Category: District Exemplars

Kettle Moraine: How They Got Here and Where They are Going

December 4, 2017 by

Image from the Kettle Moraine website

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the second in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Before they turned to personalized learning, Kettle Moraine School District (KM) was already considered a high performing school district, with 80-90 percent of students going on to post-secondary education and training and numerous recognitions of excellence every year. Superintendent Patricia DeKlotz explained, “How we think of success and high performance is based on what we measure. Eighty percent of our students go on to college, but only 45 percent of those students complete post-secondary. We want to measure ourselves based on things that really count for our students. We know we can do better. We know we can create more relevance for our students and their futures. ”

In fact, some people interpreted the suggestion that there should be change as an indication that there was a problem. DeKlotz explained, “When we first started talking about personalization, some people didn’t understand why. They saw it as we aren’t good enough. But that wasn’t the case at all. We are changing because we can do better, not that we are failing. This is important because trust between a district and the community, between schools and parents, begins with the belief that we are doing the very best for students. It’s important to begin from a position of strength if you can.” Assistant Superintendent Theresa Ewald added, “Many of the traditional measures of success used are those that were set in a time when few attended college, when knowledge was less accessible to all. The context has changed, so must the measures of success.”

There was another driving force: finances. Wisconsin, like other states, hasn’t been keeping up with increases in inflation, and the cost pressures are significant on districts. KM had had revenue limits in place since 1993. DeKlotz described that previous response to the tightening fiscal situation was to try to cut programs and drop things from the budget. Her background in business and familiarity with the Kaizan approach encouraged her to find another way. As did meeting Richard DeLorenzo, one of the architects of the Chugach performance-based model at a MCREL meeting. The dual drivers of costs and excellence catalyzed KM to look for more cost-effective ways of organizing education. Their answer was personalizing education to create more efficiency and to be much more effective for preparing their students for college, careers, and all they might encounter in life.

The shift to personalized learning and the district’s ability to sustain the transformation is based on four major processes:

  • School board adoption of a policy governance model: Working with Superintendent Pat DeKlotz, the school board clarified its role as policy, advocacy, and helping to promote the district. This left DeKlotz and her team to make strategic and operational decisions as they emerged.
  • Strategic visioning: Every three to four years, the district engages 100 members of the community in building a strategic vision. The most recent developed the vision of Learning Without Boundaries and guides the district today. The final product is a paper that is shared widely in the hopes of reaching even more people to engage them in the shared vision.
  • District annual retreat: Every year the school board and leadership council, consisting of twenty-four community members and educators, reflect on data about student achievement, school performance, financials, and student and parent feedback. They set the goals for the next year and develop 100-day action plans. This continuous improvement and public accountability has been instrumental in building trust between the district and community.
  • School annual retreats: Every school uses the same retreat process with a leadership team, reflection on school goals aligned with district goals, action plans, and monitoring implementation of those plans.

DeKlotz emphasized, “These processes have proven to be essential. This is how we hold the change process tight and not have things slip off the plate.” The strategic visioning process was particularly meaningful. As described in the first article about personalized learning in Wisconsin, the Institute for Personalized Learning describes three core elements of personalized learning: learner profile to track student learning; customized learning plans; and proficiency-based progress. KM wanted to make sure their understanding of personalized learning was embedded in their own experiences as a community. Based on the strategic visioning process, KM developed the vision statement Learning Without Boundaries, which captures the spirit of their personalized learning approach. (more…)

Kettle Moraine: Where the Future of Education is Being Created Student by Student

by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the first in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Start the entire series here.

There are many reasons to learn about what Kettle Moraine School District is doing:

  • Personalizing education;
  • Opening up learning by using a learner continuum rather than grade level standards;
  • Multi-age classrooms;
  • Chartering schools to test innovations prior to scaling;
  • Micro-credentials;
  • Place-based learning; and
  • Community outreach and community partnerships.

Similar to Waukesha’s STEM Academy, Kettle Moraine (KM) is using a learner continuum that recognizes where the student is and where they will go. Although the standards might be the same, organizing around the learner rather than the grade level opens up new ways of organizing learning. It’s easier to think about meeting students where they are. It’s easier to allow students to learn above their grade level. It’s easier to think about providing students multiple opportunities for how they learn, as teachers must have resources and assessments prepared for students at different places along the continuum. This is the direction every district should be going.

This series is designed to help you understand the Kettle Moraine (KM) approach and how they are making it work. But don’t get too excited. Kettle Moraine is implementing personalized learning based on a strong culture of learning, a belief that students can learn to be independent learners, and a few powerful structures including a graduate profile and learner continuua. And each personalized learning school has then selected their own themes, their own learning designs, and instructional strategies to emphasize. Thus, you are not going to find an easy recipe for replication. Wherever I could, I’ve added links to KM video and resources so you can go even deeper. I truly encourage you to take the time to read this series slowly.

