A few months ago, I had the opportunity to do a road trip through Maine to visit seven districts and one university (scroll to the bottom for links). Just as the leaves were bursting into reds and oranges (and I even saw what I might call magenta!), it felt as if district after district was bursting with new practices and ideas to improve student learning through proficiency-based systems. Here is a summary of the trip:
On the Forefront of Proficiency-Based Learning
Really and truly, I think Maine is going to become proficiency-based. They have a very strong foundation based on helping students be successful – not just focusing on flexible pacing. Most of the schools I visited had a schoolwide approach for students to be self-directed in the classroom. They are walking the talk at the state level. They are working collaboratively. They are trying to figure out how to help all of their students be fully prepared for lifelong learning. (Well, we have to see about this. The legislature is considering a bill to only have students demonstrate proficiency in math and ELA and two areas selected by students.)
In fact, I’d say that they might be leading the nation in terms of districts converting to personalized, proficiency-based learning (PBL). New Hampshire and Vermont are putting into place very strong systems of support and the policy infrastructure needed for competency-based education and learning to be sustainable. If Maine can stay steady through this period of rising tension to increase innovation and responsiveness to students, it is likely that they will see a rapidly expanding stream of high school graduates who have the self-directed lifelong learning skills that will change the course of their lives and the economic strength of the state. Eventually, Maine’s Department of Education will want to re-design the policies and structures to support and sustain PBL.
I’m sure there are districts in Maine that are not thrilled with the idea of a state-legislated proficiency-based diploma. For example, one of the districts I visited described their motivation as complying with state policy rather than doing what was best for kids. Yet, as we talked more, it was clear that they were finding substantial value in many of the transitional steps and were bringing on a strong team of people who already understood many of the elements of PBL. Generally, they thought PBL was a good idea, just not one they would have done on their own.
There are also growing concerns that districts are not going to innovate enough in time to help every student meet the graduation requirements in all eight domains by 2018. This has caused legislators to try to ease up on the expectations. It will be important for Maine to find solutions that continue to strengthen schools and motivate students and not fall under the wheel of the blanket statement that it is “practically impossible to get every student to become proficient.”
The Reasons Maine is Making Headway
What’s the reason Maine is making such headway? First, there was a convergence of three efforts that built upon each other to produce a strong shared vision: (more…)