Category: Reflection

Can MOOCs Become System-Builders?

July 1, 2015 by
From Atlantic Article

Image from The Atlantic Website

Something really special happens in the second or third year of implementation in schools that are applying competency education with the spirit of learning and the spirit of empowerment – educators develop a deep sense of urgency to improve their skills so they are in a better position to help students learn.

In the first year or so, there is a shared purpose that the goal is to make sure students learn, not cover the curriculum; educators have figured out the new infrastructure for learning; the understanding of what proficiency means for each academic level has been calibrated; everyone is aware of where as a school they are strong and where they are weak in terms of being able to help students learn; and if a strong information system has been put into place, everyone also knows exactly how students are progressing and which ones need more help. With this transparency about how the school is performing, educators become focused on how improve their instructional tool kits – deepening their knowledge about how to teach their discipline, how to upgrade instruction and assessment to higher order skills, integrating language and literacy practices, how to organize learning opportunities so students are really engaged in robust learning, how to better coach students in building habits of learning….and the list goes on.

It’s a tremendous lift in instruction and assessment led by educators themselves who realize that their own professional skills need to be improved if they are going to help students achieve – I think of this as the transition toward the Finnish model. Teachers have explained that this stage of the transition is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. However, as a country, we are challenged to provide adequate professional development and learning opportunities for teachers that are rooted in the values and practices of competency-based education and are available in just-in-time modules. (more…)

Insights from ReSchool Colorado: Ensuring Quality and Equity

June 22, 2015 by

reschoolMy conversation with Amy Anderson and Colleen Broderick, the ReSchool Colorado team at the Donnell-Kay Foundation (see Thinking Way, Way, Way Outside the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation), has caused me a great deal of agitation. I just can’t stop thinking about how we ensure quality and equity as the education system is re-engineered around learning, pace, and progress rather than time, curriculum delivery, and sorting.

The ReSchool effort is aimed at creating a statewide system of multiple providers designed for learners from birth through young adulthood to allow them to bundle together their educational opportunities. Learners will have highly personalized pathways, which may or may not include learning together in a cohort over time, with a competency-based infrastructure providing the glue to the system. My brain goes a bit into overdrive trying to imagine this, but the overall concept seems sound (really different, but sound)…at least, until I start to think about how one ensures that students are getting what they need and in an equitable fashion. Then I think we need to have very intentional strategies to ensure quality/equity—such as advocacy to make sure students are getting the supports they need and calibration.

Donnell-Kay Foundation has been tackling one element of this through an inquiry process focused on advocates and advocacy. Advocates will play a central role in the ReSchool system (I assume because choice is a strong value undergirding the system they are designing, parents would select an organization or an individual that provides advocacy services), helping parents and students to bundle together the right mix of learning opportunities in support of their making progress within four competency-domains: academic preparedness, disciplined, socially aware, and a solution seeker. (more…)

Reflections on Accelerating the Implementation Process

June 19, 2015 by

Acceleration“We have to figure out how to make implementation easy and faster.”

I hear this statement from time to time and it always makes me wonder. It makes me wonder about a number of things.

1) Quality before Speed: At this stage of development, shouldn’t our concern be more about understanding what high quality implementation looks like rather than methods to speed it up? Perhaps we can speed up the implementation process as we know it, but I’m not convinced that we know what high quality implementation looks like yet. The list of questions I have is worthy of its own blog post, but let me start with two significant issues. First, we have not figured out the best ways or the real cost of helping students who enroll in a school academically behind their age-based grade, those with special education issues, or those learning English. Second, we also haven’t taken the ceiling off the system consistently so that students can actually advance when they have demonstrated mastery. What is preventing us from making sure seventh graders can be doing ninth grade math? One might say that both of these should be considered school-level autonomies. However, I also think they are structural issues about the responsiveness of districts and schools to students’ needs.

2) Speed, Shared Vision, and Deep Personal Growth: Several months ago, someone asked me for feedback on an implementation plan for a district. There were lots of project benchmarks, timetables, specific activities, and ideas for who was going to do what. But what it didn’t have was any time or resources allotted for engaging the community in building a shared vision or understanding why the traditional system is a barrier. Nor did it have any lead time for the district staff and school leaders to deepen their understanding of competency education or strengthen their distributive leadership styles. (See Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders for more discussion on creating shared purpose and leadership styles.) (more…)

Thinking Way, Way, Way Outside the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation

June 15, 2015 by
dk foundation

From the DK Foundation Website

Imagination. It’s overflowing at the Donnell-Kay Foundation (DKF) as they think about how to ReSchool Colorado.

