December 3, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Although there were many takeaways from my visits to schools in New York City (what Jeremy Kraushar of the Digital Ready team referred to as the Magical Mastery Tour), I’ve selected three to write about here, as they respond to questions we’ve received over the past six months.
Please note: I’m using mastery-based, the term used by NYC, and competency-based interchangeably.
Most of these findings are based on schools that are doing tremendous work in developing highly developed mastery-based models. Descriptions of Bronx International, EPIC North, Bronx Arena, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, and Maker Academy will be published in the coming weeks. However, one insight discussed below came from a school that shared the difficulties it was having developing a prototype model. While it’s important to learn from challenges as well as successes, schools trying their best to innovate don’t need the light from the internet shined upon them, so we didn’t write up a case study in that particular case. (more…)
December 2, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
In October, Jeremy Krausher, Joy Nolan, and Michael Preston of Digital Ready organized what can only be called the Magical Mastery Tour. (Click here if you’d like the Beatles to accompany your reading.) Don’t be misled by the name Digital Ready – this team, based in the Office of Postsecondary Readiness at the New York City Department of Education, is promoting student-centered, personalized, mastery-based learning drawing on blended learning to increase and enrich learning opportunities for students. Their work is supported by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. We were joined by Julian Cohen, Senior Executive Director for the Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships, and Debbie Marcus, OPSR’s Deputy Executive Director of Sustainability and Strategy, on part of the tour. I am so grateful to everyone for sharing their knowledge about schools and providing greater depth to my understanding of how competency education is taking root in New York City.
During the three-day Magical Mastery Tour, we visited Bronx International High School, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, EPIC North, Bronx Arena, and Urban Assembly Maker Academy (one of the Carnegie Corporation Opportunity by Design schools). In-depth descriptions of each will be published over the coming weeks.
Innovation is alive and well in the New York City schools. Bronx International and Carroll Gardens School for Innovation are two of the most developed competency-based models I’ve seen. Bronx Arena is challenging assumptions of traditional schooling every chance they get. EPIC North and Maker Academy (with only two months under their belts) are already on their way to pushing our understanding of how competency education can serve as the backbone to very different school models. (more…)
November 26, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Early Progress: Interim Research on Personalized Learning was released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rand Corporation last week. They define personalized learning as, “Systems and approaches that accelerate and deepen student learning by tailoring instruction to eachstudent’s individual needs, skills, and interests.Students have a variety of rich learning experiences that collectively will prepare them for success in thecollege and career of their choice. Teachers play an integral role by designing and managing the learning environment, leading instruction, and providing students with expert guidance and support to help them take increasing ownership of their learning.” At the iNACOL Symposium last week Vicki Phillips introduced a four part operational definition (you can find it on Ed Week) that includes competency-based progressions, flexible learning environments, personal learning paths, and learner profiles.
So You Think You Want to innovate? Emerging Lessons for State and District Leaders Working to Build a Culture of Innovation by 2Revolutions and The Learning Accelerator is a toolkit for district and state leaders.
An Up-Close Look at Student-Centered Math Teaching released by the he Nellie Mae Education Foundation finds that students in more student-centered math classrooms are more highly engaged in what they are learning and show growth on problem-solving skills, as compared to students in less student-centered classrooms. Led by researchers Dr. Kirk Walters and Toni M. Smith, the study also finds that: (more…)
November 25, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
During my visit to Highland Tech Charter School, which features a personalized, project-based, mastery-based design, I asked students how they might advise other students who were enrolling in HTC or a similar school. Here’s what they had to say:
On Learning, Growth and Progress
- When you take the placement tests, take them seriously. You don’t have to get stuck doing things you’ve already learned. You may even be able to be placed at a level above your grade.
- We are not held behind. We are able to get done what we want to do. Sometimes things are really hard so it takes longer. But other things are easier.
- This type of schools makes you have a better sense of what you are learning. It’s important to know when you are learning the basics and when you are applying your learning.
- When you get behind, don’t worry. It’s easier to catch up. You just have to demonstrate that you really know something. (more…)
November 24, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the first post in a series on school visits in Alaska.
Student ownership of learning. Standards-based framework. Personalization. Performance assessments. Standards-based grading aligned with Bloom’s taxonomy. Inquiry-based learning. Project-based learning. New roles for educators.
Highland Tech Charter School (6-12) in Anchorage, AK is putting all these pieces together, but the process is not without its bumps. One staff person wondered, “Is HTC having an identity crisis?”
The pieces don’t all fit together smoothly…yet. The team at HTC is continuing to fine-tune a cohesive, personalized, mastery-based approach, where the size of the school (with 200 students and eleven teachers) is both an advantage and a limitation. They are easily able to work together collaboratively as a school, yet there are limitations in deploying resources to students with a wide range of academic and developmental needs (not to mention a wide range of educational expertise).
It didn’t feel to me like HTC was having an identity crisis. Instead, the different elements of the school are so well-developed they are pushing up against each other, requiring the staff to think strategically about how to integrate the elements as well as keep them in balance. (more…)
November 21, 2014 by Contributing Author
This spotlight originally appeared in the CCSR October 2014 Newsletter.
