Category: District Exemplars

Talking Equity with John Duval

August 11, 2016 by
john_duval

John Duval

This is the ninth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, KAPPA International, North Queens Community High School, EPIC North, and New Classrooms

“Mastery-based learning can reopen a conversation about equity.”

With just these few words, John Duval launched us into a dynamic conversation. Duval leads the Model Redesign Team in the Office of Postsecondary Readiness, which houses a number of initiatives related to high school innovation around areas of whole school design, competency-based education (including the Mastery Collaborative), culturally relevant pedagogy, and effective uses of school time. Previously, Duval led the launch of the New York City Department of Education’s Expanding Success Initiative (ESI). This initiative, dedicated to improving education for African-American and Latino young men, launched the EPIC model, which will have four schools in both district and charter variations this coming September. Here are a few highlights of the conversation:

The Intersection of Culturally Responsive Education and Competency-Based Education

ESI designed the EPIC model with four core concepts, including competency-based education (CBE) and culturally responsive education (CRE), or the belief that “achievement is anchored not just in building from one’s existing strengths but in full engagement of one’s self and lived experience.” (See the EPIC Playbook for more information.) Duval explained how the intersection of these two concepts transforms the classroom and school dynamics. “Let’s start with the idea that mastery-based learning is a better way to do school,” he said. “When you focus on competencies, you are focusing on the ability to transfer skills and you are focusing on the important higher orders skills. In CBE, this is real shift for the teaching force in two ways. First, from a design perspective, it requires creating more complex learning arcs for young people. This is very difficult, especially if you’ve never been trained this way. Second, it creates more transparency and accountability for everyone involved. Once a student – especially an African American or Latino one – knows what skills he or she is supposed to develop, he or she can pinpoint what a teacher is or is not doing to help them.”

He continued, “Just knowing that grading is more objective based on progress toward standards rather than the highly variable, subjective conventional grading can bring a huge change in the student experience. Then when the practices are in place for students to have more agency and responsibility for their education, there can be a tremendous cultural shift in the school. There is more respect for students. And there is the expectation that when there is tension or conflict between a student and teacher, listening to each other and understanding each other’s perspective is the avenue for resolving it, not taking the student out of the classroom or the school. The practice of exclusion inhibits learning on the part of students and adults.” (more…)

Can Melrose Go Deeper with Competency-Based Education?

June 1, 2016 by

Melrose Public SchoolsMassachusetts is often recognized as a leader in education – although that is not so in the case of competency-based education. Even though it is home to two of the early competency-based innovators – Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy – Massachusetts to date has been slow to engage in making the transition to competency-based education.

That may be changing.

While I was in New England, I had the chance to talk with Melrose Public School Superintendent Cyndy Taymore and twenty or so others – teachers, principals, parents, union leaders, school board members, and special education specialists – involved in their exploration of what a competency-based system might look like. It was a wonderful experience for me, as I rarely get a chance to talk to districts in the early exploration stage.

It was also eye-opening, as they helped me understand that higher income and higher achieving districts might be interested in competency-based education as a means to introduce greater rigor and greater personalization into their system.

Why is Melrose Interested in Competency-Based Education?

Many districts come to competency-based education because of demographic changes that are bringing more low-income families into their communities and their realization that they need a better way to respond to greater diversity. Melrose is experiencing the opposite trend – it has been increasingly becoming more affluent, and parents are becoming more demanding that the schools provide high levels of rigor and more opportunities for their children. Melrose is considering competency-based education as a strategy that can benefit the traditionally high achieving student while opening the door for traditionally lower achieving students to thrive. (more…)

Naugatuck Public Schools: Making Meaning for Teachers with Mastery-Based Learning

May 10, 2016 by

NPS

This is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

Scroll to the bottom to see an example of Naugatuck’s curriculum framework for math.

“As a teacher, I couldn’t get traction. If mastery-based learning isn’t the district’s vision, how much can a teacher accomplish?”

