Iteration in Action: PACT Academy

August 8, 2017 by

This post and all pictures first appeared at Springpoint on January 30, 2017. This is the third in a series on iteration in school design. 

If you ask one of the 200 students at PACT High School about grades, one of the first things you’ll hear is “we can’t fail here.” That’s because this high school is designed to foster positive youth development through strong relationships between students and adults.

It’s also because PACT does not give failing grades. Instead of an “F,” students receive the designation “not approaching proficiency.” This remains on a student’s transcript until they master the content in their course, which they can continue to work towards throughout their high school experience. This mastery-based approach means some students can be working to master standards from their first year after they’ve already moved onto their second year coursework. Others are able to skip ahead—in courses like Health, math, and science—using one of several available tech tools and with teacher supports. In the words of one student, “if you don’t get something, you work on it until you master it.”

Positive relationships to support mastery-based learning.

PACT opened in fall 2014 as part of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s participation in Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Opportunity by Design Initiative, and has since nurtured a strong culture of mastery-based learning supported by positive relationships between students and adults. This approach permeates the school, from everyday interactions to instructional policy. At PACT, students have an active voice in shaping both their learning path and the school’s design. For example, at the end of its first year, students expressed a desire to reorganize the instructional day to achieve a better balance between hands-on projects and online learning. Principal Reynolds and his team listened to students’ concerns and, beginning in the school’s second year, retrained teachers to give students more voice and choice in choosing and participating in projects.

In addition to giving students a voice in their education, PACT has a laser focus on ensuring students are college and career ready. On any given day, students can be seen working on a variety of projects: running cars down ramps to measure velocity and friction, or creating a multimedia presentation about a “turning point” in their life for their English class. In each project, students are measured based on how well they have mastered problem-solving, communications, and presentation skills that will truly prepare them for college.

The PACT team is committed to helping each and every student succeed, despite challenges they face academically and personally. For example, the majority of PACT families make less than $20,000 a year, and many students care for younger siblings and extended family members. Principal Reynolds says that the pressure of street affiliation and gang violence is ever-present, particularly for young men in the community.

Knowing this, the PACT team works hard to create an environment where students can open up about their concerns and responsibilities. In the words of one student, “I have a voice here. I joked my way through sixth and eighth grade, but this school and its teachers changed my view of things.” PACT hosts several after-school activities geared toward giving students choice and agency, including theater, astrophysics, and a girls’ empowerment club called “Cover Girl.” The school’s staff has cultivated an awareness and responsiveness to challenges students face. Teachers like Mr. Hurt, an English teacher for first-year students, realize that, “for many kids, their day starts after they leave school. My goal is to give them something positive to think about when they leave us, and hopefully to help them make good decisions.” (more…)

Iteration in Action: Eagle Academy

August 3, 2017 by

This post and all pictures first appeared at Springpoint on January 11, 2017. This is the second in a series on iteration in school design. 

At E3agle Academy, a public high school in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, students support one another in mastering rigorous, college-ready standards. With a personalized approach and a focus on social justice, students are encouraged to connect classroom content to their experience in the real world, and to move at their own pace along a sequence of clear benchmarks.

Principal Lennox Thompson describes the school’s approach as fundamentally student-centered. “I want to give students benchmarks so they can track how they are progressing. This lets them stay on top of their work so they don’t fall behind and then get overwhelmed,” he says. To facilitate this, E3agle places students into groups of 10-12 to form “advise-aeries” (an aerie is an eagle’s nest). Advisors deliver students’ personalized schedules, and serve as a hub for messages to and from students’ core subject teachers.

On a recent visit, students were learning about proportions in a co-taught immersion math class. A teacher was leading a lesson on body image, anchored in an activity measuring Barbie’s body proportions. Students broke into groups and measured their own body proportions before presenting on their findings: How do normal body proportions compare to Barbie’s, and what does that say about body image? The activity gave students an opportunity to develop mastery of math and social studies skills—first in a group setting, and then individually.

E3agle’s underlying belief is that young people—even those who are entering high school with significant gaps in skills and knowledge—know themselves and can be trusted to make positive choices about how they use their time and energy. Teachers and administrators understand that for many students, the structural mechanisms of promotion between freshman and sophomore years must be more fluid, and that some students will take more time to finish courses than others. For students, the awareness that mastery of content—rather than “seat time”—is what matters has compelled them to take charge of their learning like never before.

