Tag: leadership

Three Lessons Learned from New England States Transitioning to Competency-Based Education

January 11, 2017 by

This is the sixth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

david-prinstein-quoteWhat can we learn about state-level strategies from New England states transitioning to competency-based education? At this point in the evolution of competency education, there are a few solid lessons to be learned from the New England region. It is helpful to compare and contrast the different approaches of the states, looking for powerful insights into the considerations of different strategies and approaches, as this provides deeper understanding and can shine a light on what is the best path for a state. Some states, such as Connecticut, may want to create enabling policies, while others, like Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, will contemplate bolder, more comprehensive steps toward transformation.

However, context matters: considerations need to include public demand and level of public trust, what is already in place, the degree to which districts and schools have already embraced some or all of the elements of competency education, level of consensus among leadership, competing agenda items, and the structural and financial issues that shape schools, such as district consolidations, funding, and political turmoil.

Three Important Lessons Learned

  1. Educators turn to competency-based education because it makes sense regardless of the state policy. Given the strong state leadership in establishing comprehensive competency-based policy in most of the New England states, it would be easy to think that state policy is always the first step in making the transition to competency-based education. However, there are innovators and schools considering competency-based education in Massachusetts with little encouragement from state leaders. In Maine, one of the original sources of early innovation were the districts that formed the Maine Collaborative for Customized Learning.
  2. Policy is important, but not sufficient. Establishing high-leverage policy such as proficiency-based diplomas or credits will direct districts toward competency education. However, it doesn’t mean they will move quickly to implementation or that they will implement it effectively. Creating innovation space doesn’t necessarily produce a groundswell of innovators. Statewide change requires a combination of innovation space, support, networks, and political coverage. Maine provided upfront training to a “coalition of the willing” before passing a policy that created proficiency-based diplomas. Vermont and New Hampshire have extensive support strategies, although they are very different in design. Most importantly, community engagement strategies need to be deployed to provide opportunities for shaping the vision of the district and schools as well as to learn about competency-based education practices.
  3. Walk the talk by using similar guiding principles as those found in personalized, competency-based districts. It isn’t going to work for states to use traditional change and communication strategies if they want to move beyond the traditional system. For example, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement competency-based education through compliance strategies. Compliance assumes that the state knows exactly what should be done when, in fact, there are many ways to design personalized, competency-based models. The paradigm shift is too important to the process of transformation—educators and community members need the opportunity to learn, to reflect, and to decide that this is what they want to do. In addition, the large systemic changes have many implications to be considered. Co-design or collaborative processes that draw on multiple perspectives is a much stronger strategy.

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A Timeline of K-12 Competency-Based Education Across New England States

January 10, 2017 by

This is the fifth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

The New England region stands out for its early innovations, bold vision, and high percentage of districts becoming competency-based. Yet, a quick glance at the timeline shows that the earliest models popped up on both sides of the country – in Boston and Anchorage – around 1995. So why is it that competency-based education has taken hold in New England with such momentum?

timelineLet’s take a look at a few of the possibilities.

A Good Idea Creates Continuity

The New England states have not had continuity in leadership. Governors have changed, as have the Secretaries of Education and other key personnel. Complicated budget issues, volatile political dynamics, and redistricting have demanded attention. Yet competency education has continued to be a major priority. Why? Because there are enough people in influential positions who believe in it. Some have argued that because students in New England states are relatively high-achieving, there just isn’t any other way to generate improvement except to create a more personalized, flexible system. Moreover, many educators will vouch for it, affirming that once you understand what competency education can do, there is no going back. With strong local control, this makes it harder for state leadership to change course because the policy is perceived as beneficial to students and educators. (more…)

The Trouble with Prescriptive Policies When Paradigms are Shifting

January 9, 2017 by
david ruff

David Ruff

This is the fourth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England. For a more in-depth look at this issue, join David Ruff of Great Schools Partnership and Paul Leather of New Hampshire Department of Education on January 11th for a CompetencyWorks webinar to explore K-12 competency-based education policy and practice across five New England states. Register here.

How can a state bring about a much-needed change when the only way to ensure effective implementation is for educators to want to make the change?

This is what some might called the paradigm-changing policy paradox shared by the New England states and most states across our country. This tongue-twisting, profoundly complex paradox is created because of two dynamics. First, given that competency education requires a paradigm shift or a change in values and assumptions, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to implement effectively without educators embracing those values. When the policies and practices of competency education are placed upon the old values of fixed mindsets and compliant students, classrooms become overwhelmed by linearity and checklists as students tediously climb a ladder of standards. It is very difficult to mandate or require people to believe differently or do something they don’t think is valuable. There has to be an opportunity to engage, reflect, and learn. Second, the states in New England (similar to most states across the country) value local control and are resistant to policies or regulations that feel like a mandate. Thus, prescriptive policies are unlikely to engage districts, schools, and educators and may even produce substantial pushback.

ellen-hume-quoteGiven that it is impossible to mandate that people accept new values and beliefs, state policy to advance competency education will not immediately translate to transformation of the education system, regardless of how bold, intricate, or high-leverage it is. What are state policymakers to do? How can they drive toward a new education system while not actually mandating that any school change? If competency education is more easily and effectively implemented by educators who have come to their own conclusion that it is needed, how do you engage districts and schools through state policy to want to convert?

Thus, states are challenged to find ways to engage districts in the learning that it is needed to implement competency-based education. (By the way, this same paradox challenges districts, principals, and teachers as they seek to engage and motivate school leaders, other teachers, and students). (more…)

Five Drivers of Transformation in New England States

January 5, 2017 by

fiveThis is the third post in the series on Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

Competency education is advancing in New England through a combination of shared vision and values, mutual respect and collaboration, and courageous leadership that is motivated by a sense of urgency to do better for students, communities, and the economy.

The following five concepts are the core ideas that are driving change in New England at the school, district, and state levels.

  1. Theory of Change Based on New Values

In most of the New England states, competency-based education is advancing with a new set of values that are the foundation of competency-based education as well as being used by principals, districts, and even state policymakers to catalyze the transformational process:

  • A growth mindset that deeply believes that with the right conditions, educators can learn the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are needed to help every student succeed and to teach within a personalized, competency-based system.
  • A strong culture of learning and supporting communities of learners, which eliminates the culture of “blaming and shaming.”
  • Transparency and mutual accountability that builds trust and respect, establishes continuous improvement, and increases responsiveness.
  • Autonomy and empowering strategies that engage others in problem-solving and co-creating new systems and practices.
  • Personalization that responds to the unique contexts and needs of districts, schools, and educators rather than one-size fits all policy, technical assistance, and professional development.

These values are used to shape classrooms and the school day, upgrade district operations, and redesign statewide policies and structures. They are also driving the leadership approaches and change process needed to transform schools.

  1. Coalitions of the Willing

Working independently, courageous district leadership might have been seen as marshalling unique efforts. However, local collaboratives and regional networks such as the New England Secondary School Consortium amplified the lessons learned, created political coverage, and created avenues for communication with state leadership as well as other stakeholders such as parents and college admissions officers. Thus, the effort in New England to date has been driven through a coalition of the willing.

  1. From Compliance to Support

State leadership in these three states has begun to reduce the reliance of the state education agencies on compliance. Instead, they are seeking to provide more support to help create the conditions necessary for transformation. This is an important step in creating a statewide culture of learning and organizational agility so that districts, schools, and educators can be more responsive to students’ needs. To do so requires that state education agency staff become substantially more sensitive to the context in which districts operate and their long-term strategies. (more…)

Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England

December 27, 2016 by

treesThis article begins the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England. On January 11th, CompetencyWorks is hosting a webinar to explore K-12 competency-based education policy and practice across five New England states: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont (with a brief look at Massachusetts). Paul Leather of New Hampshire Department of Education and David Ruff of Great Schools Partnership will join Chris Sturgis in exploring lessons learned from New England.

Competency education is expanding across the country as a means to ensure that all students are mastering the skills and knowledge to be successful in college, careers, and civic life. In the New England region, competency education is developing and expanding at unprecedented rates: about one-third of districts in this region are planning or transitioning toward competency education. This series consolidates insights offered by the hundreds of policymakers and education leaders across the New England region who are leading this transformation and creating competency-based systems to better serve students.

