Category: Resource

Rethinking the Achievement Gap (Part 2)

July 29, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 28, 2016 and the Workshop School on March 21, 2016. See Part 1 here

I didn’t really know it at the time, but this graph would change the way I thought about the achievement gap.

Graph

Before opening the Workshop School, for two years we ran a small pilot project called the Sustainability Workshop. It was basically an alternative senior year program. We enrolled about 30 seniors a year from three neighborhood high schools, and ran them through an intensive one-year, project-based experience. To assess students’ learning at the end of the year, we administered the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA).

CWRA is the only standardized test I’ve ever seen that I really like. Basically, students are given a real-world problem scenario and a library of documents, data sets, etc. Their challenge is to come up with and articulate solutions to the scenario. Their “performance task score” is a measure of their ability to think critically and solve problems. Since the tasks involve making sense of numbers and writing out answers, CWRA controls for what it calls “entering academic ability” – basically the type of literacy and math skills that the SAT requires. (more…)

Rethinking the Achievement Gap (Part 1)

July 22, 2016 by

GapThis post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 22, 2016 and the Workshop School on March 19, 2016.

There are a lot of ways to think about equity, and a lot of ways to think about achievement. In the ed reform world, the most common is what we call the achievement gap: the quantifiable difference in test performance between poor and middle class kids. This concept has done a lot of good in highlighting inequities in our school systems, and creating a sense of urgency for change. But from a learning standpoint, this narrow understanding of equity has been terrible.

There are two reasons for this. First, schools (and school systems) focused narrowly on the achievement gap end up devoting most of their time, energy and resources to things that bring up test scores. It’s not that literacy and numeracy don’t matter (though on the math side much of what we force kids to learn isn’t really numeracy). It’s that other things matter just as much, if not more. A narrow focus on the achievement gap pushes all of those things to the margins.

Second, if you’re mostly focused on getting a specific body of knowledge into kids’ heads, you organize a school that seeks to minimize or eliminate anything that gets in the way of that work. You create systems that reward compliant behavior, because it keeps everyone on task. It’s efficient. But kids don’t own their behavior in these systems. When young people leave school, they have to make their own decisions. Learning to be independent and responsible is just as important as learning to base claims on evidence. But somehow we’ve decided that we need to sacrifice the former in service of the latter. (more…)

Three Key Components of School-Community Engagement

July 15, 2016 by

NotebookThis post originally appeared at Students at the Center on June 22, 2106.

In Pittsfield, New Hampshire, community members have been involved in articulating our schools’ values, vision, and mission; in developing our long-term plan for school redesign; in redefining our professional roles; in managing our continuous improvement systems; and more. Still, we’re missing the mark in creating spaces for deep and broad engagement for all our families and community members.

When recently discussing the responses to a district survey of faculty and staff on family engagement practices, our Family Engagement Team, composed of both community members and educators, recognized challenges that lie ahead in taking engagement a step deeper. Comments like “parents get in the way,” “families are not helpful,” and “no confidence in families” were sprinkled among more mostly-positive notions, despite the district’s many years of commitment to community engagement.

Once educators are on the job, they’re up to their ears in what they see as the central function of their work, which can simply reinforce their views of what it’s like to be a teacher in the first place—endless cycles of planning for instructing, assessing student progress, and re-planning based on identified new student needs. These views have been formed over a lifetime of observing their own teachers as well as experiences in their university education and internships/student teaching.

New teachers are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of their job and often struggle to keep up with even their day-to-day work with their students. Their assumptions about being a professional educator change slowly, even in the face of administrative demands to develop and maintain relationships with parents and family members. Even if family engagement makes rational and intuitive sense, it remains where it has always been for most educators: on the fringes. (more…)

Insights from the RTT-D Personalized Learning Summit

July 7, 2016 by

district reform support networkI had the chance to participate in the Race to the Top District Personalized Learning Summit sponsored by the US Department of Education last week. I learned so much and am quite honestly still processing all the conversations. However, given that we are wrapping up the equity series, I think it is important to share these insights about creating a more equitable system right now.

#1 Suburbanization of Poverty

If you have had a chance to visit NYC, San Francisco, Portland, OR, Denver, Boulder, or any other city with a strong economic base recently, the changes are absolutely visceral – more affluent people are moving into the city center, rents are skyrocketing, and the folks who work the restaurants, clean the apartments, and drive the cabs are all living an hour or more away from their work. Although this does not bode well for our country (one can’t wonder if we are going to look like South Africa with cities and townships one day if we don’t do something about this trend), there is a significant opportunity for competency-based education. The suburbanization of poverty means that there are going to be more and more medium- and small-sized districts looking for help to respond to a changing demographic, just as Adams 50 did seven years ago. However, we need to understand what needs to be in place to ensure that a competency-based district is going to generate more equity. We need to do that now.