Supporting mastery-based learning

To drive home the message that learning—rather than class standing—is what matters most, E3agle combines freshmen and sophomores in some courses like English and Social Studies, where the gradient of skills is more fluid. Recently, on a recent afternoon in an English class, freshmen helped sophomores analyze song lyrics to find evidence of characterization. When asked, nearly every student could articulate the exact competencies they were working toward. They knew the end goal and how they would work toward it.

English teacher Eleanor Salzbrenner describes a student named Marco*, who struggled in his first year, to manage his time and coursework. This year, says Salzbrenner, with attention and support from his teachers—and lots of opportunities to continue to work toward his mastery goals in each of his classes— “he’s almost chasing [us] down the hallway, saying ‘I need to get this done!’” (more…)

A Conversation with Teachers in Cleveland

July 24, 2017 by

Image from the JFK E3agle Academy Website

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

One of the highlights of the school visits in Cleveland was a conversation with teachers at PACT and E3agle High Schools. The conversation was wide reaching – here are a few of the highlights.

What it Takes to Meet Students Where They Are

When asked what was different in teaching in a mastery-based school as compared to a traditional one, it was nearly unanimous that mastery-based learning requires teachers to think ahead and design substantial scaffolding. Teachers described having to do unit planning for at least ten weeks (based on 10-week curriculum maps) ahead in case students started advancing quickly while also planning for scaffolding that would help students who might be four or five grade levels below to build up their skills. (See project-based learning planning template.)

Tim Hurt, a literature teacher from PACT, emphasized how much mastery-based education demands differentiation. “When you are managing twenty different learning plans, it totally pokes holes into what we thought teaching was about. In a traditional system we felt like we were rock stars. The only way to be successful in a personalized, mastery-based model is to work with students and stay focused on learning…both student learning and our own.”

Almad Allen, also an ELA teacher from PACT, added, “It took a while to get unplugged from the traditional model’s focus on right and wrong. Now my job is to identify when a student’s understanding is incomplete to focus on pacing, and I’ve had to learn to differentiate on the fly. I can’t create lessons the night before anymore. I think through units with the end in mind about how I’m going to make sure every student is successful. I have to anticipate where there are going to be misconceptions or difficulties. If students get lost, they can’t move on. My job is to think through the different places they might get lost and how I’m going to help them move forward. I’m the one who has to have the map in my head to respond to the day-to-day changes in students’ learning.”

Nicole Williams, a PACT intervention specialist, described that she is now thinking intentionally about how to teach and re-teach in her unit planning. “Before I present the lesson, I’ve already thought about the needs of specific students and where the lesson might go,” she said. “I’m thinking about what they know, what they don’t know, and possible misconceptions.” She also said that conferencing with students and goal setting is particularly helpful in addressing student gaps.

Hurt explained, “My grading has become more fluid. In the traditional model, you gave a D or F if students didn’t do well. There wasn’t any next step. Now we think about what it will take for a student to be successful. There are a lot more interventions on the part of general teachers. Quite honestly, we are delivering better instruction because we think beyond just delivering it. We think about whether students will actually learn.” (See English Competency Map.)

Anthony Carbone, an intervention specialist at E3agle, was enthusiastic, “The best part of competency-based education is the ability to meet students where they are in their learning. (more…)

E3agle and PACT: Insights from Two New Competency-Based Schools

July 17, 2017 by

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

John F. Kennedy High School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has been reorganized as two small schools: PACT Problem-Based Academy of Critical Thinking and E3agle Academy. These two schools were part of the effort to develop competency-based schools through the Opportunity by Design Initiative (funded by Carnegie Corporation and supported by Springpoint Schools). Positioned one above the other, PACT and E3agle offer a helpful perspective of how a common infrastructure of transparent competencies and standards provides different designs and mix of pedagogical strategies.

