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Teacher accountability in the United States is in a period of transformation. In July 2012, the 26th state received an Elementary and Secondary Education Act Flexibility Waiver, marking relief for more than half of the states from many of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. In exchange, these states promised to implement rigorous new teacher evaluation systems that, among other things, include measures of student learning growth. Similarly, transforming teacher evaluation was a consistent priority for the United States Department of Education through the award of grants such as Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and School Improvement Grants. To improve their eligibility to access federal funding, and to simultaneously achieve their school improvement goals, since 2009, 36 states plus Washington, DC, and hundreds of school districts have passed teacher evaluation reforms, and 33 states have additionally passed principal evaluation reforms. For many states and districts the question of how to measure student learning as one aspect of measuring teacher effectiveness – in ways that are accurate, amenable to teachers, and do-able for teachers whose grades or subject areas are not systematically tested – has consumed much of their time and resources the last few years.
 
A meaningful, accurate evaluation system achieves a number of important purposes. As in any field, evaluations provide those managing the organization a clearer sense of each employee’s strengths and weaknesses so that decisions about promotion, professional development, assignment, and when necessary, dismissal can be made in a more thoughtful manner. In schools, there is an additional emphasis on the role of evaluations in providing detailed, constructive feedback to all teachers, including those that are considered generally effective already, with data that can inform continuous improvement in practice. It is now commonly understood that teacher effectiveness is the single most important school-level factor affecting student achievement – with principal effectiveness a close second. It is clear, therefore, that the continuous improvement of teacher and principal effectiveness must be an integral part of any efforts aimed at raising student achievement.
 
While improvements in educator evaluation are still evolving, the research and policy communities agree that a high quality teacher evaluation system includes several features. First, it assesses teacher effectiveness on multiple performance levels; that is, teachers are placed on a four or five point scale, as opposed to binary ratings that limit the evaluator to choosing between “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” High quality teacher evaluation systems also include multiple measures of effectiveness (see box), and each of these measures must be carefully developed and tested for their validity (e.g., accuracy) and reliability (e.g., consistency). Evaluators must be rigorously trained on using the measures appropriately. Multiple evaluators should spend adequate amounts of time observing teachers on more than one occasion, comparing notes, and sharing detailed written feedback with teachers, while also coaching them to improve in areas of weakness.
 
Multiple Measures of Teacher Effectiveness
 
Teacher evaluations may include some combination of the following measures:
  • Classroom observations. Used by evaluators to make consistent judgments of teachers’ instructional practice, classroom observations are the most common measure of teacher effectiveness and vary widely in how they are conducted and what they assess. High quality classroom observation instruments are standards-based and contain well-specified rubrics that delineate consistent assessment criteria for each standard of practice. To be accurate, evaluators should be trained to ensure consistency in scoring.
  • Student growth on standardized tests. Student growth on standardized tests refers to the test score change from one point in time to another point in time. The related concept of value-added measures, refer to student growth measures that includes a pre-test score and a post-test score as well as a number of other variables (e.g., poverty, special needs, etc.) about students that are outside of a teacher’s control yet tend to affect students’ academic growth.
  • Other student growth data. Other student growth data includes information about the change in students’ performance on some measure such as a teacher- or district-developed test over two or more points in time. It may also include growth in terms of behavior, musical performances, or portfolios of student work.
  • Instructional artifacts. Instructional artifacts are used by evaluators to rate lesson plans, teacher assignments, teacher-created assessments, scoring rubrics, or student work on particular criteria, such as rigor, authenticity, intellectual demand, alignment to standards, clarity, and comprehensiveness. Evaluators typically use an evaluation tool or rubric to make judgments about the quality of student artifacts.
  • Teacher portfolios. Portfolios are a collection of materials that exhibit evidence of exemplary teaching practice, school activities, and student progress. They are usually compiled by the teacher him or herself and may include teacher-created lesson or unit plans, descriptions of the classroom context, assignments, student work samples, videos of classroom instruction, notes from parents, and teachers’ analyses of their students learning in relation to their instruction. Similar to portfolios, evidence binders often provide specific requirements for inclusion and require a final teacher led presentation of the work to an evaluation team.
  • Teacher self-assessments. Self-assessments consist of surveys, instructional logs, or interviews in which teachers report on their work in the classroom, the extent to which they are meeting standards, and in some cases the impact of their practice. Self-assessments may include checklists, rating scales, rubrics, and may require teachers to indicate the frequency of particular practices.
  • Student surveys. Student surveys are questionnaires that typically ask students to rate teachers on an extant-scale (e.g., from 1 to 5, where 1 = very effective, and 5 = not at all effective) regarding various aspects of teachers’ practice (e.g., course content, usefulness of feedback, etc.) as well as how much students say they learned or the extent to which they were engaged.
  • Parent surveys. Parent surveys are questionnaires that typically ask parents to rate teachers on an extant-scale (e.g., from 1 to 5, where 1 = very effective, and 5 = not at all effective) regarding various aspects of teachers’ practice (e.g., course content, usefulness of feedback, quality of homework, quality of communication, etc.) as well as the extent to which they are satisfied with the teachers’ instruction (Goe, Bell, & Little, 2008).
 
A number of reform-minded districts charted an early path implementing comprehensive changes to their evaluation systems. For example, in order to address concerns about the fairness of using student test scores to evaluate teachers, Hillsborough County Public Schools, in Tampa, Florida, decided early on to focus on the growth in test scores between two points in time rather than a static achievement measure captured only once a year. That way, teachers of special education or struggling students would not be at a disadvantage compared to classrooms with more gifted or high-performing students. The district adopted pre- and post-tests in each grade and subject, including over 600 assessments. Meanwhile, TAPTM: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, adopted by districts across the country, created a system of master teachers and mentor teachers to help alleviate some of the time burden on principals by providing full- or part-time release hours to conduct teacher evaluations; provide extensive feedback and instructional demonstrations; identify context-relevant, research-based instructional strategies; analyze student data; create school-wide academic achievement plans; and interact with parents. Many more examples of new state and district policies on teacher and principal evaluation are available at www.tqsource.org, all of which offer innovative ideas and lessons learned for the benefit of other education leaders around the country.
 