Imagine what school would be if it could take place anywhere, anytime, and in the context that is most meaningful for students. Imagine if we tossed out the ideas of courses, annual calendars, daily schedules, textbooks, and even the concept of school as we know it. Imagine what a statewide system might look like if there were multiple providers designed for learners from birth through young adulthood to allow them to bundle together their educational opportunities (think playlists, but with a wide range of learning experiences).

The goal of the ReSchool team at DKF, led by Amy Anderson and Colleen Broderick, is to develop a broader eco-system of opportunities starting with non-consumers. According to the Christensen Institute, focusing on non-consumers means providing a “whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.” The DKF is starting by targeting families not using early childhood education services and older teens/young adults.

The reason they can think way, way, way outside the box is that the heart of the system is a competency-based infrastructure organized around four large goals: academically prepared, disciplined, socially aware, and a solution seeker. The idea is that a statewide system could be designed to have tremendous flexibility as long as there is a unifying structure to deeply personalized paths. Rather than schools, there will be advocates (organizations providing advocacy services) to help learners set goals and organize the right set of learning experiences for them. (more…)

Needed: Partners with Assessment Expertise

June 2, 2015 by

MeasurementI had a sense of dread as I flew to Colorado to join the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment for its annual Colloquim on Assessment and Accountability Implications of Competency and Personalized Learning Systems. A room full of experts on measurement? I was prepared to have any ideas I might have about what assessment looks like in a fully developed competency-based system destroyed in a Terminator-like fashion.

Instead what I found was a room of incredibly thoughtful, creative, forward-thinking people who are willing to explore along with all of us how we might organize a system that keeps the focus on learning while using discrete and meaningful mechanisms to ensure rigor and equity. Along with myself, Ephraim Weisstein, founder of Schools for the Future, Maria Worthen, Vice President for Federal and State Policy at iNACOL, and Laura Hamilton of Rand were invited to the Colloquium to kick off the conversation. My brain started churning as I listened to the presentations from Kate Kazin, Southern New Hampshire University; Samantha Olson, Colorado Education Initiative; Christy Kim Boscardin, University of California, San Francisco; and Eva Baker, CRESST.

And then my brain went into overdrive listening to the insights of the team of assessment experts as they sorted through the conversation, explored different options, and identified where there was opportunity to create a system that generated consistency in determining levels of learning. It would be a system in which credentialing learning generates credibility, a system that allows us to trust when a teacher says a student is proficient, providing us with real confidence that they are, in fact, ready for the next set of challenges.

Some Big Take-Aways

Below are some of the big take-aways that Ephraim, Maria, and I came away with.

1. Get Crystal Clear on the Goal: It’s critical for the field and competency-based districts and schools to be explicit about their learning targets (however they might be defined and organized) so results can be evaluated and measured. There are a variety of ways of structuring competencies and standards, and we need to think about the ways in which we can measure them (or not).

2. Consider Applying Transparency to Designing Assessments: We all operate with the assumption that summative assessment items have to be hidden in a black box. However, we could make test items transparent – not their answers, of course – but the questions themselves. Consider the implications—lower costs, more sharing, more opportunity for the stakeholders to understand the systems of assessments. It’s worth having an open conversation about the trade-offs in introducing transparency as a key design principle in designing the system of assessments to support competency education. (more…)

Aim for Individual Mastery and the Rest Will Follow

May 26, 2015 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on May 20, 2015.

As debates about ESEA reauthorization continue on the Hill, Congress is grappling with the question of how to square current accountability structures with emerging personalized learning models. A recent Bellwether Education Partners report, A Path to the Future: Creating Accountability for Personalized Learning, summarized the apparent friction facing policymakers:

Personalized learning aims to change instruction in ways that customize students’ experiences—and, ultimately, lead to systemic changes in how students are assessed and progress to more advanced content. Standards-based accountability seeks to mold the K–12 system by creating common expectations for student performance—and, ultimately, incentives for instructional changes to help students achieve them. In other words, personalization and accountability meet in the middle, creating challenges for policymakers when the two appear to be in conflict.

