What’s New

May 11, 2018 by

Math, writing, and executive function! Learn about the search for new breakthroughs in The Gates Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Want Your Ideas On The Future Of Education.

US Department of Education is highlighting personalized learning in the Education Innovation and Research grants.

Must Read: I’ve just read the following two papers and think they are must reads! We all need to know the research on learning sciences. Seriously, everyone in the education field, from a person designing a new application to the U.S. Secretary of Education, needs to dive into the learning sciences if they haven’t already. Two relatively recent papers are really helpful as they summarize the research across fields:

These aren’t simple papers, so I suggest engaging colleagues to read and discuss the sections of the papers that relate the most directly to you and your work. We need similar papers that summarize what we know about instruction in each of the content areas, as well.

What’s Happening in the States

Local media is a great way to get a sense of what is going on in a region. It’s a clue that grading has been introduced too early when there are letters to the editor in support of A-F grading. (more…)

What’s New: What’s Happening in State Policy

April 18, 2018 by

This article reviews some of the new state policy resources and highlights the types of discussion and initiatives taking place in the individual states. Nevada is joining the group of states that are supporting innovative districts, and Mississippi is supporting an innovation network. The most important thing to pay attention to is the discussion and debate in Maine as they decide whether they are going to continue to believe that their students and educators can learn to high standards and will keep learning how to support students in doing so…or if they modify expectations. Fingers crossed that the discussion moves from what’s wrong to what we need to make sure all of our students learn!

State Policy Resources

Across the country, state policymakers have been engaged in thinking through how they can strengthen their policies and infrastructures to better (more…)

Schools for the Future: Record-Setting Results

June 24, 2015 by

Schools For the FutureStudents at Schools for the Future in Detroit gained an average of 2.5 years across all four tested subjects on ACT benchmark assessments—including a remarkable 5.6 year gain on English Language Arts. What can we say….WOW! Now take a minute to think about the context—SFF is designed for and intentionally recruited older “far off track” students who have been retained two or more years. DOUBLE WOW. One more thing to consider—this is SFF’s first year of operation. TRIPLE WOW. (Here is a video on SFF)

I’ve spent a lot of time understanding how to educate students who are over-age and undercredit, and I do believe there is a bump the first year students feel that teachers care for them, that the school is designed to engage and motivate, and that they understand education has value in their lives. However, I’ve never heard of this type of jump across four subject areas. Furthermore, the five year gain definitely suggests that something is really working at SFF.

In our heavy-handed federal accountability system, students still may not show up as proficient at grade level because they entered with such an skills:age gap (i.e., the ratio of academic skill level to age-based grade level). That’s how enormous skills gaps can be in some cities—with students not yet proficient in elementary school skills. This is often in cities serving large populations of communities of color, especially African-Americans. As our country steps up to the unresolved shadow of racism, all of us in competency education need to focus our attention on a) making sure that sub-populations of students do not ever lag behind at slower paces (unless justified by a special education plan) and b) figuring out how we can accelerate learning (in a way that is always student-centered with deeper learning). (more…)

Optimizing Personalized, Blended, Competency-Based Schools

November 21, 2013 by

It is a mouthful, — personalized, blended and competency-based learning. And I assume that someone out there is going to come up with an acronym or create a name for it. Before they do, I hope problem-based or project-based will be included in that list as well since kids need the opportunity to use deeper levels of knowledge (as well as being downright fun most of the time).


I’ve made the case why we need to continue to understand each these characteristics separately as we are in such rapid stages of learning. We need a way to break it down when we talk to each other. When I ask a school in New Hampshire “how do you use blended learning?” I expect to hear about the adaptive software students are using, the online courses and competency recovery that is available through Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, how teachers are learning to organize their curriculum in units on the web so that students can advance more quickly, and how they are using tablets for those students that do not have internet access at home so they can download what they need and take it home with them.