Nevertheless, creating more robust teacher and principal evaluation systems will not, in isolation, lead to significant improvements in educator quality. For instance, what if some teachers are not willing or not able to improve enough to fully meet students needs, or if there is not a ready supply of excellent teachers and principals to replace those who are consistently not meeting expectations? To ensure that all students receive a great education, education reformers must see these new and improved evaluation systems as the beginning and not the end of a larger, systemic set of initiatives to attract and retain educators. Teacher preparation, compensation, induction and support, strategic recruitment, and the professional environment in schools must all be enhanced. For example, assessing teacher effectiveness should occur through annual evaluations, but also at the time of hiring and as part of the responsibility of the preparation programs that matriculated the new teachers in the first place.
 
Another critical aspect of redesigning evaluation systems is how to meaningfully involve teachers in the process. Engaging teachers, as well as principals, is essential in order to create evaluations that are well-designed, implemented with fidelity, and sustainable for the long-term. Unfortunately, genuinely engaging teachers in the evaluation redesign process is perhaps the most neglected aspect of the reform process to-date. But resources such as Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform (www.EveryoneAtTheTable.org) have been developed to assist school systems with teacher engagement (see box).
 
Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform
Engaging teachers in evaluation reform is an initiative of American Institutes for Research and Public Agenda, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
This free online resource center provides an easy-to-use model for widespread teacher-led conversations on evaluation reform that are constructive and solutions-oriented, using structured conversation tools and activities, with the end goal of increasing teacher input into the policies that are developed. It includes:
  • A two-minute video that captures the importance and enthusiasm of education leaders around the country for broader, more genuine involvement of teachers in evaluation reform (www.everyoneatthetable.org/leadersVideo.php)
  • An eight-minute teacher discussion-starter video (www.everyoneatthetable.org/gtt_video.php) that gives teachers the chance to think and talk about the pros and cons of different kinds of evaluation systems.
  • Materials such as moderator’s guides, PowerPoint presentations, and discussion summary templates to help leaders organize discussions with teachers and bring their voices to the table. Everyone at the Table has been used with success in Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington state, and elsewhere. To read their stories and learn more about this innovative approach to teacher engagement around evaluation, visit www.everyoneatthetable.org.
 
Closing persistent achievement gaps as well as raising achievement for all students will simply not be possible without recruiting and retaining sufficient teachers of the highest quality for every classroom. An effective accountability system must be anchored in a teacher evaluation system that is informed by research and best practice and includes teacher voice in the design and implementation. Of course, transforming teacher accountability systems as one part of a comprehensive approach to educator talent management and development requires thoughtful planning, prioritizing, and resource allocation. Based on financial data collected through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s initiative to build comprehensive educator evaluation systems, Harvard professor Tom Kane estimates that done well, a high quality teacher evaluation system is likely to consume two percent of a school district’s budget. Given the potential for new evaluation systems to produce data that can truly inform continuous improvements in teacher practice, and feed into an aligned system of educator talent management strategies that attract and retain greater numbers of excellent teachers—the cost may well be worth the investment.
 

 
Sabrina W. M. Laine, Ph.D., is Vice President, Education Human Development and the Workforce at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). She oversees numerous efforts to contribute to policy research and resource development related to every aspect of managing and supporting educator talent including recruitment, compensation, evaluation, distribution and professional development. Dr. Laine served as the Director of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality and is the primary author of the book, Improving Teacher Quality: A Guide for Education Leaders, published by Jossey-Bass in 2011. Dr. Laine earned her doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Indiana University.
Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt, Ph.D., is a researcher at AIR where she leads the organization’s compensation reform and educator talent management initiatives. Dr. Sherratt has presented on teacher incentives, Generation Y teachers, human capital management, and equitable teacher distribution and is co-author of the book Improving Teacher Quality: A Guide for Education Leaders. Dr. Sherratt earned her doctoral degree in education from the University of Oxford.
 
Teaching & Learning

Most teacher evaluation systems being developed at both the state and district levels rely on a theory of action that implies evaluation is a powerful lever for improving teaching performance and ultimately student outcomes. Each evaluation system identifies essential teaching behaviors (often in the form of professional teaching standards) that define effective practice.

Most teacher evaluation systems being developed at both the state and district levels rely on a theory of action that implies evaluation is a powerful lever for improving teaching performance and ultimately student outcomes. Each evaluation system identifies essential teaching behaviors (often in the form of professional teaching standards) that define effective practice. Teachers are then assessed against these standards, and multiple measures including classroom observations, teaching artifacts and student surveys provide a portrait of a teacher’s strengths and needs.

Teacher Evaluation’s Promise

However, in order to improve, we need to do more than assess teachers; we need to provide teachers with professional development opportunities targeted to their areas of growth. Once teachers go through this cycle of evaluation and professional learning, they will improve in their areas of need and student achievement will increase. This theory of action has been a powerful and persuasive argument for the investment in and adoption of teacher evaluation systems across the country. But the question remains: Can teacher evaluation deliver on this promise of professional learning and growth? We argue that while a professional growth orientation is possible for teacher evaluation systems, it requires a significant shift in culture and realignment of resources and structures at the school and district level to support teachers’ development from novices to experts.