Get Ready to Read This Series

To get ready to read this series, I also encourage you to do two things and to consider two things. (more…)

Buzzing Toward Personalized Learning in Wisconsin

October 23, 2017 by

Click image to enlarge.

This is the first post in a series on my visit to Wisconsin.

We know there are different entry points to developing a personalized, competency-based system. But what we don’t know is whether they all get us to a high quality competency-based system, what the primary features of the system will be, and what the journey might look like. My visit to Wisconsin in the spring suggests that starting with a strong orientation to customized learning paths and proficiency-based progress may help us to leapfrog out of the age-based “covering the standards” approach that so many schools still find themselves in to a learning continuum that provides much more flexibility and the ability to meet students where they are.

It’s taken me a very long time to write up my visits to Waukesha School District and Kettle-Moraine School District because of their orientation and approach…and because the way they are organizing their schools is substantially different than what I’ve seen before. I find that writing about the most innovative models takes me the longest because I don’t want to push them into the themes and boxes of my previous understanding. They need to be described in a way that captures their values, framing, and spirit.

The Institute for Personalized Learning, launched by CESA #1, has played a very influential role in introducing Wisconsin districts to the concepts of personalized learning. They define personalized learning as an approach to learning and instruction that is designed around the individual learner readiness, strengths, needs and interests. Their approach to school transformation, 27 Personalized Learning Elements, is fondly known as the honeycomb. Originally, proficiency-based learning was just one of 27 elements of personalized learning. Now it is one of the three core elements along with learner profiles and customized learning paths. Thanks to Jim Rickabaugh, the founding director of IPL and now a senior fellow, and Ryan Krohn, current director, for all their help in introducing me to their approach to personalized learning.

The Personalized Learning Honeycomb

Starting with 27 elements is a lot to make sense of, but IPL has organized it with four levels that you can use to get your head wrapped around it: (more…)

Starting with Design Principles in Cleveland

July 5, 2017 by

Image from the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools Wesbsite

This is the second of a five-part series on competency-based schools in Cleveland Metropolitan Schools.

In its efforts to expand its portfolio of high schools, Cleveland has created four new schools using the Opportunity by Design framework supported by Carnegie Corporation and its partner, Springpoint. We visited two schools in the Lincoln-West building, Global Studies and School of Science and Health, followed by two schools in the JFK building, E3agle Academy and PACT (Problem-Based Academy of Critical Thinking). Each of the schools has a different theme or emphasis, while all draw on the design principles to create personalized, competency-based schools with deeper learning opportunities for students.

The Design Principles and Process

The new schools were developed using the following ten principles.

  1. Integrates positive youth development to optimize student engagement & effort
  2. Has a clear mission & coherent culture
  3. Develops & deploys collective strengths
  4. Remains porous & connected
  5. Prioritizes mastery of rigorous standards aligned to college & career readiness
  6. Personalizes student learning to meet student needs
  7. Empowers & supports students through key transitions into & beyond high school
  8. Maintains an effective human capital strategy aligned with school model & priorities
  9. Continuously improves its operations & model
  10. Manages school operations efficiently & effectively

Schools engaged youth and the surrounding communities to shape their missions and their themes. (See Designing New School Models – A Practical Guide.) (more…)

Cleveland: Where Pedagogy Comes First

June 26, 2017 by

This is the first of a five-part series on competency-based schools in Cleveland Metropolitan Schools.

Starting up a school is challenging. No matter how much planning takes place, the first year is spent working out the design and operational kinks. Starting up a school that is mastery-based when no one in the district has had much experience in the model adds an entirely new level of challenge. But that’s what Cleveland Metropolitan Schools is doing (in partnership with the Carnegie Corporation and Springpoint) in creating new schools that are aligned with the Opportunity by Design principles.

Natalie Abel, program manager for CompetencyWorks; Ashley Jones, iNACOL communications associate; and I spent two days in Cleveland visiting schools in their first and third years to better understand how schools develop and fine-tune their models. We particularly want to thank Darcel Williams, Program Manager for New School Model, and Kristen Kelly, Mastery Learning Specialist, for hosting and organizing our visit. They were tremendously generous with time, insights, and experts.