When I visit a school in Maine to learn about their competency-based model they will tell me about their proficiency-based schools. I might hear about the transparency of the measurement targets and learning targets based upon standards, how their learning management system Educate allows teachers to track progress and principals to monitor pacing across the school, about their school-wide system of supports including daily Flex hour and reading specialists that work with individual students as well as building capacity of their teachers, their grading scheme based on depth of knowledge that targets proficiency at Level 3 (i.e. application of knowledge and skills) and how they are developing assessments for Maine’s Guiding Principles or what might others call lifelong learning competencies. (more…)

Takeaways and New Questions from EAA School Visits

October 31, 2013 by

Lessons Learned pictureIf ten of us went to visit the same school we would come away with 10 different insights. It’s why I believe so strongly in joint site visits as a method of knowledge transfer – you learn together in a way that taps into previous knowledge as well.  So here are my insights, and you can read what  struck Tom VanderArk about EAA in his Ed Week column.  I encourage you to take the time to put a team together or even a cross-district or cross-state team to go visit Nolan Elementary, Phoenix Multicultural, Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts, and Southeastern Technical High School sooner than later. Michigan and Detroit have a lot of volatile political dynamics (i.e things change), and I’d hate for people to miss the chance to see what can happen when you integrate personalized, mastery-based, and blended into a “student-centered” model of learning.


1) Reaching the Outliers: A teacher at Nolan and a teacher at Brenda Scott told me just about the same thing: I can reach many more kids. Before, I had to teach to the middle, but now I can use blended learning so that outliers are fully supported as well. Without blended learning, I don’t know if this would be as possible. I’ve been wracking my brain, have we ever had a reform that was meaningful for students who are way behind, those chugging along at teacher pace, as well as those that get placed in gifted and talented?  Could this actually be a universal reform that works for all children? Seems too easy – I want to dig harder about what the implications are for the students at the margins.

2) We Can’t Have Student Voice Without Having Teacher Voice: Mary Esselman, Deputy Chancellor of EAA, related one of her lessons learned.  They realized they couldn’t expect teachers to create environments for students to have voice if they didn’t have it themselves.  So professional development became an experiential experience with reflection and presentation. Teachers use Buzz — they don’t just learn about Buzz. After they’ve finished the initial stage of professional development, they prepare three minute videos – Who am I as an EAA educator? (more…)

A Visit to Phoenix Multicultural Academy (Detroit)

October 29, 2013 by

phoenix post pictureI first met Dr. Cintron as he jetted down the hall, waving his iPad, calling, “I’m on my way to do observations!” He took a circular path to becoming principal at Phoenix, starting first as a teacher at Phoenix, then at DPS to manage Title III, and then as principal by the Education Achievement Authority to re-invent the school as a Student-Centered Learning model.  (Please read the post on EAA to understand the SCL model and how mastery-based learning is embedded in the overall approach.)

Phoenix is a K-9 school in the middle of the Hispanic community known as Mexicantown in Detroit.  Its student body is 70% Latino (of which 70% are English language learners), 10% African-American, and the remaining a mix of white and multi-racial students. Phoenix also has a number of students age 13-17 that are refugees from Guatemala and Hungary that high schools wouldn’t accept because the students’ education has been so interrupted.

Phoenix got results even in their first year of operation. They were the fifth most improved of all schools, according to Excellent Schools Detroit. As a result, enrollment is increasing with 100 additional students this year.

Responsiveness Leads to Innovation: One of the key characteristics of Phoenix is its problem-solving mode of operations that generates innovation along the way.  One example is how it morphed into the unusual structure of a K-9 school. Originally it was K-8, and eighth graders, upon graduation, had no choice but to attend a large high school outside of their neighborhood because the local high school had been closed. Knowing that there was going to be a lot of gang conflict, Phoenix added a 9th grade academy to their existing K-8 structure, in which the 9th grade students would spend part of their day at Phoenix, continuing to build up their language skills, and 2/3 at the  Central High School.