I like to stay in touch with competency education leaders as they move from one position to another, from one organization to another. One might think of a bumble bee pollinating ideas – each idea become a richer hue as it interacts with other ideas, other people, and new applications.

Thus, during my trip to Connecticut, I visited Caroline Messenger, Curriculum Director, Naugatuck Public Schools, who had previously been a teacher at the high school. (Messenger has also been a writer at CompetencyWorks. See Learning My Lesson and How Do You Measure Competency? Curriculum Can Help Guide the Way.) I was interested to find out how her perspective had changed from being a teacher to being part of the leadership team. The conversation was quickly focused on instructional strategies, proving to me once again that mastery-based learning can create the conditions for lifting up the teaching profession from the narrow role of delivering curriculum as structured in the factory model to the astoundingly challenging and meaningful role of teaching children to learn.

“Mastery-based learning operates on a different set of assumptions,” Messenger reflected. “Even if you have two or three colleagues working together, it is difficult to bring mastery-based learning to life in the classroom without a district vision. As a teacher, you can focus on standards and develop your units around them, but there is no way to create a greater understanding of how the standards fit together to create a sense of purpose for learning if you are working in isolation. Teachers can organize their classrooms around standards, but we want so much more for kids. It takes a much broader vision. The vision of the district and the philosophy of the school shape how people relate to each other, determine what is important and where attention is directed, and sets the values.” (more…)

Windsor Locks: Starting with Pedagogy

May 5, 2016 by
Susan Bell

Susan Bell

This is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

“The real shift is in what is happening with our kids. ” – Susan Bell

Windsor Locks, located a bit outside of Hartford, Connecticut, didn’t have to make the move to mastery-based learning. As Superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools Susan Bell put it, “We did it because it makes sense to us. A D-minus and twenty-four credits is just not good enough. We drew the line in the sand. We are done working in ways that don’t make sense for our students.” (See Windsor Locks’ description of their mastery-based learning system.)

Why Mastery-Based Learning?

Connecticut has created innovation space for high schools to move to mastery-based learning. Windsor Locks decided it was an idea that is good for all students. In 2013, they set a deadline to have the fifth graders in that year graduate with a mastery-based diploma in 2020.

Bell explained, “We are focused on improving the quality of instruction by building a common belief system of what is good instruction and creating the instructional culture to support collaborative dialogue. The structure of mastery-based learning allows us to focus more closely on how students are progressing, allowing us to use instructional models that will work for students and provide more opportunity for them to be active learners.”

We all know there isn’t one perfect system of mastery-based learning…yet. Bell pointed out, “It seems we’re all waiting for the first successful model to be developed. But waiting meant we were delaying what we knew was good for students. So we took the bull by the horns and began the transition ourselves.”

The Path to Mastery-Based Learning

In 2011, the Windsor Locks School Board hired Wayne Sweeney as Superintendent, who Bell described as “a visionary leader who got us focused on the right things.” With Bell as Assistant Superintendent, the district began the journey with an extensive process engaging 400 stakeholders to create a vision of the system. They developed a long-range plan built upon the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools. (more…)

Creating Meaningful Instruction through Mastery-Based Learning in New Haven, CT

May 3, 2016 by

New HavenThis is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

Despite snow days and flus and deadlines, I had the chance to visit with the leadership teams at New Haven Public Schools and New Haven Academy in March.

At New Haven Public Schools, I met with Superintendent Garth Harries; Imma Canelli, Deputy Superintendent; and Suzanne Lyons, Project Manager. Click here to read about New Haven Academy.

New Haven Public Schools is interested in mastery-based learning as it is a natural progression from the standards movement. Once standards are established, the question becomes, “How do we help students reach them, and how do we know if they reach them?” New Haven sees mastery-based learning as the framework to help create purposeful, meaningful instruction.

Lyons expanded this by adding, “Mastery-based learning is all about helping students become successful. Competencies are a starting point, but if your approach to mastery-based learning is just about competencies and grading, you are missing out on the purpose. It’s about instruction and additional instructional support when students need.”