This series begins by looking at why and how the New England region embraces competency education. It then turns to insights into the policy strategies being used across states and analyzes the impact of competency education on quality, equity, scaling, and sustainability. Throughout the series, we will add snapshots of the New England states.

Major Lessons Learned

There are three major lessons learned that need to be taken into consideration by anyone advancing competency education: (more…)

Mastery Motivates Students: “No Way” vs. “Not Yet”

December 15, 2016 by
mastery-motivates-1

FIHS Science Teacher Jordan Wolf with Students

This post originally appeared at Mastery Collaborative on October 21, 2016.

Can a mastery-based school culture give students a useful way to track their own progress and achievements? A visit to Flushing International High School (FIHS), one of eight Mastery Collaborative Living Lab schools, provided some insight into this issue.

During the visit, school leadership, faculty, and students discussed with guests how a focus on mastery has changed the outlook of school departments, individual teachers, and especially students. Rather than looking at grades only as a final score, students now track their progress toward mastery throughout the year, on a group of subject-specific goals. Goals are assessed multiple times over the year, allowing students to see which specific goals they need to focus on to improve their mastery of key skills and knowledge.

Switching to a Mastery-Based Model

This method of grading is of recent vintage at FIHS. Five years ago, the leadership and staff began to discuss concerns about the role of assessments. “We were not communicating our grading and assessment policies clearly enough,” explained Principal Lara Evangelista.

To address the problem, teachers began creating homemade report cards with many personalized comments to indicate how well students were meeting specific standards. At the end of marking periods, students were able to see how they could improve in specific terms. Then, the staff came up with an even better idea, said Evangelista: “Why don’t we tell [students] at the beginning what we are looking for?”

Over the course of the next four years, school leadership, faculty and students integrated clearly stated learning goals into everything from lesson plans, to the online grading system, to teacher-student advisories. (more…)

Preparing for Leadership Lifts

November 14, 2016 by

airplaneThis is the seventeenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The transition year(s) is the period of time when people use the phrases “building the ship in the water” and “constructing the plane in the air.” Educators are doing double-duty setting up the new system while also educating students within the traditional system, which makes this a time of excitement, nervousness, challenge, and frustration. Below are a few of the major activities that districts undertake during the transition year(s).

The leadership demands are high during the transition years—it is crucial that the culture of learning is reinforced, as teachers may feel that they aren’t succeeding in either the traditional system or the new one being put into place. Moreover, as teachers begin to focus more sharply on helping students learn rather than delivering a curriculum, their own gaps in skills will become evident. Leadership will find that the shared purpose and guiding principles emphasizing learning and collaboration can become a shield to minimize the disruption caused by top-down policies that emphasize evaluations of individual teachers.

Oliver Grenham and Jeni Gotto of Adams 50 in Colorado warn that districts converting to competency education need to be ready for a “bumpy journey,” as it is impossible for everything to be perfectly designed. Their advice is for educators to: (more…)

Investing in Shared Leadership

September 20, 2016 by

LeaderThis is the third article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The shift to competency-based education requires a personal commitment from superintendents and principals to develop collaborative leadership and management styles. Changing personal leadership styles means these professionals must undertake extensive study, solicit feedback for reflecting on their leadership, engage in dialogue with peers and colleagues, and even seek out coaching. Each leader will have a different journey toward developing leadership/management strategies that are effective in creating and sustaining empowering, learning organizations. In the following discussion, three aspects of leadership are discussed: the call for a distributed leadership style, the role of a culture of learning, and empowering others.

Distributing Leadership

Superintendents and principals agree that top-down management doesn’t work well in competency-based environments—or, for that matter, in any large district reform. The traditional education system operates on a set of rules for the delivery of education services that has tried to standardize the inputs so all students have the same exposure to the curriculum. In top-down systems, higher levels of governance set the conditions for each lower level, leaving schools and teachers with little autonomy or opportunity to inform decision-making at higher levels. Traditional leadership styles are often characterized by people turning to the managers above them to resolve issues or set the direction. Changes are often communicated through memo, where dialogue is limited, if not nonexistent.

