Category: Reflection

An Update From Oregon’s Business Education Compact

September 22, 2014 by

OregonAs you all know, Oregon is a state leader in proficiency-based education, first establishing credit flexibility in 2002. (You can learn about their progress in putting together a variety of elements on the wiki.)

The Oregon Business Education Compact (BEC) has been active in advancing proficiency-based education, supporting pilot schools and providing training to educators on classroom practices. In some ways, the conversion to proficiency-based education has started in classrooms across Oregon, which embraced standards-referenced grading. Now, schools are  opening their arms to the more systemic whole-school conversion. (more…)

Let the Lifting Begin

September 11, 2014 by
weight lifter

From wikicommons

This is the second post in the series on how to get started in converting your school to competency education. See Part 1, Just Start.

Futurist author Joel Barker said, “Vision without action is merely a dream.” Once upon a time, I had a dream of being an Olympic weightlifter. My name is called. I slowly rise. I adjust my weight belt as I approach the barbell. The red jumpsuit is really uncomfortable in all the wrong places. I squat with my back straight to make sure I use my knees just like my former supervisor told me when we unloaded boxes at the grocery store. I know he would be happy that his obsession with proper lifting had finally sunk in. I make the necessary grunting sound and heave upon the rod that connects the mere 350 pounds. Unlike the Olympic athletes I watched as a child, my barbell does not even budge. Sure I have a grand vision for how to clean and jerk that weight, but a vision is only the first step on a path to the true heavy lifting.So now that you have a great purpose statement for why your school or district exists –  something just short of “To make the world a better place” – and you have determined HOW you will work to realize that purpose, it is time to get to the heavy lifting.

To help move the purpose and the vision of the school from the dream state to a reality, we needed action. We created a three-year professional plan, identified what needed to happen the first year, and then created action plans for those items. The primary activities were developing a framework of skills, scoring scales and assessments. (more…)

No Laughing Matter: Productive Assessment and the Value of Taking a Pulse

September 10, 2014 by
Chris Rock

Chris Rock. Photo from Wikimedia.

Growing up, I was always a fan of standup comedy. From the comics of my father’s age, (Billy Crystal, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison….) to those that cut their teeth more recently, (Dane Cook, Chris Rock, etc…) the comedic skills that these players demonstrate is not always natural. It takes countless hours to develop material, back stories, delivery methods, articulation, and other tools of communication that help put the audience right where the comic wants them.

In practice, the content and the strategy develop over time. Mainly, this is due to the fact that they are consistently assessing where the audience presently is and they are adapting their show to get the most engagement. This engagement becomes the fuel for the comic and helps to build the relationship between the showman and the audience that are hopefully hanging on every last drop of the experience. (more…)

The Danger of Assumptions in Innovations: A Primer on Progress

September 3, 2014 by

comfort zoneAs an educator of the behavioral sciences, the lessons I most enjoy participating in with my students are those that hinge on progress. When we look at behavior, we can identify the indicators of both success and failure as well as identify, explain, and predict how things might have been different. We do this in hopes that the mistakes of the past can be used to circumvent the pain of repeating failure or missteps. After all, humanity is addicted to progress.

At a micro level, a school is the same as society. Each has its own structure, culture, and purpose. Similar to the major historical empires of the sub/counter cultures of American society, the living organism that is education also evolves elastically.

As schools evolve, we need to adapt, shifting perceptions and changing behaviors in order to reap the potential benefits.

Many of these changes can be difficult, as we are treading into an area of less understanding and predictability. Although difficult to do at times, we must get out of our comfort zone if we are to reap the benefits of positive change. (more…)

Add to the School Supply List: Mindsets Emphasizing Effort, Attitude, and Respect

September 1, 2014 by

Originally posted August 22, 2014 on Getting Smart. 

Students running down hall

From Getting Smart.com

Steve Wilkinson (“Wilk”) has dedicated his life to teaching – and modeling – the art of focusing on what one can control (such as mindset) as opposed to what one cannot control (such as circumstances). While Wilk – professor, Hall of Fame tennis coach, author and friend – has chosen the venue of tennis to teach mindsets of effort, attitude and respect, his teachings apply in any circumstance. These principles, which my teammates an I were exposed to during college years, continue to profoundly impact my thinking as an educator and parent.

As parents send kids back-to-school, and teachers welcome students into their classrooms, there is naturally a lot of emphasis on logistics – school supplies, devices, passwords, locker combinations, and schedules. This blog offers tips to also equip young people with mindsets – such as those emphasized by Wilk – as they head off to school:

Full effort: striving for excellence through daily discipline  (more…)

Reflections on Ferguson: Why We Need to Increase Racial Diversity in the Field of Competency Education

August 22, 2014 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

The courageous people of Ferguson have been standing up for their young men as well as forcing all of us to face the crisis that threatens African American boys’ survival, ability to graduate high school, get a job, and be actively engaged as fathers to their children.  However, there is no reason that they have to be standing alone. It’s up to all of us to eliminate the patterns of structural racism and implicit bias that reinforce inequity and threaten the lives of African-American young men.

All of us in the field of competency education want all children to succeed.  Our intentions are good. However, how can we really be sure that we ourselves do not carry some bias deep in our minds when the leaders in our field are almost all white? If we are committed to equity in our schools, how can we build the capacity in our organizations to be able to systematically address structural racism and bias?