From Teaching to Teaching and Learning

We started our visit to Cleveland with a discussion with Christine Fowler-Mack, Chief Portfolio Officer over New & Innovative Schools and Programs; Joseph Micheller, Executive Director of New School Development; Darcel Williams; and Kristen Kelly. It’s important to understand that Cleveland is using a portfolio strategy to improve their schools. In general, the portfolio strategy applies to high schools while the K-8 schools remain neighborhood-based.

For those of you not familiar with the portfolio strategy, it’s a school reform model that seeks to create choice among diverse, autonomous schools. The role of districts also changes, moving to managing a portfolio, including opening and closing schools, monitoring performance, and providing support. As part of this strategy, Cleveland has participated in Center for Reinventing Public Education’s network of districts using the portfolio strategy. Cleveland started down the path toward building a portfolio of high schools in 2006 using a set of design principles and building the district capacity to support the launch new schools. Among Cleveland’s 101 schools are four big comprehensive high schools and thirty-three small high schools.

Fowler-Mack explained that Cleveland is developing a district-wide pedagogical philosophy. It’s best explained as moving from a philosophy solely focused on teaching to one focused on teaching and learning. Similar to New Hampshire, Cleveland is turning to Elmore’s work on the instructional core to guide them.

Engaging Educators

Fowler-Mack explained that the reactions some educators demonstrated toward school improvement efforts were originally viewed as resistance. However, over the years her understanding has changed: She now understands it is as fear of effectiveness. “This isn’t about a clash of philosophy,” explained Fowler-Mack. “It’s about how we can evolve the practices educators use to help students. It’s about how we ensure that as teachers go through the journey, they have adequate support.” Williams continued, “There is always some organic learning in schools. Teachers are interested in learning about effective practices. But the learning curve is too steep to have everyone progressing organically in building their professional learning. We want to offer the right level of constructive learning.”

Fowler-Mack explained why the language of teaching and learning is more effective for them than personalized learning or competency-based education. “If we use the language of competency-based education, it sounds as if it is something totally new,” she said. “They don’t make the connections to sound principles of teaching and learning. We want teachers to see the similarities and build off their strengths.” They have learned that analogies and direct language about what they intend for kids to learn has been helpful.

Introducing a district-wide pedagogy within a portfolio district is a big, and very important, leadership lift. There are too many schools in our country that deliver curriculum without taking a step back to clarify their pedagogical approach and ensure that it builds on what research tells us about learning, motivation, and engagement. Fowler-Mack explained that it is important to have multiple strategies for engaging educators, “It is more important that we take into consideration what our educators need rather than to simply ask if they have bought into a vision. Some people believe in the ideas of personalized learning and thrive when given the opportunity. Some believe in the ideas but are not sure about what it looks like. And some people root themselves in what they’ve done because of their beliefs or because of fear. Under pressure, they can fight back.” Williams added, “When you ask people to change practices, you have to provide consistent and deep support. We can’t underestimate the change from, ‘I just taught it,’ to ‘Did kids learn it?’ Even really great, passionate teachers still have to learn to check in if kids are learning. They have to learn how to keep students engaged in the learning and to reflect on their own practice when they need to.”

For example, Williams explained how effective assessment for learning strategies are helping students to learn as well as educators, “We are entering a new phase of understanding the relationship between assessment and accountability. As we think about students demonstrating what they’ve learned and having multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning, we move beyond the ideas of one final test or annual state tests.” She explained that students at Lincoln West Global Studies had just completed their Exhibitions of Learning, complete with transparent rubrics, presentations to community members, and authentic feedback on their performance tasks. She emphasized, “It was amazing to see the growth in the educators in the school as well as the students. It gave me hope for a first year school to grapple with what it means to use exhibitions as a form of assessment.”

As Cleveland moves forward in this transition using a strategy to introduce a framework for teaching and learning, there are likely to be important lessons for other districts. (more…)

Encouraging Learning Risks and Growth

May 2, 2017 by

This is the fourth and final post on Student-Focused Learning in Springdale, Arkansas.

We want students to take learning risks and press themselves to learn and achieve beyond the minimums we expect and require. We know that after they leave us, their success will greatly depend on their ability and inclination to take responsibility, make commitments, and push themselves to risk, learn, and grow without always having to be pushed.

Yet, the traditional design of schools is based on assumptions of compliance, responding to the direction of adults and meeting the expectations of others. More than one hundred years ago, when the American public school system was designed, these conditions made sense. Most students would leave school and enter a workforce where compliance, following directions, and meeting external expectation were most of what was required.

The world has changed and will change even more in the decades today’s students will spend in the workforce. In an era of learning and innovation, success will require commitment, curiosity, creativity, and courage to act, even when not all elements and implications of the situation are known. Preparing today’s learners for their future asks more of us and them than the legacy design of schools can deliver. We must create a new set of learning conditions, expectations, and supports if we hope to have our students leave us ready for their futures.