The problems with this kind of compliance-oriented leadership style are three-fold. First, top-down approaches undermine any efforts to create an empowered staff who will take responsibility for ensuring students are learning. Top-down decision-making essentially undermines accountability. Second, when employees look to the next level up to answer questions and resolve issues, it undermines the culture of learning and is a lost opportunity for building problem-solving capacity within the organization. Third, no superintendent or principal can have all the knowledge or answers about how to best respond to students or address organizational issues. During periods of dramatic change, this becomes a risk, as the superintendent or principal is unlikely to be able to understand all the ramifications of every change. It requires collaborative, iterative processes to create the new operational policies and procedures needed to support a personalized, competency-based environment. Fueling a competency-based system requires the engagement and ownership of students, educators, and community members alike—an idea that will be explored in depth as the series progresses. (more…)

Nicole Assisi’s Seven Tips for Diversifying Your Organization

September 7, 2016 by
Thrive Public School for Voice of San Diego

Nicole Assisi

On Friday, August 19th I had the opportunity to talk with Nicole Assisi of Thrive Public Schools (recognized for project-based, blended learning, social-emotional learning) regarding how they have been able to diversify their staffing to represent the students and families they serve. Their site leadership is now 71 percent people of color, staff is 28 percent Latino, 8 percent African-American, and 8 percent Asian-Pacific Islanders, and the CMO staff is 50 percent people of color.

On that very same day, Education Secretary John King called out for greater educator diversity: While students of color make up the majority in our public schools, just 18 percent of teachers identify as people of color. …We must do more to support teachers of color at all points across the teacher pipeline so students today can benefit from and become the teachers and mentors of tomorrow.

Why Diversity Matters

His statement was in regards to the release of a Brookings Institute report High hopes and harsh realities: The real challenges to building a diverse workforce. The authors do report some good news: The number of minority teachers in the nation has doubled over the past few decades from about 325,000 in the late 1980s to 660,000 in 2012. But the bad news: The improvements aren’t keeping pace with the proportion of “minority” students in our classrooms (which now add up to be a majority). I think the summary of the research on why diversity matters is important to review. The authors highlight three sets of research:

1) Same-race matches between students and teachers are associated with greater student achievement. Studies of elementary students in Florida (Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2015), North Carolina (Goldhaber & Hansen, 2010), and Tennessee (Dee, 2004) find improvements in math and reading achievement from being taught by a same-race teacher. Effects are estimated to be stronger among low-performing black students (Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2015).

2) Same-race teachers are more likely to view students’ behaviors and prospects in a positive light. Black teachers have higher expectations for black students’ academic futures (e.g., perceived likelihood of graduating high school) than do white teachers (Fox, 2016); (Gershenson, Holt, & Papageorge, 2016). Dee (2005) and McGrady & Reynolds (2012) find that students who have a teacher from a different race/ethnicity have higher odds of being rated inattentive than students with same-race teachers, and white teachers rate black students as having lower scholastic aptitude. A nationally representative study found that black children are more likely to be rated worse in assessments of their externalized behaviors when they have a white teacher than when they have a black teacher (Bates & Glick, 2013). Relatedly, black students in classrooms with black teachers are three times more likely to be assigned to gifted services than those in classrooms with non-black teachers (Grissom & Redding, 2016).

3) Student behaviors and attitudes are also associated with teacher race. Students assigned to a same-race teacher have significantly fewer absences and suspensions, and are less likely to be chronically absent than their counterparts who had an other-race teacher (Holt & Gershenson, 2015). Students who share racial/ethnic characteristics with their teachers tend to have a more favorable perception of their teachers (Egalite & Kisida, 2016).

The paper goes on to describe the “leaks” in the pipeline – and as overwhelming as it can feel to see it all outlined in one place, each of us has a role in expanding and tightening the pipeline. In the world of competency education, our job is to both diversify the state education agencies, national organizations and intermediaries as well as the districts and schools serving students. (more…)

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