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Not Your Grandpa’s Voc Ed: Rigorous Career and Technical Education in Henry County, Georgia

May 7, 2016 by

RoboticsThis post originally appeared on the New England Secondary School Consortium on behalf of Great Schools Partnership. It also appeared on Students at the Center

When many of us think of “career and technical education,” we likely recall dusty wood shops, half-finished projects, and cantankerous teachers with untamed hair and maybe a missing finger or three. Or we might envision a class of students and teachers corralled in a section of rooms, walled off from the rest of the school like the two Berlins of old. Or perhaps we think about students who choose career and technical courses because the perception is that they’re “easy electives.”

But in Henry County, Georgia, career and technical education isn’t easy at all: it’s all about challenging students academically.

At the New England Secondary School Consortium’s 2016 High School Redesign in Action conference, Sharon Bonner and John Steiner of the Henry County’s Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) program guided participants through their district’s experiences in a session entitled, “Creating Competencies for Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education.”

The Henry County Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education program will provide a rigorous, relevant, and technologically advanced curriculum that will be available to all Henry County students, teaching them how to be lifelong learners while preparing them for the transition to secondary, postsecondary, and employment endeavors. Remarkably, Henry County’s CTAE program currently serves 82% of the students in the school district, and just over 11,000 high school students are taking at least one CTAE pathway course this academic year.

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Blast Off with the Assessment for Learning Grantees

April 19, 2016 by

AfLWith ESSA upon us, we are all hurrying to get our heads wrapped around what is possible in terms of how we think about ensuring that our districts and schools are meeting needs of children and what state policy might look like to create the conditions, systems of supports, and appropriate expectations to drive dynamic, active learning experiences for students while improving services to historically underserved populations of students. It’s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

One resource that hopefully will help us along the way is the Assessment for Learning project developed by Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at the University of Kentucky in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) at EDUCAUSE. The AfL project has been designed to explore:

  • How can assessment support a broader definition of student success?
  • What assessment practices most effectively empower students to own and advance their learning?
  • How can we most effectively build educator capacity to gather, interpret, and use evidence of student learning to enhance instruction?
  • How does assessment for learning inform broader contexts of accountability, policy, and system design?
  • How can we pursue equity through assessment for learning?

AfL has announced their twelve grantees, and I thought I’d bring to your attention a couple of the projects that are positioned well to help us understand what a personalized, competency-based system of assessments might look like. They are tackling issues such as grades (letter and age), habits of success, performance-based assessment, micro-credentialing, competency-based approaches to helping teachers learn about performance-based assessments, and student agency. We are about to lift off on a huge new wave of learning! (more…)

Putting the Pieces Together

February 27, 2016 by

GeorgiaThis post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s The EdFly Blog on February 1, 2016.

In the midst of holiday preparations, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission issued its final report and gave competency-based education advocates a little present.

With a clear charge from the Governor to develop a system allowing students to progress and learn at their unique pace, the Commission’s Move On When Ready Subcommittee gave careful thought to the many different ways new learning pathways could be developed or expanded for Georgia’s students. One of its recommendations was to begin the transition to a competency-based education system—an important component of personalized learning that allows students to advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.

Even before the subcommittee began its work, Georgia had made significant steps to encourage innovation in education and regulatory flexibility for schools and districts testing new ways to personalize learning. In fact, the core pieces were already in place to accelerate the adoption of competency-based education. The subcommittee’s final recommendations clearly communicate the priority and leverage the opportunities already available in Georgia.

Strong State Support
Since the 2013 report of the Governor’s Digital Learning Task Force, Governor Deal’s support has been strong. The task force made six competency-based learning specific recommendations. The recommendations spanned from assessments to funding, with an overarching theme to “provide blended and competency-based learning opportunities, so that PK-12 and postsecondary students are able to broaden, accelerate, or otherwise pace their learning appropriately and ensure mastery before progressing.” The Georgia Department of Education has also demonstrated its commitment to this policy through Georgia’s Path to Personalized Learning. The path provides more information on a variety of state-level resources available to schools to help them transition to personalized and competency-based learning. (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…)

Henry County Schools: Impact Academy

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Impact AcademyThis post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the last 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.

Of the many innovative steps Henry County has taken is the Impact Academy, designed to give students a non-traditional option to their school experience. Impact Academy serves secondary school students through a blended virtual school or enriched virtual school. Okay, that’s a bit confusing. It’s a virtual school because students can spend most of their time learning at home and teachers work at their homes two days per week. However it’s blended in that students come to school for up to two days per week to get face-to-face support from teachers and collaborate with other students around projects. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Leadership and Learning explained it as, “We wanted to do enriched virtual learning. The online curriculum is the core of the work, with teachers available to work with students who need extra help. Students can come in any time, but they are required to meet with their teachers if they are struggling or falling behind. Essentially, the program becomes more structured the more students struggle.”