About five years ago, New Haven joined the League of Innovation Schools and began to get exposed to the concept of competency-based learning. The next step was that five of the ten high schools began to participate as a PLC with Great Schools Partnership, including monthly meetings of the principals. The participating schools are High School in the Community, New Haven Academy, Metropolitan Business Academy, Cooperative Arts and Humanities, and Sound School. (more…)

Charleston: Progression of Implementation for Personalized Learning

March 29, 2016 by

mindsetThis is the second post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework here.

One of the big—no, huge—takeaways from Charleston County School District was the framework the district has created and the structure for personalized professional development. Thanks to Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning;

Sherry Kirkland, Professional Development Administrator; Rebecca Mestaz, Marzano Research; and Personalized Learning coaches Kimberly Kascak, Kayela Clark, Hannah Studemeyer, Jessica Lucas, and Erin Abner for sharing their powerful insights.

Personalizing Learning for Teachers

CCSD has made two big advancements in the field of competency-based education. The first is a very strong framework of personalized learning that integrates competency-based learning, student-directed learning, and flexible learning environments (see the first post on CCSD for more information). The second is their “Personalized PD Model” (pictured below) for PL coaches to support teachers in building the capacity and developing the skills to implement the personalized learning framework. This progression allows the PL coaches to personalize the learning for teachers just as teachers will personalize for students. (more…)

Charleston County School District: Breaking Ground for Personalized Learning in Big Districts

March 28, 2016 by

CCSDThis post kicks off my tour of Charleston County School District in South Carolina. The next post looks more deeply at implementation strategies.

A few times during my visit to Charleston County School District (CCSD), I felt my jaw hit the ground. Even though, at the time, they were just entering into the third year of implementation, the team of district staff, personalized learning coaches, principals, teachers, and partners engaged in this work are advancing our understanding of how we can effectively introduce personalized, competency-based education in medium- to large-sized districts.

In this series—which is based on my two days with Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning; Sherry Kirkland, Personalized Learning Professional Development Administrator; and a team of personalized learning coaches, principals, and teachers—I’ll share some of the most important things I learned, including:

  • CCSD’s powerful Personalized Learning Framework
  • CCSD’s Personalized Learning Progression
  • Strategies for change
  • Focus on student agency and achievement

CCSD is making tremendous progress even though they are still in the early stages of implementation. They provide support to approximately twenty of the district’s eighty-six schools. Although they are not yet engaged in whole district implementation, they have been building the supports, tools, and best practices to make this vision a reality. The district is moving to a more personalized approach to professional development via initiatives such as their Read to Succeed District Literacy Plan. It is well worth the visit to Charleston if you are a medium or large (or even small!) district contemplating the move to personalized, competency-based learning. For more information about learning tours please contact Christina_Counts (at) Charleston (dot) k12 (dot) sc (dot) us. (Lake County in Florida and Henry County in Georgia are also districts that can be helpful in thinking through medium-sized district strategies.) (more…)

What We Can Learn from Chugach School District

March 8, 2016 by

AKIt’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? The first district to design a competency-based system was a relatively new one, located in the most northwestern corner of our country and serving remote villages of Native Alaskans. You can read all about it in the new report Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System.

Staying 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. As we know, competency-based education starts with the idea that we can actually design for success and eliminate the traditional practices that lead to sorting and inequity. It also positions districts to manage continuous improvement processes that are constantly helping to build the organizational and instructional capacity of schools.

What Chugach helped me to understand is how profoundly competency-based education positions teachers to be able to use (and develop) their instructional expertise, their assessment literacy, their creativity, and their relational skills in helping students become independent learners.

Although I think this report will be helpful to anyone interested in competency-based education, it will be particularly useful to those interested in teaching and learning within competency-based schools, those working in rural communities, those thinking about how to create the competency-based infrastructure, and those working with Native American, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian communities.

If you want to learn more about Chugach, we highly recommend Delivering on the Promise. It’s a great read for anyone who is trying to understand what competency-based education is really about.

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

by

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…)

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