For example, they have different design themes. PACT is organized around developing critical thinking skills using the practice of problem-based learning. Real-world problems are used to engage students to develop and apply skills in ways that connect to their lives. E3agle Academy is organized around a theme of social justice. Principal Lennox Thompson pointed out that current events have proven to be an effective way to personalize the learning experience by connecting student concerns with justice issues in their community and the broader world. Students often feel passionately about the topics, and ELA teachers are using a number of ways to build skills and connections such as organizing debates, research, surveys, and inviting people from the community to speak on topics. Students are learning their rights as well as the laws that might land them in front of a judge.

Highlights

Here are a few of the highlights from our conversations with Lennox Thompson, principal at E3agle; Richard Reynolds, principal at PACT; Darcel Williams, Program Manager for New School Model; Kristen Kelly, Mastery Learning Specialist; and students and teachers from both schools.

Start with Pedagogy Before Introducing Technology-Enabled Learning

When E3agle and PACT first started, they relied heavily on Edgenuity as the primary way to deliver instruction and for students to demonstrate their learning. They immediately realized this was a mistake – it wasn’t engaging for students, it didn’t help establish relationships for students, and it didn’t create opportunities for deeper learning. They did a mid-course correction and since then have been building out the range of learning experiences for students, although Edgenuity remains as an option. Edgenuity continues to play a role when students need more instruction and for addressing incompletes. The lesson learned is that it is important to clarify the pedagogical philosophy first. Then it becomes clear when and where technology-enabled products can be beneficial.

Reynolds, principal and founding member of PACT, explained, “When we began the design process, the concept was around blended learning and mastery-based learning. The ten principles were aspirational. But when the kids walked in the door, suddenly the rubber meets the road. We learned quickly what wasn’t working. There was a lot that didn’t work the way we had imagined it.” What they learned was that a 50/50 mix of online and face-to-face instruction didn’t work well. “We needed to invest in relationships,” Reynolds said. “The students wanted engaged teachers. We needed to develop an approach to instruction that emphasized and nurtured relationships.”

Once they introduced problem-based learning that emphasized critical thinking, everything started to work better. Through discussion, students and teachers began listening to each other and getting to know each other better. Reynolds continued, “When done right, problem-based learning can engage students and develop their critical thinking skills. They turn on to learning. The key to doing it right is planning – you have to be clear on what you want kids to know and be able to do. It is often much more than you expected. We’ve developed our ability to do backward design, starting with the targeted competencies and content and then building problems around it.” For example, an ELA teacher used the Sandra Bland case for students to build their argumentative writing skills. They brought in a lawyer to talk about what makes an effective opening statement and then they each wrote an opening argument. They learned about pathos, ethos, and logos and then demonstrated each in their arguments.

As always, students open doors to better understanding how schools operate and how they are changing. In speaking with students from PACT and E3agle, they raised up many of the issues related to the original focus on using computers to deliver instruction to the much more blended approach being used now. There was a strong feeling that the school gets better and better the less they have to use Edgenuity. (more…)

Getting to Know Students’ Business: A Conversation at Lincoln-West’s Schools of Global Studies and Science & Health

July 10, 2017 by

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

Lincoln-West is a large comprehensive school being redesigned into two smaller schools: the School of Global Studies and the School of Science & Health. These two schools are being designed as mastery-based schools. Both schools had only six months under their belt when we visited. They have used the same design principles and design process but have created cultures, learning experiences, and established community partnerships that reflect their themes. For example, students at Science & Health spend time learning in a hospital, and Global Studies offers an array of service learning opportunities. Below are conversations with principals and teachers at the two schools.

A Conversation with Principals

Christopher Thompson, principal at the School of Science & Health, said, “We’ve learned that it is important to be very intentional about onboarding veteran teachers. They’ve learned and worked in traditional schools all their lives. Resetting their orientation and mindset takes time.” Irene Javier, principal at the School of Global Studies, emphasized that the growth mindset is important for students and teachers. “We took advantage of the design process for all of us to reset our mindsets,” she said. “We used the process almost like a meditation so that each person was able to see their new roles and how they could contribute. It’s important to celebrate how much is being accomplished in such a short period of time.”

The process of hiring came up several times. The principals emphasized that attitude is equally important to skills. It’s important to make sure that teachers understand what they are signing up for. Thompson noted, “We found that we needed to look for a specific set of qualities. Teachers need to have a growth mindset for themselves, expertise in differentiation, a positive attitude toward learning and building relationships with students, and strong knowledge of instruction and assessment. Oh, and they need to know the standards.”