#2 Moving Resources to Students Who Need the Most Help

One of the speakers said, “Once you start to individualize, every kids looks underserved.” Initially, I thought it was just a profound insight into personalization and all the ways we can personalize education so students are always operating in their zone and reaching their potential. As I thought about it more, however, I realized that a student’s potential isn’t a finite thing, as there are so many things to learn, so many things to know, and so many things to explore. So if every student is going to have unmet needs, how are we going to ensure that the disadvantaged students – those from low-income families, who have significant learning challenges (disabilities or language), or who have experienced bumpy lives that move them from school to school – are going to really get the help they need?

We know that the likely pattern will be to serve the students considered “at the top” first. Given that resources are more finite as compared to the potential of students, choices will have to be made. We need to figure out metrics, processes, and analytical tools to make sure that resources get to the students who have gaps in pre-requisite skills. For example, every educator I’ve spoken with about this topic says that given current practices, a growth rate of 1.25 is reasonable to expect for most students. That means for every four years (unless you start to use the summer time, as well), students can expect to gain a grade level. Thus, we should be providing adequate resources to make sure this is happening for students who enter below grade level as a minimum expectation. Our challenge is to see if we can do better than that as a common practice. (more…)

Competency-Based Education Across America

July 6, 2016 by

SnapshotWe recently updated the map of competency education because so many states – including Idaho, Florida, Ohio, and Utah – have taken steps forward for state policies to enable and invest in competency-based education. In reflecting upon how competency-based education is developing, we pulled together all the “case studies” we have done based on site visits and interviews in seventeen states. As soon as we can, we want to visit Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin, and we just heard about a district in Mississippi.

For those of you trying to learn more abut competency education, we are hearing that some districts are using the case studies as discussion tools. Everyone reads about one school and then talks about what is challenging, how their understanding of the traditional system is changing, and what ideas they think might be valuable. It’s just a warm-up to embracing the values and assumptions that are the roots of competency education.

Schools for the Future, Michigan (2012)

No One Graduates Before They Are Ready

 

Boston Day and Evening Academy, Massachusetts (2012)

Part 1 – Reading the Pulse of Students at Boston Day and Evening Academy

Part 2 – Boston Day and Evening Academy: Where Competency Education is Good Teaching Practice

Part 3 – Boston Day and Evening Academy: A Learning Organization

 

West Albany High School, Oregon (2103)

If Failure is Not an Option, Neither are Supports  (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

July 5, 2016 by

What's NewJobs for the Future recently announced 9 new Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows. These are leaders in policy, practice and research from the New England area, each carefully selected for their vision, contributions and impact in student-centered learning:

  • Arthur Eduardo Baraf, Principal, Liberty Building, Metropolitan Regional Career & Technical Center (THE MET)
  • Dana L. Mitra, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Pennsylvania State University Department of Education Policy Studies
  • Frank Labanca, teacher, educational researcher and change agent, Westside Middle School Magnet Academy, Danbury Public Schools
  • Jennifer Fredricks, Professor, Connecticut College, Department of Human Development
  • Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)
  • Kim Carter, Founder and Executive Director, Q.E.D. Foundation
  • Lori Batista McEwen, Outgoing Chief of Instruction, Leadership, and Equity, Providence Public School Department
  • Mary Bellavance, Instructional Coach, Biddeford Middle School
  • Michelle L. Puhlick, Executive Director of Planning & Partnerships, Hartford Public Schools

The Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows become core members of the newly formed Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative, a bold new effort to investigate and evaluate what we know about student-centered learning and affect meaningful change at scale.

Upcoming CompetencyWorks Webinar: CompetencyWorks and iNACOL are co-hosting an upcoming webinar: A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education and Emerging Issues. This webinar is free to attend—please register here for login details.

Advancements in New England

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June CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

July 1, 2016 by

Looking Under the Hood

June 29, 2016 by

Looking Under HoodYesterday, AIR released Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education: The Relationship Between Competency-Based Education Practices and Students’ Learning Skills, Behaviors and Dispositions. This is one of the first valuable studies we have had looking at the impact of competency-based education.