Understanding How Teachers Develop Expertise

The dearth of research on how teachers develop professionally is a serious impediment to the aim of designing evaluation systems that support professional growth. However, there are some areas where we have made significant progress. There are now many performance rubric models  that define the progression of key teaching behaviors, knowledge, and skills from novice to expert; Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching is just one such example. States and districts have also been working to design or modify performance rubrics that define effective practice for their local context.

To ensure that teachers continue to move toward higher levels of proficiency, more information is needed about what it takes to move teachers from one level of understanding to the next. The research on how professionals become experts offers some valuable insights into this progression.

Most researchers of expertise agree that it typically takes about ten years to become an expert in any field, and that it’s difficult to be an expert in more than one domain. Researchers have identified a series of behaviors--including reinvestment of mental resources, progressive problem solving, and motivation—which appear to play a role in the development of this expertise.

  • Reinvestment of mental resources:  Novices in any profession spend mental resources on activities that over time become more automated. For example, beginning teachers spend significantly more time thinking about classroom management than more experienced teachers who have developed a repertoire of strategies and routines to effectively address this area. One important difference between experts and novices is that experts’ mental resources are freed up as learning becomes automated, allowing them to reinvest these resources in learning new skills or tackling new problems.
  • Progressive problem solving:  Experts also learn how to think about problems in more complex ways after they solve the first-order challenges that stymie novices. As individuals become more proficient in their profession, they begin to recognize patterns and develop automaticity for complex tasks. Expert teachers more easily recognize patterns in student behaviors, think more complexly about such behaviors, and have at their disposal more strategies to address them.
  • Motivation and flow:  Both reinvestment of mental resources and progressive problem solving require serious effort and motivation. Researchers have described the concept of “flow” as particularly helpful in thinking about how to increase motivation. Flow refers to an experience of sustained pleasure or the feeling of being completely absorbed in an activity. The phenomenon of flow has been reported across many professions. When people report states of “flow” they describe it as a balance between ability and challenge, where the task at hand is sufficiently easy to prevent anxiety yet sufficiently challenging to prevent boredom. Creating working environments that aim to encourage flow can help with the effort and determination that sustained improvement requires. When teachers can achieve more moments of flow in their work, they may in turn be more motivated to reinvest their mental resources into learning new skills and expanding their knowledge.
Implications for School Districts

In too many of our schools, teachers are faced with a “sit and get” model of one-shot workshops and one-size-fits-all presentations of content. Professional development in most schools today doesn’t help teachers meet the needs of their students nor does it help them grow and develop in their profession. A shift is needed from “professional development” to “professional learning,” a job-embedded, student-focused, continuous improvement approach to teacher development; hereafter, we use the term professional learning as shorthand for this approach.

The theory of teacher development articulated above demands a shift in the structure of professional learning in schools toward professional learning for teachers that is: 1) aligned to the behaviors, skills, and knowledge that define effective teaching, 2) individualized to the learner(s), taking different forms depending on the experience, skills, and needs of the specific teacher(s), and 3) embedded in the context of teaching: ongoing and collaborative.

This conceptualization has three implications for districts and schools working to create evaluation systems that are designed to foster and encourage professional growth. First, professional context matters:  teaching practice cannot be divorced from the teaching environment. How teachers understand practice is directly influenced by the culture of the school and district. Professional teaching standards (such as INTASC) and student academic standards (such as the Common Core State Standards) should be the foundation upon which professional practice is built.

Second, districts will have to think critically about intentional structures, processes, and personnel needed to promote professional learning through the evaluative process and support district priorities. Districts will likely need to employ a variety of personnel to deliver professional learning that is connected to teacher evaluation tools and targeted to individual teachers, teams, and entire faculties. Instructional coaches, teacher leaders, peer teachers, and administrators will all play a role in connecting professional learning to teacher evaluation; all will need to become fluent in the language of effective teaching and help teachers make connections between the feedback they receive and changes to their understanding and skills.

Finally, data from evaluation systems need to be high-quality, detailed at the skill level, and used as the basis for ongoing professional learning opportunities. These data should inform professional learning for individuals, groups of teachers, and the entire district, focusing on building both individual and collective expertise. Districts need to ensure that educators have access to the right information and that there are formal plans and structures in place to maximize use of that information.

Teacher evaluation is undergoing a change in this country from perfunctory to more robust systems that attempt to accurately assess performance and provide feedback to support teacher growth. This shift requires us to rethink professional learning in our schools and thoughtfully address our outdated structures and understanding about the trajectory of teachers’ development. Only then will teacher evaluation reforms begin to impact teachers’ professional growth and, ultimately, students’ learning. We have hope that teacher evaluation systems grounded in an understanding of teacher development have the potential to improve teacher practice for all teachers. But the jury is still out on whether such systems will fulfill this promise or whether the hype will become the reality.

 

Accountability

Accountability, as practiced these days under the No Child Left Behind Act and various state systems, purports to be about improvement. But we all know that improvement requires more than just measurement. 

Accountability, as practiced these days under the No Child Left Behind Act and various state systems, purports to be about improvement. But we all know that improvement requires more than just measurement. The scale tells us that we need to lose weight – it doesn’t tell us how or even why we need to slim down. Without an analysis of our eating patterns, the amount of exercise we get, or even, the ways in which we might use food as an emotional crutch, the number on the scale is pretty meaningless. So too is the case with the results we get from annual standardized testing. The scores let us know if we’re hitting the mark or not and, under NCLB, we know which groups of kids are making it and which are not. This is useful information but insufficient when it comes to moving the line on the scale.

Although it has received much less attention than accountability, accreditation has become an important school and district improvement tool over the last decade. Accreditation is a voluntary method of quality assurance developed more than 100 years ago by American universities and secondary schools and designed primarily to distinguish schools adhering to a set of educational standards. In recent years, accreditation has been transformed from an exercise centered almost exclusively on inputs to a research-based process for the comprehensive evaluation of an institution's effectiveness.