Javier expanded, “This looks daunting at first, until teachers understand that there are lots of supports to this structured way of teaching and learning. Essentially we are staging the learning curve. We are intentional about what we want students to learn with clear plans balanced with flexibility because students shape the learning process as well. What’s most important is to always celebrate what teachers bring to the learning process and their accomplishments in expanding their skills.”

Darcel Williams, Program Manager for New School Model, explained, “Principals play a critical role in instruction at any school. However, at a brand new school it is particularly important for principals to be engaged with teachers.” Javier continued, “We have 75 percent brand new teachers and 25 percent veterans. They have different issues. The older teachers struggle because they feel less confident than they have in the traditional system. But they are already saying that the change has been worth it to see students so engaged.” The district has also been helping with building the educator capacity by offering professional learning before the opening of the new schools, much of it introducing and role modeling the new practices.

One week of professional learning was offered in May for the staff of the new schools. During that time they worked together to create curricular maps with their peers. For example, a team might include one ELA teacher, two interventionists, and two bilingual paraprofessionals so that important strategies for serving students with disabilities and those learning English are embedded into the curriculum. Javier smiled in recalling this process, “Teachers can conquer the world when they collaborate.” The curricular maps went through two to three reviews to improve the quality, make connections with the themes of the schools (service learning for Global Studies and hospital internships at Science & Health), and ensure they were organized for students with different sets of skills to be able to make progress. Advisory also created its own ten-week map, including introducing students to learning within a competency-based structure. (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…)

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…)

Lesson Learned: Enabling Policy Isn’t Enough, It takes Incentives

July 7, 2015 by

Ohio SealOhio offers all of us a big lesson learned about how states can advance competency education. They have learned from experience that enabling policy isn’t enough, it is going to require incentives to engage districts in full systemic re-design. Several years ago, Ohio created credit flexibility that allowed for districts to award competency-based credits to students. Even though a district could have used this to create competency-based pathways or even make the transition to competency education, there was little uptake. So now the Ohio state legislature passed H.B. 64, which includes funds for pilots in competency-based education. (Go to page 2572 SECTION 263.280. to find information on the pilot.) The Ohio Department of Education is authorized to make two-year grants to five districts, schools, or consortia of districts and schools of up to $200,000 for each fiscal year.

Ohio is going to be a state to pay attention to, as they are also encouraging higher education to become competency-based, as well. Thus, we may start to see some innovations about how to create more seamless K-16 competency-based pathways.

Below is the testimony of iNACOL President and CEO Susan Patrick (and co-founder of CompetencyWorks) to the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education regarding competency-based education:

Chairman Cupp and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of the competency-based education pilot program found in H.B. 64.

iNACOL is a non-profit organization with the mission to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and leads the CompetencyWorks initiative.

The competency-based education pilot is an important step for Ohio districts and schools to begin this transition towards providing personalized, competency-based learning to Ohio students.

The iNACOL/CCSSO definition of competency education has five elements:

  • Students advance upon mastery;
  • Competencies include explicit, learning objectives that empower students;
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students;
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, and the development of important skills and dispositions.

(more…)

Next Gen Accountability: Ohio & Beyond

July 22, 2014 by

Originally published July 16, 2014 by Getting Smart.

Ohio Council of Community Schools

From ohioschools.org

Accountability is a gift. We don’t often think of it that way but, done right, it’s a bargain that provides autonomy, resources, and supports in return for a commitment to a set of desired outcomes. That’s how it’s supposed to work with your kids; that’s how it’s supposed to work with schools. At work, accountability provides role and goal clarity like when your boss explains, “Here’s what I expect and how I’ll support you; if you don’t achieve desired results, here’s how the situation will be remedied.”

The University of Toledo and its designee to authorize schools, The Ohio Council of Community Schools (OCCS), hosted a  school leaders conference today to discuss the next generation of accountability. As the Fordham Institute Ohio staff noted, there were a number of changes made to Ohio testing and accountability system in the last session including accountability provisions.  Following is a discussion of how accountability should work–from students to universities–with a few comments about where Ohio is on the curve. (more…)

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