Tag: school design and models

Five Things for Big Districts to Think About

April 18, 2016 by

Purple FiveIt always happens. You finish a big report and then do a bit more research or have a few more conversations…and realize you didn’t get it quite right.

That’s what happened to me. I finished the report on Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders in June, and come November when I visited Lake County, Henry County, and Charleston County School Districts, I realized I would have organized that report somewhat differently if I’d had the opportunity to learn from bigger (these still aren’t the mega-districts) districts before I started writing.

Here’s the scoop – much of the first wave of districts making the transition to competency-based education have been small districts. They’ve been able to engage their communities at the district level. They often asked teachers to vote before they moved forward. It’s relatively easily to bring in the leadership from different schools to help co-design implementation. It’s been a powerful strategy for districts in communities without big employers, foundations, or intermediaries. But what about bigger districts? How do they think about getting going and scaling strategies?

Below are a few thoughts developed from talking with the incredible group of leaders from Lake, Henry, and Charleston Counties. I’m still learning, so my thinking is likely to continue to develop about how big districts can move forward toward personalized, competency-based education.

1. School Autonomy

In the same way we encourage schools to have developed PLCs before they get started, districts should evaluate how well they are doing in terms of enabling school autonomy. Is it okay for schools to try different strategies? How about if some move faster forward than others – are you going to hold them back? Can schools hire their own teachers? Create their own staffing patterns? Manage their own budgets and use resources as they see fit to meet student needs? Can schools design their own community engagement strategies?

Certainly, you do not want to make all the schools implement at the exact same pace – that’s the old way of doing business. And you certainly do not want to hold back schools that are ready and able to make the transition. Also the rationale and entry points may be different. Kathleen Halbig from Lake County explained to me that it is important to have community engagement at the individual school level because communities have different histories, different narratives, different concerns, and different appreciation about competency education.

2. Tight and Loose

Districts big and small will need to know what they want to hold tight and what is loose for schools to determine on their own. But do we know exactly what should be tightly held in a CBE district? Here are some starting thoughts. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

March 24, 2016 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMStaying the course for over twenty years, Chugach has developed a personalized, performance-based system that places students at the center and deeply values teaching and teachers. CompetencyWorks released a new report on Chugach School district and how they implemented a personalized, performance-based system to serve the remote villages of Native Alaska. Check out the blog post or download the report here.

Upcoming Event: On April 20, CompetencyWorks is hosting an introductory webinar on competency educationRegister here to attend the webinar and learn how we define competency education, explore how schools are implementing competency education, and discuss why educators and communities want to convert to a competency-based structure.

Resources

Policy Updates

  • Under ESSA, states and localities have a unique opportunity to revisit accountability systems and rethink how they can better serve students, parents and teachers. Check out this article on how state accountability systems impact student learning.
  • The Florida Senate passed a competency-based education bill, which already passed the House by a 31 to 6 vote. The bill creates pilot programs in 4 Florida districts and establishes a laboratory school run by the University of Florida. (This article explains the competency education pilot program in greater detail.)

Schools Making Gains

  • Teachers from seven District 51 schools in Colorado shared with the school board the challenges and victories they’ve experienced since transitioning to a performance-based system.
  • Windsor Locks, a school implementing personalized learning, demonstrated notable gains in math and reading, pulling them from the list of worst performing schools. This news story shows how Windsor Locks empowers students to discover, to design their learning, to apply it, then to document how they learned it and defend that they learned against rigorous standards.

Research Opportunity

The Students at the Center initiative at Jobs for the Future announced a research collaborative that will build, define, apply and share a robust evidence base for student-centered learning. (Read more here.) They announced 2 opportunities: an RFP on student-centered learning, with a preference for basic exploratory research; and nominations for Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows. Two additional opportunities are expected to release in May. Check here for the most updated information.

Follow us on twitter (@CompetencyWorks) and sign up for our monthly newsletter for more information and updates in K-12 competency education.

Breaking out of the Boxes at Building 21

March 9, 2016 by

B21This is the first post about my site visit to Building 21 in Philadelphia. Read the second here.