The report’s side-by-side comparison of personalized learning approaches and standards-based efforts raises important questions about the potential minefield of trying to reconcile these two worlds. But it also conflates inputs with outcomes. Indeed, the apparent tension between standards and personalization dissolves if we can better delineate prescriptive inputs and desired outcomes.

Personalized learning is a means, not an end. Standards are an end, not a means. Debates about both, however, tend to muddle these distinctions. (more…)

Is Competency Education a Disruptive Innovation? The Answer is No

May 8, 2015 by

Disruptive InnovationOnce upon a time when Susan Patrick and I were just starting to understand the field of competency education, we described it as a disruptive innovation…until Michael Horn explained why it wasn’t.

Competency education can be considered an innovation, just not a disruptive one. It may be reaching underserved consumers, but not necessarily with a different value proposition. Competency education isn’t a new product, technology, or service that is introducing new values and benefits to new sets of consumers. It just doesn’t meet the definitions of a disruptive innovation as developed by Clayton Christensen.

But if it isn’t a disruptive innovation, what is it?

I’m not done thinking about this, but wanted to share my thinking to date. The better we get at explaining what competency education is, the better off we will be as a field. (more…)

10 Principles to Move Your School Toward Distributive Leadership

April 16, 2015 by
Nicole Assisi

Nicole Assisi

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 5, 2015.

The most intimidating part of leading and teaching in a blended learning school is not the technology. It is not the data crunching, either.

In fact, the scariest part of blending and personalizing learning is giving up control.

Giving up control is the key to finding success as a leader, teacher and even parent in a blended school. First and foremost, you must trust the people around you. For teachers, that means giving the right tools to students, and then trusting students to drive their learning. Parents must trust in this new paradigm for learning and trust in the school leaders.

But administrators may have the trickiest part to play—they must share the leadership role, and trust “their people”—their students, teachers, parents. This distributed leadership approach is a collaborative effort undertaken between people who trust and respect each other’s contributions. By using principles of distributed leadership, school administrators can empower people to make great decisions, learn from mistakes and reach new heights.

Here are my 10 guiding principles for blended learning schools moving to a distributive leadership structure. (They’re inspired by the awesome leaders and colleagues with whom I share this work!)

1. Remember: Everyone is a Novice & an Expert (more…)

Warning: Delayed Graduation Possible

February 26, 2015 by

This post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education on February 23, 2015. 

MINIMUM GROWTH WARNING: AT YOUR CHILD’S CURRENT RATE OF PROGRESS AND ACHIEVEMENT LEVEL ON THE STATE ASSESSMENT, THE PROBABILITY OF YOUR STUDENT GRADUATING ON TIME IS _____ %.

What if parents received these notices on their child’s report cards?

Since 2009, every credit card bill in the United States has been required to notify consumers exactly how long it will take to pay off the debt if making only the minimum payment. This was mandated by Congress in order to establish fair and transparent policies related to consumer debt.

Karla Blog image

Isn’t a child’s education just as important? Don’t we owe full disclosure to parents and educators? Don’t they deserve fair and transparent information? (more…)

Performance-Based Home Schooling

February 10, 2015 by

7 alaskaThis is the seventh post in the Chugach School District series. Read the firstsecondthirdfourthfifth, and sixth posts here.

Why do parents choose the Chugach homeschool program? Parents want a clear roadmap of what their children need to accomplish, ways to determine if they are learning, and indicators that help them understand how they are doing. Parents want to make sure their kids are learning everything they need to without any gaps or holes in their learning.  – Annie Dougherty, head homeschool teacher

One of the eye-openers for me during my visit to Chugach School District was the conversation with CSD’s FOCUS homeschool teachers. It had never crossed my mind that homeschooling programs could be performance-based, or that they play a powerful role in education throughout Alaska and for families with high mobility (parents of course enrolling students for a whole host of reasons). CSD serves 230 students all across the state, from both rural and urban areas. The teachers, living all over the state, work with between forty to sixty students at a time. I could try to summarize our discussion, but I think you’ll appreciate hearing it directly from them.

The Benefits of Taking Time Out of the Equation

Janet Reed started off the conversation with, “The performance-based system takes time out of the equation. Parents really like it that kids can spend more time where they need it. They also really appreciate knowing their kids aren’t just being shuffled forward.” (more…)

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