Another example of innovation is the Learning Village, where three teachers have integrated their 1st and 2nd grade classes to better manage the environment in order to support the students.  The majority of the students did not have any pre-K experience and are ELL.  They found that the transition between the stations, from receiving new instruction to practicing or demonstrating, was challenging for many of them.  Using the three classrooms along a dedicated hallway, the teachers use one classroom for new instruction, one for tutoring, and the other for two stations, small teacher-led group and technology-based practice. In this way, they can help the students orient themselves and make the transitions more clear. They also have flexibility to group students along levels so that regardless of age or grade, students at or below Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 all have a chance to work together. (more…)

A Visit to PASE Prep at Southeastern High School (Detroit)

October 27, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 2.41.53 PMAs we all know, competency-based high schools raise two issues you don’t often see in younger ages:

  • Wider differentiation in academic levels, with some students entering with elementary level skills; and,
  • A perceived need to differentiate academically in order to compete for the best colleges. In other words, having a high GPA for college admissions.

What we haven’t talked about much is the opportunities that become available once a school begins to be mastery-based. PASE Prep Academy, a school within Southeastern High School of Technology and Law in Detroit is a good example of what is possible.

After one year of implementing the Education Achievement Authority’s Student-Centered Learning  model at Southeastern High School, a group of teachers started asking questions:

  • What would happen if we moved beyond the bell schedule so that students could vary the time they spent on each topic, rather than spending the standard 50 minutes per day on each course?
  • What does it mean to have student-centered learning and blended learning in high school? Rather than rotations across stations, are there ways we can use blended learning that is more developmentally and academically aligned with where students are? (more…)

Student-Centered Learning at Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority

October 22, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 3.18.26 PMLast month, I had the opportunity to visit three schools in Detroit run by Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA). I’ll be sharing what I saw and learned on CompetencyWorks over the next couple of weeks.

Background:  The EAA is a local education agency with the authority to reinvent Michigan’s Priority Schools, previously called Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools.  The EAA is charged with transforming the five (5) percent PLA schools across Michigan by providing increased flexibility and autonomy at the local school level and eliminating the barriers that impede student performance. They are getting results — in Detroit, all of the EAA K-8 schools were in the top twenty schools for growth in achievement.

EAA established a specific model to be implemented with 12 schools initiating the turnaround in 2012  with another set starting implementation in 2013.  The model is described as student-centered and is a dynamic integration of mastery-based and blended learning topped off by a no-excuses leadership mentality. In order to implement EAA had to secure a seat-time waiver from the state. EAA is led by John Covington and Mary Esselman. They, their team, and the leadership in the EAA schools are definitely people to watch.

EAA Model: The EAA describes their approach as student-centered (you’ll see and hear SCL referred to throughout the schools) in which “pedagogy, assessments, support systems and culture are refocused to facilitate student progress organized around mastery instead of age and seat time.”   Students learning experiences are personalized through the use of blended learning, and Buzz a powerful teaching and learning platform.

EAA’s model is built upon five pillars:

  • Students are grouped by readiness, not by grade. Teachers and students refer to levels. There are about two levels for each age-grade. Students are assessed using the Scantron Performance Series when they enter school to assign them their levels in each subject area.
  • Students create and assume ownership for their respective personalized learning and success paths and are able to communicate their progress relative to their individualized learning goals. In addition to Buzz that tracks progress, you’ll see several rituals in the classrooms in which students mark their progress as well as let teachers know how they are doing. (more…)

No One Graduates Before They Are Ready

October 12, 2012 by

“I’m not going to tell you. I know what a lexile means, but I’m not going to tell you mine.” And in the next breath: “I blew the test. I tested at third grade. I’m good at reading. I’m actually supposed to be in 10th grade. But I blew it and I tested at third grade.”

This was my first conversation with a student at Schools for the Future in Detroit (SFF is a Next Generation Learning Challenges winner). It was in response to a question about the different tests that the students had been taking during the first two weeks of schools. The students did know what a lexile was and what their individual lexile was. They understood that the set of assessments they had just finished were being used to set their educational path. As we were talking, some students were beaming as they were going to move to Core 2. Others were frustrated that they would be assigned to Core 1 but were very determined to do better. This tension is part of being transparent. It’s a step in engaging students that have been lost in our education system. No more lying to them that they are doing okay because they got a C and passed on to the next class. This is a competency-based environment.  (more…)

WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera