Category: Analysis

From “Shock and Awe” to Systemic Enabling: All Eyes on New Hampshire

January 4, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on December 11, 2015.

The successful, bipartisan (what?) effort to revamp the nation’s core set of K-12 education laws essentially puts an end to one generation-long era of school reform – let’s call it Standards Push – and ushers in the next.

How Policy and Systems Trigger the Ways We Behave

SA1

Next Gen Learning Challenges (NGLC) graphic

It’s too soon to label this new era, but there is a growing sense of what it needs to reflect. Of all the From This/To That tables I’ve seen lately, this one from Education Reimagined, an initiative of Convergence, developed over 18 months of effort by a committee composed of union leaders and libertarian philanthropists and advocates of every stripe in between, seems readily on the mark: (more…)

It’s Time for Mid-Course Corrections in K-12 Competency-Based Education

September 15, 2015 by

RocketOur reflection on how the field of competency-based education is developing has resulted in a number of emails raising other concerns and opportunities. It’s clear to me that there are at least four issues that need more attention and discussion…and likely mid-course corrections if we are going to get this right.

Failure is Not an Option: When Susan Patrick and I wrote the scan of competency-based education, we had used the title Failure is Not an Option to capture the spirit of competency education. That’s right, equity was at the very heart of competency education, where rather than have an open system in which students can be passed on with Cs and Ds (or even drop out before graduating), we would develop a closed system in which the system itself changes when students aren’t learning. However, a very silly organization that had trademarked the phrase Failure is not an Option sicced their lawyers on us, and we didn’t want to boogie with such a goofy gang of folks (the phrase has been used for a book about Apollo 13). So we used Success is the Only Option instead, but it’s just not as effective a phrase to get the big idea of what competency education really is. The result is that most conversations are about pace and flexibility rather than how we need to redesign the infrastructure and schools so that failure really and truly isn’t an option.

Mid-Course Correction: Start the conversation with what it will take for us to have every low-income student, every student with a disability, every child regardless of the color of their skin, and every student learning English for the first time learn, thrive, and soar. Pace and flexibility will come naturally out of that conversation. But if you start with flexible pace first, you miss the big idea of what competency education is all about. (more…)

A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education

August 19, 2015 by

GraphEach summer, CompetencyWorks takes a bit of time to reflect on where we have come from, accomplishments, and emerging issues. Our advisory board is absolutely instrumental in this process, helping us to understand nuances and variations across states.

Below are the highlights of our discussion this year. It’s long, but I think sharing in detail is worth it, especially as each week people contact us seeking help in understanding the field. Please, please, please – we would love to hear your insights and understanding of where we have come from and what we need to think about in terms of advancing competency education. It’s the richness of multiple perspectives that allow us to be as strategic as possible.

I. How Are We Doing in Terms of Expansion?

When we wrote the first scan of the field in 2010, there were only pockets of innovation across the country, each operating in isolation. Five years later, eighteen states are actively pursuing competency education through a range of strategies including proficiency-based diplomas (ME, NH, CO, AZ), integrating competency education into the education code (VT, NH), innovation zones (KY, WI, CT), pilots (OR, IA, OH, ID), and task forces in partnership with districts (SC, WY, OK, HI, DE). Federal policymakers are now familiar with competency-based education in the K12 and higher education sector, with ESEA policy discussions considered pilots for new systems of assessments.

Districts are converting to competency education across the country, with or without state policy enabling the change. In addition to the northern New England states, which have strong state policy initiatives, districts are converting in AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, MI, and SC.

New school models are developing that push beyond the traditional organization of school to high levels of personalization, including those at Summit Public Schools, Building 21, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Making Community Connections Charter School, EPIC North, and Bronx Arena. Schools for the Future has recently announced record-breaking results in its first year of operation.

Some people think the rate of expansion is too slow. Personally, I think we need to really “get it right” – robust competency-based structures, high levels of personalization so our most historically underserved populations of students are thriving, upgraded instruction and assessment aligned to higher levels of knowledge, and effective use of online learning – before we worry about the speed of expansion. Let’s practice what we preach. We are in the midst of huge learning as we deconstruct the traditional system and put into place a more vibrant, personalized system, and it may take us a bit of time. It took us well over 200 years to create the traditional system, and its rituals are deeply rooted into our own personal lives. I don’t think it is a problem if it takes us a few more years to get it right.

The Results from our Early Adopters: The early adopters are now three to four years into implementation (with the exception of Chugach School District, which has been using a competency-based model for nearly two decades). Many have developed the systemic framework within a traditional agrarian, course-based model, which means that at first glance, it appears there is little innovation…until one looks deeper to see the benefits of greater personalization, student agency/voice/choice, consistency of proficiency scales across the school, and greater responsiveness to students who are struggling. (more…)

Learning Progressions: Are Student-Centered State Standards Possible?

July 27, 2015 by

Stepping StonesIt’s interesting – we have this enormous set of academic standards (Common Core, Next Generation Science, and other state standards), but it’s not 100 percent clear if they were designed by backing out of what a group of experts think students need to be “college and career ready,” or to what degree they were established by how students really learn, moving from one concept to the next. If we were really committed to student learning, then we would want to make sure that the way standards are organized is based on the very best of what we know about how students learn and how instruction can help students learn.

There has been substantial research into how students actually learn and the best strategies to help them advance to the next concept. This set of research has produced learning progressions (also called maps or trajectories, but I’ll just use the phrase learning progressions). It’s helpful to think about learning progressions as the stepping stones across a river – there are many ways across, but some are definitely better than others.

Achieve held a meeting in May, gathering the researchers and state leaders to talk about the learning progressions and the potential value to our efforts to establish competency-based pathways. It was a fascinating meeting because of the incredible potential of these powerful instructional approaches and because of the number of remaining issues that need to be resolved.

What are Learning Progressions and How are They Valuable?

One of the big issues (although it should not stop us from moving forward) is that there is no one agreed upon definition of learning progressions among the researchers who have developed them. In fact, their field would be much more influential if they did a bit of field-building among themselves. Examples of the definitions highlighted at the Achieve meeting include:

  • Increasingly sophisticated ways of thinking about or understanding a topic
  • A framework for formative classroom practice that reflects how students learn within a domain
  • Building blocks to mastery of knowledge and skills addressed in college- and career-ready standards

(more…)

Credibility Starts with Consistency with Common Assessments

May 26, 2015 by

Screenshot 2015-05-26 08.55.53The more I think about what the key elements of a competency system might be — those elements that if they working perfectly allow the system to weaken or be corrupted — the more I focus on ensuring that the system is calibrated or tuned. When a district or school puts that a student is proficient on the transcript then we need to have absolute trust that their is an agreement on what that means and that the next school or college will have a pretty darn close understanding of proficiency as well. Basically, we want our system to be credible and trusthworthy. That’s what accountability is all about.

And that’s why we need to do everything we can to build in this capacity into our districts and schools as fast as we can.  Our traditional system doesn’t expect this nor does it have the mechanisms in place to make it happen. That’s why we’ve had to turn to NAEP and state accountability assessments to tell us how we are doing helping our kids to learn.

And that’s why the webinar Ensuring Consistency When Using Common Assessments sponsored by Great Schools Partnership is so important. It’s tommorow, Wednesday May 27 from 3-4 EST.

Here’s the description: Ensuring consistency when using common assessments requires collaboration with colleagues to calibrate scoring, refine assessment tasks and scoring criteria, and collectively reflect on the results. This process ensures that there is a constant practice of evaluation and refining scoring criteria and assessment tasks and the instruction practices leading up to this. Ultimately, having more trustworthy judgments enables teachers to better align instructional strategies to student needs, provide more consistent feedback to students, and create opportunities  for deeper learning. In this webinar, we will present protocols and processes to create a system that supports teachers in the process of making consistent judgments on the quality of students’ work.

Presenters
Jon Ingram, Senior Associate, Great Schools Partnership
David Ruff, Executive Director, Great Schools Partnership
Becky Wilusz, Senior Associate, Great Schools Partnership

FYI — it’s free but registration is limited.

If I Were a Funder…Yubby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dum

May 14, 2015 by
Tevye

Zero Mostel as Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye, Wikipedia Commons

Everyone has ideas from time to time of what would be valuable to accelerate or improve the quality of implementation of competency-based education. But only a few folks are in a position to make the decisions about what efforts get funded. So the rest of us throw our arms around a bit like Tevye bemoaning what is really need in the field.

Once upon a time, I really was a funder focusing my energies on understanding trends and emerging issues, thinking as strategically as I could about what was going to be needed two to five years ahead and working to organize the funding with my colleagues. (When I’m not working on competency education, I still consult to foundations.) I’m occasionally asked by the CompetencyWorks funders to put on my “funder hat” and make suggestions for what would help the field of competency-based education, and I thought others might be interested in this topic.

