June 19, 2013 by Jesse Moyer
This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with the folks at the Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) in Roxbury, MA. I always enjoy visiting with practitioners and students, as they offer great insights into what’s working and what isn’t, something I don’t always get in my own day-to-day activities.
Two things struck me about my visit and I want to write about both of them. The first thing that became very obvious early in the visit is how wonderfully simplistic their model is. They begin with the standards — once the Massachusetts state standards, and now the Common Core State Standards — and unpack the set of standards into more accessible competencies that are easily understood by students, parents, and teachers. From those competencies, they create course-specific benchmarks that students must meet in order to earn the distinction of being competent or highly competent in a given course. Students are assessed upon enrollment in BDEA to determine “where they are,” an individual education plan is created for each student, and each student is given the time, resources, and support they need to become competent in the material. I don’t mean to suggest that the work of unpacking standards and creating competencies is simple…to be sure, it isn’t. But the model itself is simple and completely logical; something I think we can all agree is sometimes missing from our education system today. (more…)
June 7, 2013 by Bill Zima
As my responsibility changed from a single classroom, to a team, to the full school, I attempted to be the expert in everything from assessment to ventilation. I assumed I was hired because I had the answers. I also felt responsible to get the work done. How could I ask others to do it if I was not willing to do it myself? The work and the stress piled up. The attempt to be the lone expert in each and every room began to deteriorate my energy, and worse, my working relationships with my colleagues.
Then I listened to Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell, the once Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort. He suggested that the higher a person goes in an organization, the less of the actual work they do. He said leaders need to empower their direct reports by giving them a voice in how the job gets done. This allows for the innovative procedures and processes to be created.
Who were my direct reports? Schools are not designed as companies with departments with various levels of management. In my school, there are 61 teachers distributed amongst three grade levels: sixth, seventh and eighth, special education, and our Exploratories, with an assistant principal and a principal. Leadership teams in many schools are often constructed because someone fits a role instead of having leadership abilities. “The third grade representative is leaving, no one is interested, so I am going to do it” is not an uncommon statement. Another is, “Can we rotate the position for the year?” Both of these lead to a lack of consistency needed to build a well functioning leadership team.
I now find the leaders, and then have them assume the role. So my conversations might sound like, “Part of your responsibilities on the leadership team is to check in with the sixth grade teachers and see how they are progressing on our goals.” This also keeps the focus on the goals and the ownership of progress on the teams. (more…)
May 22, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
As you may know, ACHIEVE has established a Competency-Based Pathways Work Group to examine how competency education may impact assessment, accountability, graduation requirements, and other state policies. Working with leaders from ten states, Cory Curl and Anne Bowles are providing tools, research, and analysis so that state policymakers can assess opportunities to support competency education.
Cory and Anne have just completed site visits to Maine, Kentucky, Illinois, and Colorado, and shared their findings during a webinar (inspiring me to think about sharing insights that way rather than the blog….Hmm, what do you think?) Given that others had visited as well, we shared our insights. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Danville, Kentucky has been getting attention for their project-based learning (See the show on PBS.) They see the ACT as a meaningful metric for determining college and career readiness and are moving toward improving ACT scores based on the college ready benchmarks. Their website explains, “Students are considered to be college-ready by meeting specific benchmark scores for each content-area tested by the ACT. EXPLORE and PLAN also provide benchmark scores that tell us whether or not students are on track to meet those important ACT readiness scores. Scores from these assessments are also included in a school and district’s overall score.” They are now in the process of beginning to weave competency education into their work, keeping a strong focus on equity. (more…)
May 18, 2013 by Bill Zima
At what point did leading a school through a continuous improvement process become so confusing? In my educational leadership classes, I spent a great deal of time focusing on what leadership is and developing a philosophy that would guide me. I thought I had it all figured out. I learned the difference between first order and second order change. I was told to have a vision, communicate it regularly, and work to make it a reality. I also needed to remember that I would be leading people and not machines. They will no longer respond to top-down dictates. If you want to make lasting change to improve education, you must include people in the conversation so they can weigh-in before they buy-in. Okay. Simple. I earned an ‘A’, completed my master’s degree, and felt ready to change the world!
Then I became a building leader, and suddenly someone had put a giant slab of granite in front of me, and I could not see a path forward. I shared my vision, but people pushed back. No matter how hard I tried to communicate, they became more confused, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Even those initially excited about the reforms became skeptical of their possibilities. I was at a loss.
I began to read more and more from leaders and business consultants on how to become a better leader. The words of Bob Sutton, Dan Heath, Lee Cockerell, and John Wooden, amongst others, allowed me to begin forming theories of how I could lead my colleagues. A big breakthrough came when my district chose to partner with the Reinventing Schools Coalition who entered with the “tools” to drive change. Now I had the why, the how, and the tools to do it. (more…)
May 15, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
I think about design a lot. Indeed, Fast Company is a monthly read. Design is an empowering, creative process. It can also help us rethink the assumptions holding us back.
The way design and the design process is taking hold in education is exciting and sometimes disturbing.
It’s exciting that competency education and time (as in, flexible use of time so students keep working until proficient and extending time to learn anytime) are being included in many of the new sets of design frameworks. For example:
- The Carnegie Corporation’s 10 Principles for Secondary School Design “prioritizes mastery of rigorous standards aligned to college & career readiness:
- Curriculum that enables all students to meet rigorous standards
- Multiple opportunities for students to show mastery through performance-based assessments
- Student advancement based on demonstration of mastery of knowledge and skills.”