Before I jump into the findings, I just want to thank AIR for this research and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation for funding it. This is exactly the type of research we need to help us figure out how to do competency-based education well, and AIR has made an enormous contribution to the field in several ways, including devising the survey tool and developing a framework of learning skills, behaviors, and dispositions.

The Framework of Learning Skills, Behaviors, and Disposition

AIR created three domains to organize the different sets of learning skills, behaviors, and dispositions. (You can find them in depth in Box 2 on page 22.) I think these domains really add to our thinking and conversations about how schools are helping students develop.

Domain 1: Student Academic Mindsets and Dispositions

Students’ academic mindsets and dispositions include attitudes and beliefs about oneself as a learner, as well as feelings of connection with and engagement in school. They include intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy in mathematics and ELA, and sense of belonging in school.

Domain 2: Self-Regulated Learning Skills

Self-regulated learning strategies are the self-directed, meta-cognitive, and self-control strategies students use to engage in learning, including making an explicit effort to connect new learning to what they already know and directing attention toward key learning tasks.

Domain 3: Academic Behavior

Academic behaviors are the observable, outward signs that a student is engaged and putting forth effort to learn and participate in school. Examples include preparation for class and active interest in learning.

I have been testing these ideas to see if there is anything I would add – and the only thing I might wonder about is how to capture the issue about the ways in which stereotypes can influence how children think of themselves as learners (basically, are students developing a positive gender and racial identity) and the issue of how students understand their horizons, including perceiving themselves as college-going and, for those who are surrounded by violence, whether they will live past twenty-five. (more…)

Culture and Climate

June 22, 2016 by
Hanna Attafi

Hanna Attafi

/kəlCHər/
:
the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization

When we identify with our culture, of course we think of norms such as clothing, language, food, and education. In addition, we hold certain beliefs and assumptions close as a part of our culture. Even though going to school seems like a natural part of childhood, there is a whole subculture within the education system that plays a huge role in a child’s life.

Students spend most of their lives in our classrooms. It is up to us, as educators, to foster a classroom culture that meets their basic needs, supports their academic learning and growth, and teaches social skills such as empathy, grit, and gratitude.

So how do we do this? We must first understand that students come to us with a concept of their own culture, which we have to acknowledge and respect. Our job is to teach them the basics for them to be successful in the culture of schools for them to be successful in all the ways we hope for them.

Of course we, as teachers, have heard that the first six weeks of school is when to really set the tone for the year and begin to “lay down the law.” In my experience, these first few weeks are very important, but it’s about establishing respect, trust, and relationships. And it starts by showing up…every single day. (more…)

5 Reasons Why Competency Education Can Lead Us to Improved Quality and More Equity

June 21, 2016 by

Post 8Ensuring quality and equity is as the heart of the movement to transform education toward personalized, competency-based learning. By placing the student at the center of the learning process and re-engineering around learning, pace and progress (rather than time, curriculum delivery and sorting), we can create education systems that reach every student.

Competency education is a design strategy that best serves our lowest achieving students, including low-income students, minority students, English language learners, and those with special educational needs. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Competency education is designed to identify and address gaps in knowledge and skills. We will always have students with gaps in knowledge, whether because of poverty-induced mobility, recent immigration, military transfers, or health issues. When we identify and address gaps, students have a better chance at progressing. As Paul Leather, NH’s Deputy Commissioner of Education, has pointed out, “We learn by connecting concepts and building expertise over time. If we do not learn a concept, new learning cannot be built on it” (from Necessary for Success).
  2. Transparency and modularization are empowering and motivating. They are the ingredients for student ownership. Success begets success, as students see short-term gains and clearly marked next steps. Transparency also challenges bias and stereotypes that may contribute to lower achievement.
  3. The focus on progress and pace requires schools and teachers to respond to students when they need help, rather than letting them endure an entire semester or year of failure. Many competency-based schools organize flex hours during the day to make sure there is no excuse for students going home without receiving the help they need.
  4. Competency education is a comprehensive approach that benefits vulnerable students as well as those in gifted and talented programs. Schools don’t need specialized programs that label students. In fact, students may advance in some disciplines and not in others, as flexibility is built into the core school operations.
  5. Competency education creates powerful learners. We can’t underestimate what student ownership means in the hands of students who have been denied a high quality education in the past. Furthermore, it prepares students to explore their talents, interests, and the future that lies before them. Instead of differentiating students with a single number, their GPA, we see children differentiated by how they demonstrate and apply their knowledge.

(more…)

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