Of all the schools and districts I’ve visited over the past four months, it has taken me the longest to write about my visit to Philadelphia’s Building 21 (there is also one in Allentown) because their ideas just blow me away. I’ve had to take time to absorb them and figure out how to describe them to you. I’m guessing I still don’t fully understand the rationale and implications of some of their design decisions. The team at B21, led by co-founders Laura Shubilla and Chip Linehan, have been so intentional, so thoughtful, so focused on drawing on what we know is best for helping adolescents learn, and so out of the box. As districts both big and small make the transition to competency-based education, Building 21 is one to watch as it cuts the path toward new ways of structuring how we organize learning and advance students.

A few of the big takeaways from my visit to Building 21 are:

  • Designing for students with a broad spectrum of skills and life experiences
  • Cohesive competency-based structure with a continuum of performance levels
  • Two-tiered system to monitor student progress
  • Information system that is designed to be student-centered and teacher-enabling (see tomorrow’s post)

This post will hopefully be helpful in explaining B21. However, if you are interested, I highly recommend taking thirty minutes to look through the Competency Toolkit and the Competency Handbook. They’ve done a fantastic job at making their model accessible for students, parents, teachers, and all of us who want to learn from them. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

February 29, 2016 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMOn April 20, CompetencyWorks is hosting an introductory webinar on competency education. Register here to attend the webinar and learn how we define competency education, explore how schools are implementing competency education, and discuss why educators and communities want to convert to a competency-based structure.

Employment Opportunity: The Innovation School (Salem, MA), a Horace Mann charter modeled after Boston Day and Evening Academy, is searching for a principal. Click here and look for the job posting in Salem.

Event: The First World Summit on Competency-Based Education will be held on August 27-28, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain, as a pre-conference activity. For more information about competency education systems around the world, check out An International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad.

Thought Leadership

  • School leaders and experts predict ESSA and school demands for personalized learning will dramatically alter K-12 education in the years to come.
  • Todd Rose, a high school drop-out turned faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, discusses his latest book, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness, with NPR.
  • Jim Dillon, an educator for over 35 years, reflects on student agency and how to spark empowerment in the classroom.

(more…)

Henry County Schools: Four Big Takeaways

February 24, 2016 by

henry county _oneWe are going to try something different here. Our case studies are getting longer as we learn more. So instead of our releasing one blog post in a series at a time, we are going to release all of them at the same time with interlocking links.

Post #1: Four Big Takeaways (includes background)

Post #2: Ensuring Success for Each Student

Post #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size Districts

Post #4: What All of This Means for Schools

Post #5: Impact Academy

Let us know if this works better for you. You’ll need to dedicate ten to fifteen minutes to read it. Our hope is that it will make it easier for you to draw out the insights that are important to you while still building more background in competency education.

Overview

Just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Henry County Schools (HCS) operates fifty schools serving 42,000 students. It covers a mix of four cities and towns, some rural and others more suburban. The district is the largest employer in the area (over 75 percent of workers leave Henry County for work daily), with many people commuting to Atlanta or other suburbs to work.

Historically, HCS has performed relatively well, but enormous changes over the past fifteen years – including enrollment nearly doubling, the percentage of students who are FRL tripling to 60 percent of the population, and increases in racial diversity (HCS is now 33 percent white, 51 percent African-American, and 9 percent Hispanic) – created an opportunity for change. In 2013, the district created a strategic plan to transform their schools to personalized learning by 2020. One of the five pillars of this plan is competency-based learning. Although it’s always hard to determine causal relationships, Henry County has already had a 6.4 percent increase in their four-year graduate rate since they began this work. They are certainly going in the right direction.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Rodney Bowler, the school board identified multiple reasons for turning to personalized learning, including:

  • Better prepare an increasingly diverse student body for college, career, and life success
  • Move from “good enough” to “exceptional”
  • Traditional model is no longer sufficient
  • Nature of knowledge has changed
  • Information is ubiquitously available
  • Focus on metrics beyond standardized tests
  • People learn in different ways (Pace, Place, Path, People)

Superintendent Bowler says, “Henry County Schools is excited about the work being done across our schools to transform them to personalized learning schools. When you look at the core of personalized learning, it fits nicely with our mission of ensuring success for each student. Focusing on each student and their individual needs and learning styles is truly the best approach to equipping them for college, a career, and life in general. It was a no-brainer for us to make this move, and while the work has been tough, our teacher, students, and our communities that have started the transformation have seen great growth for everyone involved. We know that when all is said and done, our district will be a strong example for others looking to make this strategic change for the betterment of our learners and our future.”

