March 12, 2013 by Brian Stack
Last week I had the opportunity to deliver the keynote to a large group of school administrators from Oregon at their 2013 State Proficiency Conference, sponsored jointly by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) and the Business Education Compact (BEC) in Portland. I began my talk by sharing with the group how I explained the idea of competency-based grading to a woman, Kathy, whom I shared a plane ride with on my way to Oregon. Kathy was very curious to learn more about competency-based grading. She is a mother of three and lives in the Portland area. Her oldest just graduated from high school and is now in the Air Force. She has another child in middle school and her youngest is in elementary school. As a result, she is very invested in educational reforms that promise to give her children a better future.
To help her understand the competency-based system, I asked her to hypothetically consider how the pilot school was organized that our airline pilot attended. We both agreed that in order to be able to fly our plane that day, he had to have been deemed “proficient” by his pilot school. We can only assume that his school taught him everything he needed to know about being a pilot. I offered her two hypothetical situations about the pilot school, and I asked her to then consider which school she thought was better. (more…)
March 8, 2013 by Bill Zima
Those who have had the experience of living or working in a large city know the rush of seeing your subway train in the station and believing you can make the dash to the door before they close. Moving and dodging past passengers, you begin to feel great. “I am going to make it,” you think. The crowd begins to cheer. You can already feel the celebration. Will you spike your briefcase or simply do a quick shuffle dance. Then out of nowhere, you smash into something. Your nose is throbbing. After a moment you realize the doors have closed. You can see the driver looking at you with a smile on her face. Not in a mocking way but in an apologetic, “Sorry, the trains must stay on schedule” way. As the passengers glance up, you can sense the sympathy in their eyes. They know that feeling of being on the outside looking in.
The same crushing defeat in our Superbowl of ordinary, time-based challenges could be said for air travel, elevators and rides at Disney World. But it should not be felt by our students in our schools.
March 7, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
As we all know, there is nothing better than learning from other practitioners. So Boston Day and Evening Academy’s Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) is a great opportunity. Registration has just opened for the July 8-11 training in Boston.
The objectives of REAL include:
• Learn the process for creating competencies that both align to the Common Core and meet the needs of your students;
• Build benchmarks and competencies and scaffold them into a scope and sequence;
• Work in content teams and by program;
• Leave with a work plan that allows you to fully implement competency-based learning and assessment;
• Become part of a national peer-learning network.
There are scholarships available to all registrants by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
If you want to know more about Boston Day and Evening Academy, check out Making Mastery Work, Aligning Competencies to Rigorous Standards for Off-track Youth: A Case Study of Boston Day and Evening Academy
and the wiki.
March 6, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
principal at West Albany High School
I just had the opportunity to listen to Susie Orsborn, principal at West Albany High School in Oregon, describe the school’s journey toward proficiency-based education at the Business Education Compact’s training, Implementing Proficiency at the Secondary Level. Below are of my big take-aways from her story:
With Voluntary Comes Variation: Like much of the efforts in Oregon, participation in proficiency-based education starts with volunteers. At West Albany, a handful of teachers volunteered, approximately one in each department, to use proficiency-based approaches in their classroom. She explained that a veteran social studies teacher said that it was “the first time he actually knew what students know, or didn’t know.” The voluntary, teacher-led approach to transforming the education system from the classroom also means that there is a lot of variation. Instructional, assessment and grading practices vary across and within departments. (more…)
March 1, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
In the last three days, in three different meetings, I’ve been asked to summarize what I’m learning about competency education. In yesterday’s meeting with RTT districts I shared the following list of things people starting off in competency education need to think about earlier than later in their process…i.e. this is a place where implementation can go wrong.
1) Start With The Students: We think a lot about college and career readiness, Common Core curriculum, and what we expect students to know and do. If we want to get students there then we need to start with where they are. This means when students enter your school, doing assessments to understand where they are on their learning progression and what gaps they have is essential. Teachers will need to do pre-assessments when students enter their classroom to understand how they are going to need to differentiate, group/regroup.
This is one of the game-changing dynamics of competency education. At today’s meeting with Race to the Top districts this kicked off a huge conversation. Once you do this we can no longer ignore the fact that some students are 2,3, 4 or 5 years behind or don’t have the prerequisite skills they need to do the grade-level curriculum. Scott Benson, Gates Foundation referred to this as the “design and accountability challenge of our time “. I call it the Elephant that we’ve been successfully ignoring for decades. There are many ways of trying to accelerate learning…but we haven’t been systematic in researching this so that districts and schools can be sure they are deploying resources most cost-effectively. (more…)
February 28, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
District and school leaders constantly tell me that there is very little in federal and state policy that prevents them from implementing the most important elements of competency education…even in a policy context dominated by the Carnegie unit. They also emphasize that if state policy was more aligned with competency education and student learning they would be able to do so much more and see much greater achievement gains.