Honest self-evaluation of an institution’s vision, strategies, priorities, leadership, programs and resources against a set of standards and associated indicators is unparalleled in its ability to uncover and bring into sharp focus special challenges and opportunities that, when addressed, often lead to significant improvement.

Using a set of rigorous protocols, accreditation examines the whole institution—the programs, the cultural context, the community of stakeholders - along with student performance data to determine how well the parts work together to meet the needs of learners. The process is fully aligned with the goals of school improvement that challenge educators to commit to continuously push beyond the line of current competence, to frame and ask new and deeper questions, and to realize more than the completion of a management plan.

Accreditation is an enriching experience for participating institutions, because they benefit from the transformative power in the process. Indeed, it is not the outcome but, rather, the process of accreditation that yields the greatest return on investment for institutions. Honest self-evaluation of an institution’s vision, strategies, priorities, leadership, programs and resources against a set of standards and associated indicators is unparalleled in its ability to uncover and bring into sharp focus special challenges and opportunities that, when addressed, often lead to significant improvement.

As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and as state leaders design and implement significantly enhanced systems of accountability, there is much that they can draw upon from strong accreditation processes to drive continuous improvement through next-generation accountability systems.  This can be done through the unification or close alignment of both processes – accreditation and accountability – or through the incorporation of a number of the essential elements of accreditation.

Accreditation and Accountability

Today, there are a number of similarities between accreditation and accountability:

  • Both systems have schools and local education agencies as their primary units of focus;
  • Both require the development and implementation of plans meant to result in improvement;
  • Both put a premium on transparency, accessibility, and use of information and data; and
  • To boost effectiveness, both utilize some level of external monitoring of improvement plan implementation, particularly for those that are in the lowest tier(s) of performance.

For all of their similarities, however, key distinctions remain:

  • In practice, accountability systems frequently put much more significant focus on school improvement than district improvement, often leaving district leaders out of the school improvement process altogether. Accreditation, when done right, treats schools and districts as core components of a system.
  • School improvement team efforts tend to focus their reviews on the data that are used in making accountability determinations, without the benefit of a more comprehensive, objective, causal analysis. This causal analysis, known as diagnostic review, is the centerpiece of the best accreditation practices today.
  • And more recently, accountability system investments have placed a primacy on intervening in the persistently lowest performing schools, whereas a high-quality diagnostic review as part of an accreditation process is a powerful tool when put to regular use in all schools and districts. When used correctly, diagnostic review can highlight problems early and lead to targeted interventions that may prevent the school from ever becoming low-performing.
Accreditation in Practice

AdvancED, the parent organization for multiple regional and international accrediting bodies, accredits over 32,000 schools and districts in 70 countries across the globe. A set of research-based standards, describing the conditions that are necessary for educational institutions to achieve quality student performance and organizational effectiveness, form the foundation of the accreditation process. The standards encompass purpose and direction, governance and leadership, teaching and assessing for learning, resources and support systems, and using results for continuous improvement.  Accompanying indicators and performance levels for each standard describe practices and systematic methods of driving excellence in student performance and organizational effectiveness. The standards are systemic and address major themes across all of them such as continuous improvement, stakeholder involvement, alignment, and equity. No one standard or set of indicators and performance levels is complete without considering all as a collective whole.

As critical as the standards are to determining institutional effectiveness, beginning in 2012 these will no longer be the sole determinant of accreditation status. Student performance data, including (but not limited to) scores on state standardized exams, and stakeholder satisfaction data, based on student, teacher, and parent survey results, also will be taken into account. This more holistic approach helps to further align accreditation with accountability and places an appropriate emphasis on the importance of student outcomes when evaluating institutional quality.

All institutions participating in accreditation through AdvancED engage in the following process:

  • The Context. School and district profiles are prepared by assembling a host of data related to student and teacher demographics, student achievement, instructional and student support programs, and more. The profiles are living documents, serving as the basis for ongoing self-assessment.
  • The Internal Analysis. District and school leaders work together with stakeholders to conduct a self-assessment based on substantive standards. The institution rates its performance on each standard using a set of established rubrics, based on a comprehensive collection, synthesis and analysis of multiple sources of data and best practices, including test scores. Additionally, district and school leaders use diagnostic tools to analyze student performance data and stakeholder perception data. 
  • The External Review. At least once every five years, AdvancED provides a more rigorous and impartial assessment of district and school performance through an external review conducted by professionals from within and outside of the institution’s state. The external review includes school site-visits; classroom observations; an in-depth analysis of evidence and data related to the performance of the institution; and interviews with central office staff, school board members, parents, school administrators and teachers, business leaders, and community members.
  • The Diagnostic Review. Using the results of the review process, district and school leaders work together to discover patterns in their data, refute inaccurate assumptions, and move beyond the obvious to focus on the root causes associated with performance. Through this process, districts and schools gain a better understanding of their current reality so they may confidently build research-based plans that define actions to be implemented for better results in the future.
  • The Continuous Improvement Cycle. Throughout the year, district and school leaders regularly monitor implementation of their improvement strategies, discuss and analyze what is or is not working, and make any necessary adjustments to the improvement plan. They also continuously collect data to inform the ongoing self-assessment.

All institutions will, as always, be directed to implement at least one “Improvement Priority” to support improvement, and all will provide progress reports at various intervals to ensure their commitment to continuous improvement. As a testament to the value that schools and districts see in the accreditation process, a recent survey of AdvancED schools and districts showed that one of the top three reasons they choose to be accredited is the impact the process has on student performance.

Integrating the Best of Both Systems

With millions of dollars invested annually in efforts to improve our education systems, it is a wonder that accreditation, with its long history of making a difference in the quality of teaching and learning, is not front and center in a state’s arsenal of school improvement tools. However, this may be changing. Diagnostic review is included in the key principles of next generation accountability proposed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and is part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill passed by the Senate education committee in October 2011. Although there currently exist redundancies in accountability and accreditation systems, these can easily be resolved and eliminated by a thoughtful alignment of the best of both.

In the state of Kentucky, for example, about half of all schools and a quarter of all districts voluntarily participate in the AdvancED accreditation process. In 2011, AdvancED and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) signed a multi-year agreement designed to align the state’s accountability system with AdvancED’s continuous improvement model and to encourage more schools to become accredited. Through the use of a state-of-the-art web-based tool for collecting, analyzing, and reporting relevant data, all Kentucky schools now have access to AdvancED’s accreditation processes, and those who participate in accreditation will meet state reporting requirements without additional paperwork.

In Wyoming, all districts are required by the state to participate in AdvancED’s District Accreditation model and in Michigan, schools accredited by AdvancED also satisfy the state’s requirements for accreditation. In these states, the best practices associated with accreditation are being integrated into the state accountability model, resulting in a system that benefits from the best of both approaches to school improvement.

The Path Forward

Over the past decade, educators have learned many lessons while striving to meet ever more rigorous student achievement goals. The debate over defining the outcomes of a good education is resolving in favor of the need for every student to leave high school prepared for college or career. The Common Core State Standards, recently developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, and already adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, make a strong case for the notion that, in the 21st century, all students must have the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the global marketplace. This will not happen unless schools make dramatic improvements.

Continuous school improvement requires honest, regular self-assessment and diagnosis, along with thoughtful planning and careful attention to an array of program and legal requirements. Properly conceived and implemented, accreditation should be part of core school improvement activities designed to promote college and career readiness for all students. Armed with knowledge resulting from the diagnostic review, more focused and relevant research-based improvement plans can be developed to address not just the symptoms, but also the causes of underperformance. This information can and should feed seamlessly into existing, or redesigned, accountability systems, thereby strengthening the impact, utility and efficiency of all improvement efforts. This type of coherent approach to continuous improvement, using the best of accreditation and accountability systems, is required if our educational institutions are to make the gains necessary to ensure that all students graduate from high school college- and career-ready.

Learning Environments

In the 21st century, the need to prepare students for success in college and career cannot be understated. Countless researchers and pundits have pointed out the challenges faced by those without a high level of knowledge and skills when it comes to competing in the global marketplace.

In the 21st century, the need to prepare students for success in college and career cannot be understated. Countless researchers and pundits have pointed out the challenges faced by those without a high level of knowledge and skills when it comes to competing in the global marketplace. A high school diploma no longer guarantees a middle class job; without a postsecondary degree or certificate, it will be difficult for most students to survive and thrive in our changing world. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) believes educators across the P-20 spectrum must increase the academic rigor of high school curriculum, provide structures for student acceleration and support, and create successful pathways for all students from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education.

Dual enrollment and other early college programs offer an avenue toward meeting these challenges. There is evidence of success among dual enrollment programs in improving dropout rates and helping to move more students onto a college-bound track. However, dual enrollment programs are not a silver bullet. They must be supported by enlightened state policy and their quality must be assured. Regional accrediting agencies, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), have a big role to play in ensuring the quality of course offerings in dual enrollment programs. This brief summarizes dual enrollment programs in three states – North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida – and makes the case for continuing, strengthening, and expanding these programs to help meet the goal of ensuring that all students are college- and career-ready.

What is Dual Enrollment?

Dual enrollment programs are collaborative efforts between high schools and colleges in which high school students are permitted to enroll in and earn credit for successfully completing college courses, often on a college campus (Karp et al., 2007).

At the same time, participating students earn credit toward the requirements of their high school diploma. Throughout the country today, students enrolled in high schools may be dual-enrolled in programs that incorporate both college-level academic and relevant career preparation courses at a community college or university. Students who complete dual enrollment programs may earn Associate degrees, diplomas, or certificates at the same time they are earning their high school diplomas.

Historically, dual enrollment programs targeted high achieving students who benefited as much from the challenging course work as from earning credit. Recently, some states have made changes in the purpose, structure, and visibility of dual enrollment programs to provide a pathway to postsecondary work that includes a wider range of students. These include programs that focus on aiding underserved students who might be considered inadequately prepared for postsecondary work academically and socially.

Data on student participation in dual enrollment is limited and in the early stages of being collected. According to two 2005 reports from the U.S. Department of Education, 71 percent of U.S. high schools and 51 percent of U.S. postsecondary institutions permitted high school students to take college courses in 2002-03 (Waits et al., 2005). In total, 813,000 secondary school students took a college-credit course during 2002-03 (Kleiner & Lewis, 2005). At the federal level, the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education has expressed support for the expansion of dual enrollment programs (Karp, et al., 2007).

Benefits of Dual Enrollment Programs

Since their inception, dual enrollment and early college programs have been touted as avenues of "seamless transition" for students moving from secondary to postsecondary education. With an increase in the emphasis on college and career planning for students entering high school, more students are being encouraged to select an advanced curriculum that aligns with their postsecondary education and career goals.

There are recognized economic and educational benefits of these programs. Dual enrollment is seen by parents as a money-saving strategy that avoids skyrocketing tuition costs, because courses are often paid for and taken through the local high school. According to the U.S. Department of Education, for the students who participate in these programs, college credit earned prior to high school graduation reduces their average time-to-degree and the likelihood of graduation. There is also evidence that dual enrollment increases academic performance and educational attainment and decreases the need for remediation at the postsecondary level (Collins, 2011).

An emerging body of research and practice suggests that providing college-level coursework in high school has promise to better prepare a wide range of students for college success. This coursework, if well designed, may:

  • increase the pool of students historically underserved who are ready for college;
  • increase the academic rigor of the high school curriculum;
  • help low-achieving students meet high academic standards;
  • reduce high school dropout rates and increase student aspirations;
  • provide more academic opportunities in cash-strapped, small, or rural schools;
  • provide realistic information to students regarding the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed at the college level;
  • improve motivation through high expectations and the promise of free courses;
  • decrease the cost of postsecondary education by decreasing the number of years needed to earn a college degree; and
  • create a feedback loop between K-12 and postsecondary systems around issues of standards, assessments, curriculum, and transitions from high school to college (Hoffman et al., 2009).
Dual Enrollment in Practice

Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are examples of states heavily invested in providing articulated and structured dual enrollment opportunities. The programs in Florida and Georgia follow the traditional trajectory of accelerated learning and providing access to higher education credit for high achieving high school students, while North Carolina has embraced the dual enrollment pathways approach of the early or middle college model.

Florida. Florida has been a long time leader in the arena of dual enrollment. Legislators have historically placed an emphasis on creating and maintaining a credible, affordable, and seamless K-20 educational system via a comprehensive and centrally articulated array of choices to earn college credit while still in high school. The state requires that courses taken count simultaneously for college and high school graduation. Dual enrollment is articulated under Florida statute, which mandates that all 28 community colleges and specific four-year institutions offer dual credit course. Dual enrollment is one of five acceleration mechanisms identified by the Florida legislature in 1973 (Collins, 2011).

Of the five acceleration mechanisms, dual enrollment is viewed as the pathway to a postsecondary degree not limited to gifted students but also includes those considered middle achievers or those on a career or technical track. As a result, participation in dual enrollment grew from 27,689 students in 1988-89 to 34,273 in 2002-03. According to the Florida Board of Education, this growth rate included a high increase in participation among African American and Latino students. Since that time, Florida’s K-20 Education Code has continued to support dual enrollment as a critical component of the state’s educational strategy for acceleration of high school diploma completion.

Studies reveal students who have taken dual enrollment courses have a greater likelihood of enrolling at higher education institutions once they graduate from high school.

Significantly, in terms of placing structure on articulation between the K-12 system and institutions of higher education, an Ad Hoc Committee of the Florida Articulation Coordinating Committee (ACC), comprised of representatives from public school districts, community colleges, state universities, private institutions, and Department of Education staff, was formed in 2002 and charged to identify postsecondary courses and credits completed through dual enrollment that will satisfy high school graduation, determine the number of credits awarded for completion of each dual enrollment course, develop a statement of transfer guarantees for dual enrollment courses, and establish a procedure for annual review of inter-institutional articulation agreements. In addition, Florida requires every school district to enter into an articulation agreement with a community college to facilitate articulation and acceleration.

These programs have been in place long enough now to begin showing results. Studies reveal students who have taken dual enrollment courses have a greater likelihood of enrolling at higher education institutions once they graduate from high school (“Florida’s dual enrollment initiative: How state policy influences community colleges’ service to underrepresented youth,” 2006). Highly encouraging is research demonstrating that Florida students who participate in dual enrollment are retained at greater rates than their counterparts and do as well or better in subsequent college courses once enrolled full time.

Georgia. The Accel Program in Georgia is designed for junior and senior high school students enrolled in accredited public or private schools and allows students to pursue postsecondary study at approved public and private colleges and technical colleges while receiving dual high school and college credit for courses successfully completed. As in Florida, courses are limited to those in the approved course directory. These courses represent an articulation between the Georgia Department of Education and representatives of higher education. Georgia offers dual enrollment programs for Gifted Juniors, Senior Enrichment, and the Advanced Academy of Georgia. The Advanced Academy of Georgia, located on the campus of the University of West Georgia, is a residential, early entrance to college program that targets “carefully selected bright, and motivated high school students who are interested in accelerating their academic careers”(Advanced Academy of Georgia, 2012).

In addition, the “Move on When Ready Act” is another option available. It permits 11th and 12th grade students to leave their assigned high schools and attend postsecondary institutions full-time to earn course credit that will apply towards high school graduation and college credit. It is limited to students in 11th or 12th grade who have been in attendance at a Georgia public high school for two consecutive semesters in the prior year.

North Carolina. More than 200 early college high schools, designed to prepare students historically underrepresented in higher education for college, have opened across the United States since 2002 and serve approximately 50,000 students. While 25 states have at least one early college, North Carolina leads the nation with 71 early colleges. The Early College High School Initiative Student Information System and the National Center for Education Statistics show 86 percent of early college graduates enroll in college immediately after high school. This compares with two-thirds of high school graduates nationwide. In addition, of the 3,000 early college graduates in 2009, 25 percent had earned two full years of college credit or an Associate’s degree.

North Carolina’s early college initiative, which started in 2004, focuses on preparing students for the education needed in a “post-manufacturing knowledge economy”. North Carolina early college students participate in an accelerated program of blended high school and college coursework that provides academic and social supports. The North Carolina New Schools Project, a public-private organization dedicated to the development of innovative high schools, has been instrumental in North Carolina’s having the most early colleges and substantial data regarding best practices within this environment. In addition, SERVE Center at UNC-Greensboro has research to support early colleges are closing the achievement gap for students of color, and the students report more rigorous instruction than a comparison group (Le & Frankfort, March, 2011).

Policy Implications

The Education Commission of the States (www.ecs.org) provides a comprehensive database on dual enrollment programs across the United States including information on types of state policies in place, tuition payment requirements, student eligibility requirements, and so forth. According to the database, 46 states have common statewide policies in place for dual enrollment or other, similar, programs. These policies vary, with 12 states requiring post-secondary institutions and high schools to participate in dual enrollment programs and 20 states suggesting voluntary participation. Five states’ policies combine voluntary and mandatory conditions and nine states’ policies do not specify this aspect. Four states have no statewide policy related to dual enrollment.

