1, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the first of a two-part series about Making Community Connections Charter School. Click here for Part 2.
“As a learner, I grew in the way a fire would if you sprayed gasoline on it.” – From a student’s graduation portfolio
That’s what Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) is all about –creating dynamic learners. At MC2, serving grades 7-12 in Manchester, New Hampshire, it feels like they wiped the slate clean of all the traditional ideas of what makes a school and started to design the school from scratch. It’s deeply student-centered in its design and operations. Its theory of change is built upon a deep understanding and appreciation of adolescent development, motivation, and learning sciences. MC2 is a model that will work for any student. At its center, it is designed around the kids who are educationally challenged (about 35% of MC2 students are classified as having special education needs), have already had a tough time in life by age 14, who have felt betrayed by the adults in their lives, and are drawing from their own reservoirs of stubborn hope that things can get better.
This case study on MC2 is broken into two parts. The first is on the design principles and the theory of action driving the school. The second is on how students progress and the implications for teachers. (more…)
March 31, 2014 by Michelle Finn
We’ve been hearing a lot recently about the importance of these attributes through the work of Pink, Duckworth and Dweck. Should we in the field of education be sitting up and taking notice? When research shows that these attributes, rather than IQ scores, are a better determiner of success, you better believe we should notice. And act.
In the classroom, moving students from compliance to engagement, from fixed to growth mindset, from reactive blamers to proactive problem-solvers doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen, and it may come in many forms. As we discussed in previous articles, a focus on building culture and student goal-setting has great impact on not just the way students learn, but on how they think about themselves as learners. This self-reflection is crucial. In order to grow, we have to be aware of both our strengths and weaknesses, which in turn can help to set challenging, yet realistic goals. Self-reflection also promotes a growth mindset. If you continually set targets for yourself, plan the steps of your 10-mile march, to borrow from Collins, then act upon your plan, you begin to realize that everything is about a learning progression, not a pass or fail. What an empowering stance from which to greet each day! (more…)
March 26, 2014 by Brian Stack
Sanborn Regional High Principal Brian Stack
Amanda is a typical high school student who loves spending time with her friends, participating in a variety of clubs and activities, and doing well in school. Since a very young age, she has wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become an emergency room nurse. My school is preparing her for that demanding career with a competency-based model that has been designed to help her master a series of academic competencies, academic behaviors, and college and career-ready skills. Our competency-based model engages Amanda in her learning in ways that traditional high school models never could.
Five years ago, the administrative team in my school district and I began suggesting that our school make the move to a competency-based grading and reporting system. We knew that was going to be a monumental shift for some of our elementary and secondary teachers, but that it wouldn’t be such a bold move for others. The career and technical education (CTE) teachers and administrators who work at our regional CTE center, for example, applauded our efforts to move the school district to the model that they had always used to define their work. (more…)
March 19, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the third of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
“We weren’t getting traction in any of our academic improvement initiatives. Competency-based education helped us to get traction. Parents saw the value of the model. Students value the transparency – they no longer have to guess at what teachers want. It’s allowed us to focus in on the most important things to do to support our students.”
Sanborn Regional High School Principal Brian Stack explained that the most important change has been in the nature of the relationships. PLCs have more meaning as they focus on student progress. Students are taking more responsibility, even holding teachers more accountable by asking, “Am I passing all my competencies? What do I need to do to make sure I meet the expectations for proficiency?”
SRHS is a work in progress, as are all competency-based schools. However, it stands out as one of the few places that I have visited that has taken the time to draw on best practices of highly effective high schools, taking into consideration what students need to keep them in school as well as prepare them for college and careers. Below are just a few of the highlights of structures for learning Sanborn has put into place, as well as insights gathered during the visit. (more…)
March 18, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The Wall at Memorial Elementary School
This is the second of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 3 here.
Sanborn Regional School District had already embraced standards in their elementary, middle and high schools before the state policies calling for competency-based high school credits were introduced. Now that Sanborn Regional High School is well on its way to converting to competency education, other schools in SRSD are exploring what it means to take the step from standards-referenced to competency-based.
Creating a competency-based culture has already brought about changes, Memorial Elementary School Principal Jon Vander Els said, including ensuring that teachers have adequate time together for planning, a greater emphasis on differentiation in all grades, and the introduction of the concept of re-teaching when students don’t master the material in the first learning cycle.
Charting Student Progress on ‘The Wall’
If schools are going to ensure that all students become proficient in the standards, teachers have to share an understanding of what proficiency looks like. This is often referred to as calibration or tuning. Memorial has created two techniques to support this in writing. First is the Writing Continuum, which breaks down by developmental level the expectations for the types of texts, content and traits, process, mechanics and conventions, and attitudes. (more…)
March 17, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Sanborn Superintendent Brian Blake
This is the first in a series on Sanborn Regional School District. Read Part 2 and Part 3.