- Wave IV of Next Generation Learning Challenges “emphasizes redesigned, scalable, whole-school models that combine the best aspects of place-based and online learning with more personalized, mastery-based approaches to result in substantially improved outcomes for students.”
Have you seen other examples of competency-, proficiency-, mastery- or performance-based approaches being built into school or systemic design? Please let us know in the comments section!
- Race to the Top-District competition emphasized personalized and mastery-based. However, the only winner that had a well-developed idea of what a mastery-based system means is Lindsay Unified. Middletown (NY) will be piloting an elementary school model, and Carson City (NV) is making college level courses available whenever students are ready. Fingers crossed that we’ll see the other grantees dig into what is possible once they start to focus on student learning.
It’s disturbing that we aren’t fully designing around our most underserved students. A mainstream, linear, factory-based assumption is gripping us so tightly (I can’t help but think about the saber-toothed tiger in the tar pits) that we keep designing around the antiquated idea of students as widgets. (more…)
May 13, 2013 by Lillian Pace
This post was originally published by Knowledgeworks on April 30, 2013.
A truly remarkable education transformation is underway in five New England states – CT, ME, NH, RI, and VT – inspired by the idea that every child can graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge to succeed in life. This transformation – called proficiency-based learning (aka: competency, mastery, or standards-based) – flips the education system on its head, providing multiple pathways, extra time, and intensive supports for a truly customized learning experience.
I was fortunate to experience this transformation first hand last week, thanks to an impressive tour led by the Great Schools Partnership. This organization is impacting every level of the system: from the grassroots coaching partnerships they have with schools and districts throughout the region to the high-level systems change conversations they lead as the coordinator for the New England Secondary Schools Consortium (NESSC). My big take-away from the tour is this: These leaders have the right vision for learning and an incredibly talented team of experts to help make that vision a reality. (more…)
May 8, 2013 by Rose Colby
In the NCLB era of disaggregated student achievement data, we have zoomed in on our population of struggling learners, grouped into their age appropriate cohort. That up close and personal view of our students has unleashed a demand on our educators to differentiate instruction in order for our struggling students to meet the bar. Differentiation is as much a philosophy and a belief in teaching and learning as it is a set of orientations to the process, product, content, and environment. But is it really possible for teachers to fully differentiate learning in order to meet these student needs?
Prior to working in the world of competency education, I provided many professional development opportunities from courses, workshops, and small group and individual coaching for teachers and school leaders to learn more about this practice we call differentiation. I know I became a better teacher myself the more my thinking opened up to planning student choice, voice, and readiness in a variety of learning settings for my students. However, I have some deep-seated doubts about how differentiation has been fully embraced by most educators. Differentiation is a set of practices in response to teacher reflection. Yet, many educators are faced with having to teach to specific time-based curricular objectives demanded by programs or local requirements for fidelity to programs that do little to differentiate needs. Many educators are faced with such a wide range of student readiness that it is incredibly challenging to plan for and meet these needs with limited resources. When asked, many educators say that differentiation is too overwhelming. They may embrace a particular aspect of differentiation that works for them. One teacher I know excels in differentiating homework based on formative assessment daily. Another teacher excels at offering student choice in product. Yet, many teachers readily admit they know about differentiation, want to differentiate, but don’t have the planning time either alone or collaboratively to pull it off every day. (more…)
April 30, 2013 by Jessie Woolley-Wilson
I recently had the honor of accepting the prestigious ASU/GSV Return on Education Award for “Best STEM Ed Software” on behalf of DreamBox Learning at the Education Innovation Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz. It’s these moments that allow you to briefly hit the pause button and reflect on the opportunities, challenges and accomplishments that fuel the drive and passion to enhance the way the world learns. As I held the award, it became clear to me that we – as an industry — need to yield even bigger returns. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to our teachers. We owe it to ourselves.
We’re seeing great strides in the area of student achievement at the intersection of improved competency-based education models and new learning technologies. Many educators are familiar with how to implement competency-based approaches in the classroom, but it’s also important to understand how well-designed technologies and digital curricula can support competency-based learning for students. The blend is simply magic. (more…)
April 29, 2013 by Gary Chapin
This post was originally published at the Partially Examined Life: A Philosophy Podcast and Blog.
Over the past hundred years Constructivists and Traditionalists have enjoyed an uneasy truce in the world of education practitioners. Constructivism “says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.” [thirteen.org] Traditionalists were more influenced by the “scientific management” of Taylorism, seeing schools on the industry model. Schools are factories with inputs, throughputs and outputs. The compromise between the two: educators would agree that Constructivism was true, but would act as if it were not.
Yes, it made sense as a model to discuss how learners “construct” knowledge” rather than “acquire” it. Of course, any teacher would say, students learn at different rates, in different ways, and according to their circumstance. But it was so impractical – hordes of students operating according to their individual motivations. Who can afford that? And how are you going to track progress? How will you know if you are getting your money’s worth from your schools? (more…)
April 26, 2013 by Tom Vander Ark
This post was originally published by Getting Smart on April 14, 2013.
“Education is like the night sky; edreform offers a few points of light and the rest is dark matter,” said Nick Donohue. “The real opportunity is deeper public engagement–tapping the dark matter.”
Nick Donohue has been a high school head master, a college trustee, and a state chief. These days he leads The Nellie Mae Education Foundation. In addition to being a big advocate of innovations– particularly competency-based learning– Nick serves on the iNACOL board (with me) and supports the work of CompetencyWorks. (more…)