In an October 2011 presentation to the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), Jennifer Dounay Zinth of ECS stressed 13 key policy components that states could implement to improve access and quality of dual enrollment programs (Zinth, J.D., 2011). For example, in spite of significant evidence of the many benefits associated with dual enrollment, currently only about 70 percent of school districts and higher education institutions participate in such programs. State policy should require public institutions to collaborate on these efforts in order to increase access.

State policy should require comprehensive reporting of data related to student characteristics, course completion, course grades, transferability of credit, and high school and college completion rates to state leaders and the public at large.

Another way to increase access, especially for those students who may not have considered college an option, or may be part of a traditionally underserved group, but for whom research shows the program can be beneficial, is to avoid limiting student eligibility based on GPA or class rank. Instead, state policy should allow for the consideration of a student’s demonstrated ability to succeed in college course work, as shown by college placement exams or prior coursework, as a standard for eligibility. Policies also should make explicit that successful completion of college course work is eligible for both high school and college credit in order to reap the full benefits of the option. Only 28 states explicitly allowed this in 2008.

States also should require participating institutions to proactively communicate with parents and students about the availability of dual enrollment options and should make tuition the responsibility of the state education agency, the district, or the postsecondary institution, or some combination of the three and avoid charging students tuition. The need to pay tuition could discourage many of the same students most likely to benefit from the dual enrollment option. At the same time, states should ensure that the cost of course delivery is paid only once. That is, when a high school student successfully completes a college course that is paid for by the state, there should be no additional cost to the state, or student, when that same student earns college credit for the course. One of the benefits to postsecondary institutions of the successful completion of college work at the high school level is a reduction in the cost of remediation when those students enter college.

Although it is critical to the continuing development and improvement of dual enrollment programs to collect data on access, quality, and outcomes, only 18 states require this kind of reporting. State policy should require comprehensive reporting of data related to student characteristics, course completion, course grades, transferability of credit, and high school and college completion rates to state leaders and the public at large.

The Role of Accreditation in Dual Enrollment

Ensuring quality of dual enrollment programs is of primary importance. There is little point in improving access to dual enrollment options for students, if the learning experience is not truly at a college level. Accreditation plays an important role by ensuring that programs and courses offered through dual enrollment are held to the same standards as required of the colleges awarding the credit. Faculty teaching these courses must possess the appropriate academic qualifications, related work experience, professional licensure and certifications, and other demonstrated competencies. Accredited colleges assume responsibility for the academic quality of the coursework and are required to ensure that courses and learning outcomes are at the collegiate level and comparable to those in their other degree programs.

Conclusion

The myriad challenges facing leaders in our country’s education system include not only the traditional issues of preparing students to be able to read, write, and compute effectively, but also the necessity to compete in a world that is shrinking due to the impact of technology and globalization on our everyday lives. In order to remain competitive with other industrialized nations, we must ensure that every student enrolled in our institutions successfully completes a curriculum of study that is both rigorous and effective in ensuring the development of skills for life and work. Dual enrollment programs, and other similar options to engage high school students in college course work, make an important contribution to this goal and should be supported through federal, state, and local policy as well as accreditation.

 

References

Collins, J. C. (2011). White Paper Florida Dual Enrollment. White Paper, University of South Florida, Community and State College Relations.

Education Commission of the States. High School Reform Database. Retrieved 1/12 from http://www.ecs.org/html/educationissues/HighSchool/highschooldb1_intro.asp?topic=d.

Florida’s dual enrollment initiative: How state policy influences community colleges’ service to underrepresented youth. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2006, (135), 39-47.

Hoffman, N., Vargas, J., and Santos, J. (2009). New Directions for Dual Enrollment: Creating Stronger Pathways from High School Through College. New Directions for Community Colleges, Spring 2009, 145, 43-58. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/advanced/search/results.

Karp, M.M., Calcagno, J.C., Hughes, K.L., Jeong, D.W., and Bailey, T.R. (2007). The postsecondary achievement of participants in dual enrollment: An analysis of student outcomes in two states. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.

Kleiner, B., & Lewis, L. (2005) Dual enrollment of high school students at postsecondary institutions, 2002-2003.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.

Le, C. and Frankfort, J. (March, 2011). Accelerating college readiness. Lesson’s from North Carolina’s innovator early colleges. Boston: Jobs for the Future.

Waits, T., Setzer, J. C., & Lewis, L. (2005). Dual credit and exam-based courses in U.S. public high schools, 2002-03. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. The Advanced Academy of Georgia. (2012, January 21). Retrieved from University of West Georgia: http://www.advancedacademy.org/welcome.php

Zinth, J.D., (2011). Enhancing Student Access and Success through a Model Statewide Policy. Presented to the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships Conference. Retrieved 1/12 from: http://www.ecs.org/html/educationissues/highschool/Dual-Enrollment-for-NACEP.pdf.

 

Educational Change

AdvancED adds its voice to a growing chorus of demands for not just “change” or “reform” of schooling, but for “fundamental transformation” of education to a new, more robust system aligned with our hopes and dreams for the future.

"The Power to Transform” is the bold theme of AdvancED’s 2011 International Summit, a theme designed to push our thinking about school system change from the notion of “tinkering around the edges” to implementing full-scale transformation on behalf of improved outcomes for students. In choosing this theme, AdvancED adds its voice to a growing chorus of demands for not just “change” or “reform” of schooling, but for “fundamental transformation” of education to a new, more robust system aligned with our hopes and dreams for the future.