“We know more about our students than ever before.” At Sanborn Regional School District (SRSD), competency education is about relationships. It’s also about common sense, finding practical solutions to make education work for kids. This post and the two following it will provide a look into Sanborn Regional School District.
Background on Sanborn Regional School District
Our site visit began with a conversation with Ellen Hume-Howard, Curriculum Director for SRSD, Brian Stack, Principal of Sanborn Regional High School (SRHS), Michael Turmelle, Assistant Principal/Curriculum Director at SRHS, and Jonathan Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary School.
Hume-Howard began with the story of the district’s journey towards competency education. “Before the arrival of Dr. Brian Blake as superintendent in 2009, the district was paralyzed and unable to work as a system. Dr. Blake brought focus to the district and provided a clear and ambitious goal for us to reach.” One of the first things the district decided to tackle was the misalignment of curriculum. Hume-Howard explained, “We became experts in standards,” by embracing the New Hampshire state standards and Understanding by Design, developed by Tighe and Wiggins. They learned what was required to operate a standards-based school, including the calibration that happens as teachers use weekly meetings and professional development to talk about how they know when students are proficient. (more…)
March 13, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
A Denver Public Schools staffer asked me the other day, “Why aren’t schools innovating more, even when they have waivers that come with innovation status?”
A number of elements of our system seem intransigent – annual calendars, bell schedules, sequencing of courses, to name a few. We are probably going to have to find examples of innovating around each one to free up our minds for what is possible.
For example, we’ve highlighted PASE Prep, which is experimenting with eliminating the bell schedule. Anyone know of another example of schools that are freeing themselves from bells and the idea of students moving from one course to another at the same time for the next dose of instruction?
(An aside on the use of language: According to Ed Week, kids moving from one class to another is called platooning, which is a bit disconcerting. There are so many collective nouns we could have built upon to describe children moving onto the next learning task. How about fleeting, herding, quivering, swarming or flocking? Language that captures that incredible energy of children learning might inspire us – think of a chattering of starlings, or a murmuration of starlings, filling up the skies with their dance?)
In a new report, Cost-Effective Strategies for Extending Learning Time and Expanding Opportunity in K-12 Education, Generation Schools describes how they reconstructed the daily and annual schedule to provide 30% more learning time while keeping annual working time for teachers the same as the traditional model. And they are getting results. (more…)
March 12, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Last week I had the opportunity to meet with part of the Adams 50 leadership team: Oliver Grenham, Chief Education Officer; Jeni Gotto, Director of Assessment and Instructional Technology, and Steve Saunders, Communications Director. Our conversation, summarized below, touched on the results they are seeing, the big implementation issues they have faced, and the new ones popping up. Check out their incredibly great wiki to understand their design and implementation, as well as the new video describing their competency-based system.
1. On An Uphill Trajectory, or Getting Out of the Red
Grenham was adamant: “Is our competency-based system making a difference in achievement? Absolutely.”
The graduation rate within Adams 50 continues to increase (the high school is now 74% for the traditional four-year rate, while the most recent districtwide five year rate is 75.4%, which is expected to be higher next August). This in a district with 81% FRL, 45% ELL, and about 39% student turnover per year (18% by Colorado’s newly implemented school-year based calculations). It’s great news.
In terms of school performance, out of Colorado’s four-category accountability system, Adams 50 moved all their schools out of turnaround status (they are marked red on the state reports), with only four schools (two middle and two elementary) in priority improvement. Of the remaining schools, half are in improvement and the other half in performance. (more…)
March 4, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
We are on a journey, and sometimes it’s a bumpy one. That’s a constant refrain when talking to districts converting from traditional curriculum/time-based systems to student-centered systems. Below are a handful of insights shared by the Pittsfield School District leadership team about their redesign process and the challenges they are encountering. (See the rest of the series on Pittsfield: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)
1. Community as Authentic Partner: Superintendent John Freeman explained that, “We took direction from the community about the kind of graduates they wanted and the type of school they wanted. As we began the high school redesign process, we have never backed off from engaging our community. Our community is in the driver’s seat.” Everyone we spoke with throughout the site visit reinforced the value that the broader community and students are partners. As PSD began implementation, they alerted their Community Advisory Council (now the Good to Great Team) as they hit implementation issues and engaged them in problem-solving around mid-course corrections.
2. Project Management: PSD says they couldn’t have done it without assigning staff to be the project managers. It’s just too much for district staff and principals to manage daily operations and the redesign process. Building project management capacity is more than dedicating staff – it’s also about building the capacity of the district to use project management tools such as process analysis. Even students are learning to create process analysis maps. Tobi Chassie, Co-Project Manger of the Systems Change Initiative, was grateful for the insistence of Nellie Mae Education Foundation, PSD invested in building out the districts project management capacity. (more…)