It’s worth taking a minute to look at the Georgia state policies that shape Henry County’s strategy. GA does offer a seat-time waiver that allows courses to be mastery-based. Henry County has a strategic district waiver that allows them great freedom, excluding a handful of exceptions. GA state policy has also made a firm commitment to a number of secondary school policies designed to improve graduation rates and college-going rates. In addition to early college and career academies, Georgia offers Move on When Ready, which establishes a dual enrollment program that requires students to meet the admissions policy of the partnering institution of higher education. HCS is also partnering with Southern Crescent Technical, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, and others. The district provides the transportation costs, and the state pays for the courses. Finally, the Hope Scholarship program will pay for college for students up to a master’s degree when they have a 3.2 GPA in high school and college. In addition to assessing grade level standards, Georgia’s state accountability system also uses growth measures. (more…)

Henry County Schools: Ensuring Success for Each Student

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This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the second of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Henry County Schools’ (HCS) vision for personalized learning is captured in the phrase “Ensuring Success for Each Student.” To help people understand the components of the vision, it has been visually organized within the structures of a building. On the roof is the goal for “all students college, career, and life ready.” There are two steps indicating the foundation for the transformation: 1) school autonomy and district support, and 2) student voice and choice. The five tenets of personalized learning are the pillars holding up the roof:

  1. Learner Profiles and Personal Learning Plans
  2. Competency-Based Learning
  3. Authentic/Project-Based Learning
  4. Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking
  5. Technology-enabled

HCS_two

Each school has a different entry point and timeline for making the transition to personalized learning. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Leadership, explained, “We think of the five pillars as the guard rails. Schools have the freedom within the five pillars to create personalized learning for their students. We avoid using the phrase design principles, as it can sound more like a mandate of what you have to do.”

To support schools in their redesign process, HCS is partnering with Mastery Design Collaborative led by Jeffery Tsang. MDC is providing guidance in the overall design process by meeting with teams from the school bi-weekly. (more…)

Henry County Schools: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size Districts

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HCS3_scaling

Click Image to Enlarge

This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the third of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Henry County provides important insights into how larger districts can organize strategies to transform their schools with a more “personalized” approach and how they can avoid the unintended consequences that result from mandates. Their scaling strategy is definitely one to consider and adapt to work for your district.

Overarching Strategy of Change

The challenge before HCS was to get every school to make the transition to personalized learning, knowing that schools were going to have different entry points and that they couldn’t provide support to all the schools all at the same time. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Leadership, explained, “We looked at several different school models, and each one is different. It quickly became clear to us that we can’t tell people how to do it. We want to support education entrepreneurs who can create a personalized learning school using their vision and strengths.”

The strategy that was developed “starts with the willing, draws on a small group of consultants, and creates an inclusive process where everyone makes the transition.” Historically, schools in Henry County have had a high level of school autonomy. Thus, it was important to keep as much as possible “loose” for the schools. The decision was to keep school redesign and the tools schools use “loose,” while the learner profile platform and competency-based learning infrastructure remained “tight.” It was important in terms of equity that the assessments built around the competencies and performance indicators be consistent across the district. They set the expectation that all schools would start the transition within the next three years and that each could develop a model using the five tenets of personalized learning in a way that worked for them and their students. Karen Perry, Special Projects Coordinator for HCS, emphasized this with, “We wanted to give schools the choice of when they go, but the 2020 vision for the district is that all fifty schools will be engaged in the work of personalized learning, whether that is in the application, planning, or implementation stage.” (more…)

Henry County Schools: What All of This Means for Schools

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carla montgomery_HCS4

Carla Montgomery

This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the fourth of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

During my visit to Henry County Schools (HCS), we stopped off at two schools for conversations with principals and teachers about their experience to date. Luella Elementary, led by Carla Montgomery, is in the planning stage. The nearby Luella High School was in its fourth month of implementation.

