June 4, 2014 by Julia Freeland
From USC Hybrid High School web site
Originally posted June 3, 2014 at Christensen Institute.
Last week I had the privilege of visiting the USC Hybrid High School (HHS), a new charter school in Los Angeles and winner of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenges grant. HHS is pursuing a blended and competency-based model—that is, the school is leveraging technology to deliver some academic content online and building opportunities for students to advance upon mastery, rather than according to hours of instruction. HHS has seen numerous iterations over its past two years in existence (EdSurge’s Mary Jo Madda did a great write-up of these changes earlier this year).
For example, last year the school used Apex Learning almost exclusively to drive a flex blended-learning model (wherein online learning is the backbone, and teachers work with students one-on-one and in groups on projects and tutorials). Now, in its second year, the school has shifted away from a single-provider model to instead making teachers the primary designers of the blended-learning models in their individual classrooms by using a wider range of tools. The school is also putting its money where its mouth is in this design: each teacher receives a stipend to purchase his own software products according to his particular course(s) and tastes. (more…)
April 2, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the second of a two-part series on Making Community Connections Charter School. Click here for Part 1.
In our traditional system, students progress in age-based cohorts, with most students progressing regardless of what they know and some being retained to repeat a year. Competency education expects students to get the support they need so that they are proficient, offering flexibility as needed, such as allowing students to continue to focus on gaps or areas where they are not yet proficient (i.e. competency recovery) in the summer or the coming school year. The challenge for the school is to keep students on track AND provide flexibility to ensure they become proficient, which means rapid response when students struggle and more intensive interventions as needed.
Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) has a different understanding of what it means to be on track. It’s not just an arrow, angling up at 45 degrees. It’s the J curve, which predicts that as students become more mature, with the habits to be successful learners, they will take off and learn on a much steeper trajectory. Under this theory of learning, how does MC2 make sure students are on track and progressing? (more…)
April 1, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the first of a two-part series about Making Community Connections Charter School. Click here for Part 2.
“As a learner, I grew in the way a fire would if you sprayed gasoline on it.” – From a student’s graduation portfolio
That’s what Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) is all about –creating dynamic learners. At MC2, serving grades 7-12 in Manchester, New Hampshire, it feels like they wiped the slate clean of all the traditional ideas of what makes a school and started to design the school from scratch. It’s deeply student-centered in its design and operations. Its theory of change is built upon a deep understanding and appreciation of adolescent development, motivation, and learning sciences. MC2 is a model that will work for any student. At its center, it is designed around the kids who are educationally challenged (about 35% of MC2 students are classified as having special education needs), have already had a tough time in life by age 14, who have felt betrayed by the adults in their lives, and are drawing from their own reservoirs of stubborn hope that things can get better.
This case study on MC2 is broken into two parts. The first is on the design principles and the theory of action driving the school. The second is on how students progress and the implications for teachers. (more…)
March 13, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
A Denver Public Schools staffer asked me the other day, “Why aren’t schools innovating more, even when they have waivers that come with innovation status?”
A number of elements of our system seem intransigent – annual calendars, bell schedules, sequencing of courses, to name a few. We are probably going to have to find examples of innovating around each one to free up our minds for what is possible.
For example, we’ve highlighted PASE Prep, which is experimenting with eliminating the bell schedule. Anyone know of another example of schools that are freeing themselves from bells and the idea of students moving from one course to another at the same time for the next dose of instruction?
(An aside on the use of language: According to Ed Week, kids moving from one class to another is called platooning, which is a bit disconcerting. There are so many collective nouns we could have built upon to describe children moving onto the next learning task. How about fleeting, herding, quivering, swarming or flocking? Language that captures that incredible energy of children learning might inspire us – think of a chattering of starlings, or a murmuration of starlings, filling up the skies with their dance?)
In a new report, Cost-Effective Strategies for Extending Learning Time and Expanding Opportunity in K-12 Education, Generation Schools describes how they reconstructed the daily and annual schedule to provide 30% more learning time while keeping annual working time for teachers the same as the traditional model. And they are getting results. (more…)
December 16, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit with Alfonzo Paz, Assistant Principal at Academic Performance Excellence Academy, better known as APEX Academy.
APEX is co-located in a large high school in East Hollywood with 330 students from a mostly Latino community with pockets of Armenian, African-American and Asian families. APEX is a Diploma Plus (DP) school, a model developed over 15 years ago. Interestingly, APEX, a charter school, started as a district-run school, but budget cuts began to impact the quality of their school — not so much because of reduced resources but because they ended up with teachers that didn’t share the vision of competency education. The underlying issue was with union policy that gave teachers the right to teach the way they want. How could they have a competency-based school if teachers refused to be competency-based in their instruction, assessment and grading?
I first learned about competency education when I was a program officer at the Mott Foundation during a site visit to one of the earlier DP schools (you can read more about Diploma Plus in Making Mastery Work). So I was thrilled to learn about how Diploma Plus had advanced during my visit to APEX. DP is designed to work in a variety of educational settings depending on the focus, mission and need of the school or program. I’ve seen it mostly in alternative schools serving over-age and undercredit students. However, APEX is what I call an “inclusive” high school – it is set up as a regular four-year high school but enrolls students no matter what their educational experience, including re-enrolling after dropping out. Here are a few of the highlights of my visit:
Structure: The DP model doesn’t have age-based grades. Instead it has three phases - Foundation, Presentation, and, Plus. The Foundation phase is focused on getting students skills up to 10th grade level as many start with gaps in skills as far back as 4th or 5th grade. Paz explained that APEX had split Presentation Phase into two sections as students were coming from so far behind and needed a sense of progress. Presentation is focused on helping students build up a portfolio of the work emphasizing performance tasks and assessments. Students in the Plus Phase participate in internships, college courses, and community action projects in order to support their successful transition to life after high school. (more…)
October 30, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
In the northwest corner of Detroit, Cornerstone Charter Schools opened Health High School in response to the beliefs, challenges, and dreams of the community. HHS is a new school in its second year of implementation and a good example of blended learning. The elements of the school that are personalized or competency-based, reside in its rapid response to help students stay on track and complete their courses. Below are several of the design elements:
Character Education: In the halls and classrooms you see reference to the traits that HHS expects the adults and students to demonstrate. Citizenship, patience, kindness, self-control, gentleness, goodness, faith, peace, and love. The school is rooted in these values, weaving them and life skills across all content areas.