We’ve tried to capture what states are doing in aligning the policy infrastructure in the just-released Necessary for Success: Building Mastery of World-Class Skills – A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education.
One of the most interesting a-ha’s in researching, interviewing and writing the paper was that when we are talking about policy its not just passing major legislation. It’s as much a process of creating a culture of learning from the top-down and the ground up, opening up innovation space, providing support systems for educators to learn from each other and apply their learning in their districts and schools, and then reworking critical policies such as graduation requirements (competencies, not time-based credits), flexibility in the use of time (years to graduation, yearly and daily school schedules, embedded supports), and redesigning assessments and accountability systems to meet the needs of students, not policymakers.
We are working to enhance the wiki so that it is easy for advocates and policymakers to access examples and strategies being used by states. We would deeply appreciate it if you could send us any information about how your state is aligning policies so that we can make sure that we have the best information available. Yep, that’s crowd-sourcing for educational transformation. It will make a huge difference.
February 26, 2013 by Nicholas C. Donohue
The recent surge in interest regarding competency-based approaches in education — the idea that students advance by demonstrating mastery — has revealed predictable challenges. As with the implementation of any innovative idea, when things get going, it’s important to ensure that the going is good.
Why is this new approach so promising? Competency education is connected to the core concept that academic advancement should be based on firm footing. In our current education system, we move students ahead according to age, and determine success or failure by administering an assortment of high-stakes standardized tests. This process contradicts eons of scientific research that shows people grow, mature and learn at different rates, and best demonstrate their learning in complex ways that most current assessment regimens do not support. (more…)
February 22, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
I remember the first time I heard a principal explain, “We try to run our school through dialogue not memo. I work hard to make sure that very few things are communicated through memo.” Trained by the Industrial Areas Foundation in relational organizing, this principal was describing what it takes to operate within a distributed leadership model. I keep thinking about this as competency education expands because I’m not convinced we can make the transition to competency-based instruction by memo. The thing that keeps me up in the middle of the night is seeing competency education corrupted by a compliance-oriented, fixed mindset.
So you understand why I was fascinated by the section on leadership in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education. I’ve read it a couple of times and it certainly resonates with what I’ve seen in my site visits around the country.
Hear how Grey-New Gloucester school district are engaging educators on the February 28th webinar.
The authors highlight the dynamics in which “Teacher leadership provided considerable momentum in the institutionalization of competency education practices.” (Interestingly in Section Five they highlight the leadership role of students as well.) The tuning process at Vergennes High School in Vermont in which teachers work together to clarify the benchmarks and what proficiency looks like is described in the report: (more…)
February 20, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Lindsay Unified for a full day tour of their performance-based system. Delightfully it started out with a presentation from students that talked about what a performance-based system meant to them and their education. One of the strongest themes was transparency — transparency in the curriculum, in what proficiency looked like, how students were progressing, which courses were available to them… The essential ingredient for this systemic transparency was the information system Educate. We know competency education can be implemented without an information system. However, we can’t take advantage of all the data generated without one. It’s the information systems that are going to allow us to move away from top-down accountability systems to dynamic continuous systems.
CompetencyWorks released a new paper today Re-Engineering Information Technology: Design Considerations for Competency Education by Liz Glowa with an introductory essay from Susan Patrick. It’s chock full of information — so you’ll want to pick and choose the sections that are most important to your work. We hope you can join us at the follow-up webinar planned for February 28th 3-4 ET on the topic. You can register here.
If you are new to competency education you may want to sign up for the webinar on February 26 at 3:30 ET as well to hear from the leadership team from Maine’s Gray-New Gloucester district on their journey to whole district reform. You can register here.
February 19, 2013 by Brian Stack
At least twice a week I have the opportunity to do a formal observation of the karate instructors that help my wife Erica and my two oldest boys, Brady (7) and Cameron (5), as they work towards their black belts. There are so many parallels between how their karate classes are structured and how we as administrators would like to see our teachers structure their twenty-first century competency-based classrooms. I think we can learn a lot from the karate studio environment. Here are some tips I have gleaned from countless karate classroom observations that I have completed:
1. Embed the School’s Core Values and Beliefs Into the Classroom
As administrators we spend a lot of time working with our schools to develop documents that identify our school’s core beliefs and values and student expectations for learning. These documents are usually printed with catchy phrases or mnemonic devices on eye-catching posters and banners to help our staff and students remember them, but how often do our teachers refer to them in their classroom? At the karate studio, each class starts with everyone (students and parents alike) standing up to face the American flag and reciting the karate school’s core values and beliefs in unison. Throughout class, the instructors regularly refer back to these values as needed during instruction. There is no question that every stakeholder at the karate studio knows exactly what the school stands for and believes in. As a school administrator I am not suggesting that we make our own students recite our school’s core values statement each day, but I do think we need to find better enduring ways to embed these values into the daily fabric of our students’ lives. (more…)