Luella Elementary

Principal Carla Montgomery walked us to the fifth grade math classroom of Ms. Davis to provide an example of what she hoped their entire school might look like in a few years. As I watched students work independently, in small groups, at computers lined up against the wall, or with Ms. Davis, my first thought was that I was observing a station rotation model. However, as I talked to students and watched them change where they were working or the tools they were using to learn, I realized they were moving around as needed. Montgomery noted, “It seemed very chaotic at first, but Mrs. Davis continued working with kids, acclimating them to making decisions based on their learning needs, and now they know what is expected.” (more…)

Lake County Schools: Windy Hill Middle School

February 19, 2016 by

WolvesThis post is the fifth in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

Kathy Halbig, Coordinator of Personalized Learning at Lake County Schools (LCS), described Windy Hill Middle School as “a high performing middle school with a strong level of trust. The staff are confident in their ability to manage change and take risks.” Yet, the team at Windy Hill knew they still weren’t reaching every student, which is why they decided to make the transition to personalized learning with implementation beginning the fall of 2015.

We had a rich conversation with Assistant Principal Abby Crosby and Personalized Learning Facilitator Mary Ellen Barger. Here are the highlights:

Building a Common Understanding of Personalized Learning: The journey to personalization at Windy Hill started by engaging everyone, including the school advisory committee, business community, teachers, and parents.

Four (Overlapping) Steps to Personalized Learning: The Windy Hill scale up strategy has four components that are not entirely sequential. First, invest in the culture of personalization, including growth mindset. Second, go with the teachers who are ready, willing, and able. Third, build capacity through a train-the-trainer model so Windy Hill teachers can train others in the personalized learning classroom design and delivery skills. Fourth, build the capacity for writing units that take into consideration that students are starting at different points and using a variety of multiple assessments. (more…)

Lake County Schools: Sawgrass Bay Elementary Increases Engagement with Personalized Learning

February 18, 2016 by

Sawgrass1This post is the fourth in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

Sawgrass Bay Elementary (SBE) has fully embraced personalized learning. In the first year, eight teachers started piloting the new practices in math in grades 3-5. A year later, they have full implementation in math and ELA throughout the school. As we wandered through classrooms, the conversation with Principal Heather Gelb; PL Facilitator Amy Billings; and Instructional Dean Michelle Work was full of insights and observations. Gelb enthusiastically explained, “We are seeing a big culture shift. It’s only been a year, and the teachers are noticing that the kids are highly engaged. Personalized Learning is a more intentional implementation of best practices as they pertain to student autonomy. This will be a shift for everyone.” Below are a few of the highlights from our conversation:

Background: Sawgrass Bay is situated in the corner of Lake County and is relatively close to Orlando. Many families have jobs in the tourist industry, which has led to high mobility as they move to obtain higher paying jobs. SBE is the largest elementary school in Lake County Schools, serving 1,300+ students in grades K-5. Nearly half are ELL.

The Power of Student as Leaders: Work explained that SBE is infusing Covey’s seven habits of the Leader in Me program into the overall personalized learning approach as a means to increase students’ sense of responsibility and the skills they will need. She explained, “When students feel empowered, there is no reason to act out. Instead of feeling that things are being done to them, they feel more in control of their own actions.” Assistant Principal Maurice Simmons expanded on this point with, “The Leader in Me program is helping our kids see themselves as leaders. Before, they were kids or children or students. Now they see themselves through the lens of learners and leaders. They feel more responsible for their own actions and for helping their classmates.” I saw the strong emphasis on the “habits” in Mrs. Miller’s classroom, where there were celebrations of students demonstrating the different qualities and a strong culture of “I can” and “We can.” [Red Bank Elementary in Lexington, SC is also using this program.] (more…)

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