Designed Around Relationships, Relevance and Rigor: Teachers are called Rigor Managers using the face-to-face (F2F) time to supplement and expand on learning. Relationship Managers stay connected to what is happening with students in school and out, providing coaching and advocacy as needed. Students have a daily class called Relevance that is inquiry-based, interdisciplinary, and connected to the real world. The ninth grade this year is looking at how to address vacant land in Detroit, drawing on science, government, and writing. Another way HHS builds relevance is through a broad career theme offering low-income students access to powerful career development opportunities. HHS was developed in partnership with Detroit Medical Center and Beaumont Hospitals.
December 13, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
…Lindsay Unified School District!
In case you missed it, Lindsay Unified School District, a top-to-bottom competency-based district, is one of the winners of Race to the Top.
Lindsay, like Adams 50, has been able to sustain their competency-based approach through changes in superintendent leadership, so that they have been able to see results, as kinks in implementation were worked out. They are one of the examples of where we are seeing competency education make a difference!
I’m going to go find out more and will report back soon.
Congratulations to all the folks at Lindsay!
December 4, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
In a previous post I summarized the evidence of competency education making a difference in student achievement and school performance.
Sometimes a picture says a thousand words. Below is a snapshot of Adams 50 transformation from having seven schools identified as lowest-performing to having zero. ZERO. Notice the schools in green – those are the highest performing schools that expanded from two to seven schools in three years.
You can see the image more clearly here. (more…)
December 3, 2012 by Bill Zima
Oh the lure of the quick fix. Humans are fascinated with them. Without this attraction, con artists and snake oil salesmen would not be viable professions. We see the desire to solve something quickly in the hero who simply needs to make a single correct decision, and the world is saved.
I recently watched a special commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris. The host suggested the amazing play led to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dominance in the 1970s. I am pretty sure, however, that the catch did not cause a giant shift in the cosmos allowing for the Steelers to win four Superbowls. In fact, it was a team effort. After all, they did have a defensive line referred to collectively as the Iron Curtain.
It does make for a good story though.
In education, we too are susceptible to the hunt for the one right answer. “This program will raise test scores; all you need to do is have students write more; we need Singapore math; STEM is the key.” While all of these are legitimate arguments for how we can improve instruction, they are only a piece in how we improve learning. Educators need to stop seeking the “Silver Bullet.” It does not exist.
Instead, we need to do the slow and sometimes painful work of developing and effectively executing a strategy. Competency-based education, or Customized Learning, is not an “it” that comes in an easy to install program packet. It requires a shift away from the status quo. What worked for us in my school and district was this:
A process of facilitated conversations amongst all stakeholders that led to the establishment of a philosophical lens through which all decisions pass.
Those that pass are implemented; those that do not are dismissed or adjusted. I will break the statement down into sections to better clarify:
- Process: The strategy should include well scripted actions that help to move your school or district closer to your vision.
- Facilitated Conversations: It is important– almost critical– to use individuals from outside the district who have expertise in leading change. My district has been partnering with the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) for the past four years.
- All Stakeholders: All people who have an investment in the school need to have their voices heard and offer input into the direction of the system. The decisions should not be driven by people who lack expertise to make the informed choices, but they all should have an input into the bigger picture.
- Philosophical Lens: By gathering the input from the stakeholders, a shared vision of what the perfect school or system looks and sounds like should be created.
- Decisions are passed: When we make a decision for how we will proceed to overcome an identified challenge, we must pass the decision through our lens. If it does not make it through, we seek another solution. Only those things that line with our beliefs are implemented. (more…)
November 26, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
Thomas Rooney, Superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District
I have received three requests over the past week asking for evidence of success from competency education models. The truth of the matter is that we are not swimming in proof points. And it is very, very important for our continued work to advance competency education that we generate them. They do have to be more than anecdotal. They don’t have to be a third party random assignment evaluation.
A further complicating matter is that our current approaches to accountability are not designed to easily pick up the fact that students may be getting the help they need to fill academic gaps. Thus an “11th” grade student working to strengthen elementary school level math skills may be “ not proficient” in state tests even if they moved up three grade levels over the year. Perhaps a growth model will pick that up, but what we are finding is that the horrendous gaps generated by passing students along unprepared often challenge the limits of our accountability and assessment systems.
I have collected the few examples of evidence of competency education adding value below. There are a few more that I’m following up on. Please send me any and all that you might have…That way we can keep pulling together a solid argument for competency education.
Chugach (From Delivering on the Promise)
In 1994, the Chugach School District, serving 214 students over 20,000 square miles in impoverished communities, began a fundamental redesign of how they would educate their students. With the courage to confront the fact that 90 percent of their students could not read at grade level and only one student in 26 years had graduated from college, Chugach focused their mission on ensuring that all students learn to high standards. (more…)