This isn’t a full-fledged strategy based on a robust analytical process—just my best thinking to date. My high level analysis is that in general, CE is making steady advancements in K12 without any major conflict or issues arising. However, there are several areas of vulnerability that need to be addressed, including underdeveloped communication/messages; lack of evaluation, results, and an understanding of quality implementation; and challenges in transforming larger districts.

In considering opportunities and challenges, I used three different lenses:

1) What is needed to accelerate the expansion of competency education?

2) What type of infrastructure (policies and organizations) is needed to support it?

3) What is the capacity needed in the field that is in position to support the change process?

After you take a look at the ideas below, please share your thoughts on where you think the biggest challenges are facing us and what type of initiative would help us to overcome them. (more…)

European Insights into Competency

May 6, 2015 by

European ConferenceI stumbled across a very helpful article Competency-based education: learning at a time of change in Proceedings of “European/national initiatives to foster competency-based teaching and learning” European Conference 2014. Although there are issues to be considered in translating our competencies to the European competences, this article summarizes a number of ideas that I think will be helpful. (See International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad for more background info.)

I’ve plucked a number of the sections below for you to look at:

  1. Attributes of competency-based learning (for the learner themselves)
  2. Attributes of competency-based teaching
  3. Considerations for writing competency-based objectives

Just keep in mind as you read this that the structure has everything linking back to the outcome — and we know that it in fact we need to keep students at the core.

1. What are the key attributes of competency-based learning?

  • Understand how one learns best (style)
  • Understand exactly what is expected outcome(s) of learning
  • Take responsibility for one’s learning
  • Motivated to learn – goal oriented
  • Ethical person and practitioner
  • Critical thinker
  • Self-assess learning and performance
  • Commitment to ongoing learning

(more…)

High Schools May Be Competency-Based Without Knowing It?

April 25, 2015 by

StudentsDoes your high school offer Advanced Placement or IB tests? If so, you may be participating in a form of competency-based education in the higher education sector.

In his The Landscape of Competency-Based Education: Enrollments, Demographics and Affordability, Robert Kelchen includes AP and IB as a form of Prior Learning Assessment. Kelchen breaks down higher education competency-based education into two forms:

  1. Well-established prior learning assessments (PLA), which grant credits for content a student has previously mastered; and
  2. Newer competency-based coursework, where students progress toward a degree as they demonstrate mastery of new academic content.

I want to emphasize that these two forms apply to higher education. In K12, we are seeing the phrase competency education apply to everything from self-paced online curriculum to the full structural changes as advanced here at CompetencyWorks, which are designed to correct the low achievement and inequity of the traditional time-based system. We don’t think about giving credits to kindergartners who already know how to count to fifty when they enter school, instead focusing on where they are on a very long progression and making sure they are learning in their “zone” (as in, the zone of proximal development). (more…)

Three Perspectives on Personalization

April 22, 2015 by
Matt Riggan

Matt Riggan

Matt Riggan shares his perspective on the NGLC Bay Area convening, which took place in January 2015. This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on February 24, 2015.

Our two-day visit had been all about personalized learning. We’d heard that term in every school we visited and in every session in between. But what does it really mean?

Visiting schools and talking with other NGLC grantees, I heard three distinct visions for personalization.

The first focuses on using technology to locate and support students along a continuum of learning within a given content area. This view prioritizes meeting students where they are in literacy and mathematics. Students work at their own pace, and teachers have the ability to identify small groups for direct support and intervention. What is not necessarily personalized in this view is what kids actually learn. More often than not, that is defined by standards and accountability systems, or other external factors like college entrance requirements. (more…)

Generating Demand

April 6, 2015 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

Every month (if not every week), competency education is being incorporated into other frameworks and organizations. For example, competency-based progressions are included in definitions of personalized learning, student-centered learning, and another version of personalized learning. Organizations continue to include competency education in their national meeting agendas, when launching new initiatives, and for building organizational capacity. There are over forty organizations including, addressing, and/or advancing competency education in their work now. (If your organization isn’t on this list and you want it to be, please email me at chris (at) metisnet (dot) net.)

My concern is that a lot of resources are going toward advancing competency education at the state level when we know that educators need to come to their own conclusions that they can do better by the children in their classrooms and communities. Certainly it is important to help state level leaders understand competency education, begin to build needed alliances, and prioritize a policy agenda. However, I would argue that at this point in our development, it is even more important to begin to generate more demand for competency education from the ground up. (more…)

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