I think that we have evidence that we do have a bias problem in our field. The leadership in the field and our organizations for the most part are very white.  Our success in advancing competency education is threatened if we fail to correct this situation by increasing the racial diversity of our leadership. First, many people see lack of diversity as a sign of organizational weakness. If you can’t figure out how to have diversity on your board and staff, how can you effectively train others or develop policies that don’t reinforce racial equity? (more…)

Turning Mistakes Into Learning: The Power of High Reliability Schools

August 20, 2014 by

Handbook for High Reliability Schools cover“In industries where mistakes and errors lead to significant and far-reaching consequences – such as power plants, air traffic control towers, and electrical power grids – organizations must adjust their operations to proactively prevent failure. . . .  [W]hat distinguishes high reliability organizations is not the absence of errors but the ability to contain their effects so they do not escalate into significant failures.”

I’m just diving into A Handbook for High Reliability Schools . . . The Next Step in School Reform by Marzano, Warrick and Simms. It’s a brilliant idea to think about what it would take for schools to become a high reliability organization. Certainly a student failing to receive an adequate education, failing to be prepared to pursue post-secondary education and training, has far-reaching consequences. It’s a pathway to poverty and fragile families.

What makes education a bit different from business is that mistakes and failures are part of the learning process. So we have to be able to distinguish from the customer making mistakes as part of the learning process, yet have the educators “contain the effect” so that the outcome is success.

The authors describe how schools can become so powerful and so timely in responding to children that the natural errors in learning will produce learning gains. Essentially, schools can become high reliability, taking “proactive steps to prevent failure and ensure success.” I already had a vision of how powerful schools can become, and reading this book took it to a whole new level.

The authors propose five levels of operation for a high reliability school: (more…)

EAA Pioneers Flexible Blended Learning Spaces

August 18, 2014 by

Originally posted Aug. 3, 2014 at Getting Smart.

Students at computers

From Getting Smart.com

Five Detroit schools utilize flexible learning spaces to accelerate student learning. These innovative environments reconsider four components of teaching and learning:

  • Space & time: creative ways of using space, furniture, scheduling and location to promote student learning;
  • Staffing and roles: rethinking flexible ways to use staffing to personalize learning;
  • Grouping of students: different approaches to grouping students and providing individual work time to ensure growth; and
  • Resources: maximizing supports from the teachers, technology, and peers to promote deeper understanding.

The flexible learning space, called a hub, provide a student-centered environment where student responsibility grows from primary grades to high school.

Students participate in a blended instructional program where they access information from the teacher, technology, their peers and their own inquiry. The same content is provided in 3 different ways—independent virtual courses, hybrid courses and as individual searchable libraries of content aligned to the standards. (more…)

Why is competency-based education so hard to study?

August 15, 2014 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

Originally posted August 13, 2014 by the Christensen Institute.

A few research pitfalls seem to be creeping into the still nascent world of K-12 competency-based education: first, the challenge of moving from discussing high-level theory to describing precisely competency-based practices. And second, going from identifying specific practices to designing sufficiently specific, appropriate evaluation to measure the effects of those practices.

Both of these tensions can make conversations about competency-based education feel speculative. The term “competency-based” often describes a wide range of classroom practices, but schools that call themselves competency-based may not subscribe to all such practices. And even when these practices are spelled out, we have yet to study them in isolation, to understand which—if any—drive student growth and in what circumstances. In order to really study competency-based models, the field may need more specific categories than “competency-based” to translate the theory into practice; and we likely need new research paradigms to evaluate these specific practices. (more…)

Momentum is Building in Colorado

July 30, 2014 by
Colorado flag

From wikipedia.com

Colorado took a big step last year by establishing state policy for a proficiency-based high school diploma. As the Colorado Education Initiative explained the policy, the new graduation guidelines “signal a move away from seat time and toward enabling students to advance based on mastery of Colorado Academic Standards; provide students with a menu of options to demonstrate mastery rather than a single exit exam; emphasize multiple pathways for students to engage in learning; and elevate the importance of next generation student outcomes.”

There are a lot of pieces starting to come together that suggest that Colorado may start catching up with the New England states:

  • State Leadership:  Colorado has formed a Competency-based Study Group to better understand the benefits and challenges of implementing competency education. The study group is being facilitated by Achieve. Members of the group will be visiting Lindsay Unified School District in CA and will have a daylong seminar with former state and district officials from Maine. It’s so important for state and district leaders to take the time to visit the competency-based districts and schools to help them understand the fundamental shifts of focusing on proficiency rather than time.
  • Expansion of Competency Education: In addition to Adams 50, one of the early innovators of competency education, Colorado Springs District 11 and Thompson School District are participating in an initiative to expand next generation learning, in partnership with the Colorado Department of Education and The Colorado Education Initiative  (CEI) and funded by Next Generation Learning Challenges. Each district will focus on two schools. Adams 50 has done an extraordinary job in elementary school and is getting results. They will focus on Westminster High School and Ranum Middle School as part of this effort. (See CW post about how high school transformation was constrained by lack of innovation on part of SIS provider.)
  • Intermediary Capacity: Intermediary organizations play a critical role in advancing new reforms, leadership development and the transfer of knowledge. Several support organizations based in CO have substantial capacity around competency education.  The Colorado Education Initiative (formerly CO Legacy Foundation) is now actively supporting competency education along with it’s other initiatives including health and wellness and STEM.  (Here is their description of competency education.) Colorado also is working with the Marzano Research Laboratory (MRL), which has incredible expertise around formative assessment, standards-based grading and a new effort on high reliability schools that includes competency education. MRL has recently acquired the Reinvent Schools Coalition, adding even more capacity. The Regional Education Lab – Central (run by MRL) also is building capacity around state policy issues to better serve its states — Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

If you know of other states that are building momentum, we’d love to hear the details. We want to make sure that we continue to support network building as more states convert to competency-based education systems.

 

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