This reality was reinforced for during a recent conversation with students at the Don Tyson School of Innovation (DTSOI) in Springdale, Arkansas. The conversation also gave me hope and confidence that it is possible to create these conditions and position students to take risks, venture beyond their experiences, and engage their world inside and outside of school with courage and commitment. The students were freshmen and sophomores who are learning in a very different environment than most adults experienced.

Interestingly, the students emphasized the importance of having adults around them who care deeply about them and their success, make risk-taking safe, allow mistakes and missteps to be part of learning – not embarrassing or shameful actions – and hold high expectations for their learning success. As one of the students explained, “We know that teachers here are in our corner. They want us to succeed, but don’t expect us to be perfect.” Another noted, “When we try something and it does not work out, or we fail, they are ready to listen, talk, and help us figure out what to do next.” (more…)

Finding Time and Providing Support for Student-Driven Learning

April 26, 2017 by

This is the third post on Student-Focused Learning in Springdale, Arkansas.

If we want students to be prepared to innovate and drive their future learning, they need a set of skills and experiences that prepare them. We cannot expect learners who have grown up on a steady diet of being told what to learn, when to learn, how to learn, and how well to learn to confidently and competently understand and engage in self-initiated learning as adults.

Yet, self-initiated and self-directed learning will likely play a key role in their ability to survive and thrive in an economy that is increasingly driven by learning and innovation. Once they leave us, they will no longer be able to depend on having what they need to know delivered in a professionally prepared, perfectly time, expertly delivered lesson.

What students know when they leave us remains important, but we cannot predict what they will need to know even five years beyond graduation. Many of today’s students will be engaged in work that has yet to be invented, using skills that have yet to be defined. In many cases, they will be asked to create and shape these roles, not just fill them.

This reality presents at least three challenges for us as we think about the allocation of time and our focus on learning priorities for today’s students. First, we must find time for students to engage in this type of learning without sacrificing development of core academic knowledge and skills. Second, we need to engage with students to create authentic, significant, and purposeful learning experiences in which they are active co-creators and shared owners. Third, students need to see learning as having value for them and relevance to their lives now and in the future.

I gained some important insights into how we can meet these challenges during a recent visit to the Don Tyson School of Innovation (DTSOI) in Springdale, Arkansas. The Tyson School of Innovation serves approximately 500 students, 47 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch and more than 50 percent of whom are minorities. Most of the families do not have a history of education beyond high school. DTSOI was created through the imagination, creativity, and leadership of its principal, Joe Rollins. DTSOI has taken on the dual challenge of addressing core academic competencies while preparing students for the workplace of the future, and has some important insights and strategies to share. (more…)

Building Learning Momentum at Springdale’s School of Innovation

April 24, 2017 by

This is the second post on Student-Focused Learning in Springdale, Arkansas. Read the first post here.

I find it exhilarating when what I hear from people in the field brings to life what I have read in research and know from experience to be true. This sense is especially powerful when the insights come from learners.

I recently spent some time with a group of high school students at the Don Tyson School of Innovation (DTSOI) in Springdale, Arkansas, querying them about their experiences and what makes their learning lives at DTSOI stand out. I received an earful and it was great. It was especially powerful since so much of what I heard is highly consistent with what research tells us about motivation, the role of purpose in learning, and the importance of taking ownership for the direction of our lives.

As educators, we can spend a good portion of our time looking for ways and trying out strategies to motivate learners. We know that motivation is the entry point to stimulate and support engagement in learning. Without motivation, not much learning happens. Yet, as I listened to what these learners were describing about their learning and the environment at DTSOI, I kept wondering if we too often approach this challenge from the wrong direction. One of the young men captured this insight succinctly, “I now understand that I cannot wait for someone to motivate me. I need to be responsible for motivating myself.” What a powerful understanding about life and success! This student’s observation begs the question of whether we should be spending less of our time trying to motivate students and more time focusing on developing the ability and inclination of students to be the source of their own motivation. We know that the ability to self-motivate is a key life skill, but how can we build this capacity in learners? More about that later.

While I was absorbing the significance of helping learners build the capacity to motivate themselves, another student followed with an equally powerful observation. She noted, “At DTSOI, almost everything we do has a purpose. Whether it is what we are learning in class, participating in an internship, or listening to people talk about the real world, there is a purpose behind it.” Again, a powerful insight about success in life. The more we see the purpose in what we do, the more likely we are to focus on and persist in achieving what we set out to do. If we can help students to seek and see purpose in their learning, their success is likely to grow. If we can help them to transfer a sense of purpose to their lives, we give them a gift that can last a lifetime. Again, more about this later.