For eleven years, Henry County had been developing and using their own online content, combining their course catalog with that of Georgia Virtual School to offer a wide variety of courses. When they realized that 13 percent of the students were being served through private schools, home schooling, or virtual schools, they decided they needed to expand their options. By building out the district capacity to provide online educational opportunities, they are also able to ensure that it is consistent with the personalized, competency-based approach. Currently, 720 full-time and 1500 part-time students are served in a row of nine trailers on the grounds of Henry County High School. (more…)

3 Smart State Approaches to Competency-Based Education

February 10, 2016 by

SuppliesThis post originally appeared on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Ed Fly Blog on December 30, 2015.

There is a growing chorus of excitement and interest in competency-based education (CBE). One of the biggest draws is the potential for competency-based education to better meet individual student needs and eliminate learning gaps that traditional time-based systems have not been able to close.
In a competency-based system, each individual student progresses as learning expectations are met, rather than moving through a predetermined curriculum schedule dictated by fixed, age-based grade levels or seat-time requirements (sometimes expressed as Carnegie Units or credit hours).

Although the idea of time becoming the variable and learning the constant is attractive, making that a reality sometimes leaves the strongest of advocates scratching their heads. Many policymakers are committed to next generation reforms and have a sense of urgency, yet at the same time they have seen enough failed reform efforts to know that fidelity in implementation is paramount.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways states can create the conditions in which CBE can thrive and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is committed to supporting states in these efforts.

Our principal recommendation is for states to authorize the creation of innovation districts or schools to pilot a competency-based system and identify the pathway for statewide policy adoption. (For more, see our model policy.) This strategy paves the road for innovative leaders to request flexibility from the rules or regulations that hinder innovation while committing to transition to competency-based education. (more…)

Georgia’s Education Reform Commission Recommends Moving to Competency Education

January 8, 2016 by

GA Education Reform CommissionAt the end of the 2015, the Georgia Education Reform Commission released its recommendations for Governor Deal. The Commission established five committees to look at a number of issues, including competency-based education, early childhood education, expanding educational opportunities, teacher recruitment and retention, and funding formulas.

The report on Move on When Ready is worth looking at. Although I’ve included all their recommendations, take a peek at recommendations 1, 2, and 4. The Commission calls for the state to “develop a pilot program of competency-based education prior to statewide implementation, incorporate the model as a priority in Georgia’s existing Innovation Fund, and explore possibilities of integration into various school governance models.” They also call for much more flexibility in Georgia’s Milestone testing so that it is available every nine weeks instead of once a year, moving toward a “just in time assessment” philosophy.

Coming up soon on CompetencyWorks is an in-depth look at the efforts of Georgia’s Henry County Schools to introduce a comprehensive system of personalized learning with competency education as the cornerstone. In the meantime, here are links to posts on Fulton County’s efforts and their back room infrastructure.

MOVE ON WHEN READY SUBCOMMITTEE

As each year passes, more and more jobs in Georgia require credentials beyond a high school diploma. To be college and career ready, a student must obtain the skills necessary to survive and thrive in a 21st century workforce. For many, traditional models of instruction simply are not enough to maximize their potential academic achievement. To educate a generation that faces an increasingly globalized world with new challenges appearing daily, Georgia must be innovative and forward-thinking.

The phrase “Move On When Ready” is more than a dual enrollment opportunity for students; it represents an entirely new way of thinking about education. Why hold a child back when he is ready to tackle the next subject? Why push a child forward when additional time and instruction could help prevent future struggles? Why restrict a teacher when she knows how best to motivate and accelerate her students’ learning? These questions, among others, were discussed by the commission during its deliberations. Opportunities such as blended learning, middle/high school partnerships, competency-based learning, computer-based learning, flipped classrooms, new pathways for graduation, project-based learning and test-out options, in addition to traditional modes of instruction, were considered in terms of not “Can Georgia do this?” but rather, “How Georgia can do this?” The recommendations below, listed in priority order, represent feasible and necessary actions for the state of Georgia in order to fully cultivate a student population ready for life beyond the classroom.

Recommendation 1: Develop and implement multiple formative assessments in literacy and numeracy for students in grades K-3, which would serve the function of Student Learning Objectives in those grades, and extend these assessments to grades 4 and 5 numerical fluency once K-3 is in place.

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