In 2005, New Hampshire became the first state to abolish the Carnegie Unit and mandate that by SY ’08-’09 all high schools measure credit according to students’ mastery of course competencies rather than seat time. CSSR works with a number of New Hampshire schools through the i3 NETWORK to build the pedagogical and leadership capacity to take on this transformational work. Kearsarge Regional High School is one of those i3 NETWORK schools.
Kearsarge Regional High School | North Sutton, NH
The road to Competency Education at Kearsarge Regional High School (KRHS) coincided with the adoption of school-wide learning expectations associated with the school’s core values and beliefs. Academic Expectations include: effective and clear communication; critical thinking; and information, technology, and media literacy. Social and Civic Expectations include: initiative and productivity; responsibility and accountability; and collaboration. Students are assessed on these expectations through each of their courses but receive a separate grade than that earned through the demonstration of course competencies. (more…)
November 19, 2014 by Jonathan Vander Els
It was a typical Wednesday evening in mid-October at our home. My wife and I were sitting on our couch. She was correcting papers, and I was doing some work on my laptop for school the next day. My wife suddenly exclaimed out loud, but somewhat to herself, “Wow, she’s already completed my course.” It was approximately half-way through the college semester, and a student had demonstrated mastery in all requirements for her course, and had “completed” everything that was assigned.
My wife is a math teacher at the Thompson School at the University of New Hampshire. One of the courses she teaches is a hybrid section of College Algebra, which combines an online component with in-person class sessions to assist students with specific topics. Five years ago when my K-12 district, the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, started implementing competency-based education, I attempted (unsuccessfully at the time) to explain to my wife why competency-based education was superior to the traditional model of education. She was not the least bit impressed, and provided many rebukes to my attempts at convincing her.
Part of this was clearly my inability to adequately articulate what I intrinsically knew to be a better system for learning. Part of it was the “newness” of CBE for my wife and its significant differences from traditional forms of education. We had many ensuing conversations about why (or why not) behaviors should be separated from academics, how a student’s grade/success should not (or could) be decided by their participation (or lack thereof), and why it made no sense that students should have to make up a whole course if they had not demonstrated mastery in a single competency within that course. (more…)
November 17, 2014 by Brian Peddle
The mantra, “Fail early, fail often,” needs to die a fast death. This phrase has become the calling cry for many startups over the past few years, and I feel as though it has become the safety net in case a company blows through all its money. I understand the underlying meaning—that setbacks can and will happen on the road to success—but the phrasing is all wrong, especially when it comes to education.
This past week I was at iNCAOL 2014, a K-12 conference full of dedicated and forward-thinking educators, and a big topic was competency-based education (CBE). Michael Horn was a keynote speaker, and this phrase was tweeted and re-tweeted from his presentation: “Fail fast so you don’t have a spectacular failure.”
This is no criticism of Michael, but it struck me as the wrong place to talk about failing as an option. A couple of years ago, I may not have noticed the use of this term; however, after working at College for America at SNHU and now spinning off Motivis Learning, I’ve seen firsthand what negative connotation the “F” word has. (I call it the “F” word because Kate Kazin, the Chief Academic Officer at CfA, has drilled that into the entire team’s head.) We don’t talk about students failing, ever. CfA is a full competency-based program where there is no failing; there is only “Mastery” and “Not Yet.” That simple shift in language can lift the dreary weight of failure off of a student’s shoulders—and trust me, that weight is there. (more…)
November 14, 2014 by Contributing Author
This interview originally appeared in the CCSR October 2014 Newsletter.
Don Siviski is a career educator who began his career as a middle school teacher, formerly served as the Maine Department of Education’s Superintendent of Instruction, and now works as a school change coach with CSSR. He was closely involved in the comprehensive policy work that resulted in Maine legislation requiring graduates to demonstrate mastery of competencies in order to graduate. Siviski is now working closely with CSSR’s i3 NETWORK schools, as well as with CSSR in Springdale (AR) Public Schools-the first competency education pilot in Arkansas, the most recent state to grant a seat time waiver. We sat down with him recently as he reflected on the policy work that resulted in competency education for the state of Maine, specifically-the intersection between belief and practice; establishing proof points and zealots for your work; and building collective capacity.
The intersection of belief and practice
Siviski’s work to impact comprehensive reform in Maine began by facing the discrepancy between what the community professes to believe about education, and the reality of their practice. Specifically most folks articulate the belief that all kids should go to school, get an education and succeed. However, in practice our educational system sorts and tracks students, formulates grades based on completion and compliance, and ensures that students have unequal outcomes. To effect policy change, communities throughout Maine had to get in agreement on tough culture change traditions-adults had to ‘unlearn’ the system they had all experienced in order to put new learning in place. For Siviski the emphasis was always student-focused, not adult-centered. The competency-based value structure prevailed when the focus was on students and the critical need to produce graduates prepared to compete globally. Siviski noticed over and over that once teachers and community members saw students becoming agents of their own learning, they ethically could not go back to the old system as belief and practice were now aligned.