Yet another student observed that what makes learning at DTSOI unique is that students actively participate in planning their own learning paths. He noted that students, with their parents, have planning conferences with school staff. They set goals, decide the direction they want to pursue, and then select and create options and opportunities to form the learning path. Once the path has been created, learners still have regular opportunities to make adjustments and add experiences and elements that combine formal learning in school and community college with less formal, application-based learning in the community. It was clear from the discussion that students found this aspect of their learning very powerful.

So, what do we know from research about learning that parallels and reinforces the experiences these students shared? It turns out there is plenty. (more…)

Springdale, Arkansas: A Tradition of Innovation and Future of Opportunity

April 19, 2017 by

James Rickabaugh

CompetencyWorks is delighted to share with you a special four-part series based on James Rickabaugh’s Student Focused Learning tour in Springdale, Arkansas. Rickabaugh is the senior advisor at Wisconsin’s Institute for Personalized Learning and the author of Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning: A Roadmap for School Leaders.

I love visiting schools, talking with students and educators and seeing the power of learning. That’s why a recent visit to the Springdale School District in Springdale, Arkansas, was a special treat. I met wonderful educators and enthusiastic and motivated learners and encountered some innovative, promising ideas and practices worth sharing.

Arkansas has recently taken some important and promising steps forward with the creation of a state Office of Innovation. In 2013, the Office of Innovation for Education was opened to support local education innovation through designation as Districts of Innovation. The Office of Innovation is located at the University of Arkansas, led by Denise Tobin Airola and her team. Springdale was one of the original school districts to apply for and be selected as Districts of Innovation by then Commissioner of Education Tom Kimbrell. In addition, Springdale was awarded a Federal Race to the Top District Grant in 2014 to accelerate its efforts to rethink and redesign learning that is “student focused.” The focus of the grant included beginning to move beyond seat time and traditional credits as measures of learning to focus on competency and supporting students to become more actively engaged in and take greater ownership for their learning, including the launch of student-led conferences.

Springdale has long enjoyed a reputation for excellence and innovation within Arkansas. However, as I learned more about Springdale’s recent history, this culture of innovation became even more obvious and seemed like a model from which others could learn. Just a few decades ago, Springdale was largely a Caucasian community enrolling around 5,000 students. Today, Springdale serves 21,500 students in PK-12. Meanwhile, the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic composition of the learner population has become much more diverse. The school district has a majority-minority student enrollment, including 31 percent Caucasian students, 47 percent English Language Learners, 46 languages spoken, and 63 percent free and reduced lunch eligibility. Included among the diverse learners is a comparatively large Marshallese population. (Native to the Marshall Islands, the Marshallese historically were a fishing-based culture until a portion of their country became the site of U.S. nuclear testing in the 1950s. A subsequent agreement with the U.S. government allows the Marshallese to travel freely between their country and the United States.) (more…)

CBE in Chicago

April 4, 2017 by

This is the first post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago.

Chicago perseveres. And it is paying off in education – most trend lines are going in the right direction. I started visiting Chicago to learn about their efforts to improve education over twenty years ago. It’s a huge city (the district has 516 district-run schools and 125 charters serving a student population with over 80 percent at an economical disadvantage) working within the context of historical racism that created rigid segregation. (Please put The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration on your reading list.) It’s obvious that these dynamics are still at play, limiting opportunity and sometimes breaking the social contract. Yet, there are hundreds of organizations and thousands upon thousands of educators who, day in and day out, are working to improve educational opportunity in Chicago.

In terms of competency-based education, there aren’t 1,000 CBE flowers blooming in Chicago…yet. There are shoots popping up in the city, school by school. I visited four schools on the move. Thanks to Amy Huang at LEAP and Alan Mather and Dakota Pawlicki from CPS’s Office of College and Career Success, I was able to visit Lovett Elementary, CISCS West Belden, Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy (Lindblom), and Benito Juarez Community Academy.

State Policy Context

In 2016, Illinois state legislature passed the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act, which included a competency-based pilot as well as an effort to begin the calibration process between graduation expectations in mathematics and freshman-year mathematics in higher education.

The IL Department of Education has launched the Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program for twelve districts to “replace high school graduation course requirements with a competency-based learning system.” The pilot only focuses on grades 9-12, although districts will quickly learn that they are going to want a full district system – otherwise there is a constant flow of students with big gaps in their learning, as students in the earlier years are passed on without ensuring they are mastering the fundamentals.

See articles on IL for more information: (more…)

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