The More Things Change

Calls for changes to the modern American public education system date back at least to the 1983 publication of “A Nation at Risk,” in which the National Commission on Excellence in Education scolded the educational establishment for the mediocrity of its product and warned of grave dangers to our national security and international competitiveness if significant change did not occur. Reactions to results from the OECD Programme for International Assessment (PISA), showing low scores and wide variation among students in the world’s developed countries on achievement tests in mathematics, science, and literacy, have raised additional concerns about the need for change.

And yet, though the clarion call for change continues, all over the world the way schools are organized, teachers are prepared, students are taught, and learning is assessed remain stubbornly similar to the past. Indeed, as educators and policymakers have attempted to respond to the demand for reform from stakeholders throughout society, they have often been met with simultaneous demands to protect the status quo. How, reformers ask, can we “fundamentally transform” the educational enterprise in our schools and school systems while still preserving so many of its features that various stakeholders value (e.g., the buildings, the calendar, the teacher contract, the governance structure)? What do “transformed” schools look like and how do we get there?

Caterpillars and Butterflies

Transformation, according to Webster’s dictionary, is a major change in form, function, or nature. Often used to describe biological processes like metamorphosis, the term implies movement from one condition or form to another, followed by consequent changes in function and nature. Think of the awkward, mousy-colored caterpillar clinging desperately to the branch until it transforms into the colorful butterfly free to fly away. Watching this process at work, we are reassured by the knowledge we gained as schoolchildren that the outcome will be splendid and that the butterfly – vibrant and free – is in a far more satisfactory form now than before the transformation began.

The Only Thing We Know for Sure

The aspiration for educational transformation is similar – to change schooling from its current awkward caterpillar-like state, in which achievement lags, bureaucracy stifles, and resources are scarce, into something as beautiful and inspirational as the butterfly. As we embark upon the transformational process in our schools and school systems, however, we lack the reassurance that, as in biological metamorphosis, the outcome will be an improvement over the current state.

Indeed, as we contemplate transforming schooling into a new, better, more effective endeavor, few of us have a clear image in our minds of what that will look like. In a transformed system, are there school buildings, age-based classrooms, summer vacations? Or, is education offered 24/7 online, facilitated by content experts available to enhance learning year-round? Or, might individual students direct their own learning, at times attending “schools” and at other times apprenticing in the community, volunteering overseas, and mastering content of their own choosing and in their own way?

We can hypothesize about the future but we cannot predict it. The lack of certainty about what lies ahead contributes to the familiar resistance to change. Similar to the old saying, “the devil you know may be better than the devil you don’t know,” change efforts in education are often stymied by the need for certainty, even if we know that what we are doing today is not working for far too many students.

Not All Changes are the Same

How can we better understand and engage with transformation? Organizational development experts Linda Ackerman Anderson and Dean Anderson, in articles and books such as "Beyond Change Management: Advanced Strategies for Today's Transformational Leaders" (2001), explain transformation through a helpful taxonomy differentiating among three types of change: developmental, transitional, and transformational. Although designed for the business world, these terms and definitions can be applied to educational organizations as well.

Developmental Change

“Developmental change,” as defined by these authors, is intended to improve the current condition. All organizations need to change if they are to survive and, in many cases, developmental change that improves existing processes without altering the fundamental structure of the organization is sufficient to ward off the entropy that can cause an organization to become obsolete. Implementation of comprehensive professional development plans for teachers or enhancements to instructional materials are examples of developmental changes in education. Developmental change may require us to alter our habits and behaviors, but rarely does it require us to change our values and beliefs. Because of this, developmental change is far easier to implement than the other types of change described below.

Transitional Change

The second type of change is “transitional.” Here the organization is deliberately moving from one condition to another and the new condition is well-defined in advance of the change. Transitional change is intended to fix a clearly-identified problem, and within the current system, criteria exist against which the effectiveness of the transition can be measured. Examples in education might include the downsizing of central administration, the redrawing of school attendance boundaries, or even implementation of comprehensive technology systems in place of traditional analog approaches.

Transitional change may affect the entire organization or may impact only certain parts. The change is significant and demanding but it is usually seen in a favorable light by stakeholders, because the problem it seeks to solve is clear and the desired outcome is known. This does not mean there will be no resistance to the change. Individuals impacted by the redefinition of roles, new school assignments, or even the requirement to move from a Mac to a PC do not always change quietly but, eventually, the benefits of the new condition outweigh the stress of change and most people adapt.

Transformational Change

“Transformational” change is the most demanding of the three types of change. Transformation involves a radical shift from one state of being to another and, adding to the challenge, the new state is, as yet, undefined. Rather than transitioning to a new state that can be described and understood before the change takes place, transformational change is required when it is determined that the current system simply no longer works and must be abandoned, even if its replacement has yet to be developed.

Transformation occurs in response to a “wake-up” call that reveals the mismatch between the demands and needs of the current and future reality and the capacity and character of the organization as it exists today. One such wake-up call for educators, of course, is found within the plethora of reports documenting the high dropout rates and low standardized test scores of our students. Another wake-up call is the inability of government budgets to provide the resources needed to keep the current system operating. Other wake-up calls include the looming teacher shortage and the expectations of “digital native” students regarding access to and use of technology.

Reactive and Conscious Transformation

Our organizational development experts provide a further helpful distinction between reactive and conscious transformation. Reactive transformation occurs when leaders of an organization are forced to change. In this case, leaders resist or deny the wake-up call believing that, like the snooze button on the alarm, if they just roll over and wait, it will stop. But, it doesn’t stop and change occurs to the organization without its consent. Leaders have no say over how the change takes place or what the end result will be.

Conscious transformation, on the other hand, occurs when the leaders of the organization recognize and proactively respond to the wake-up call by mapping out a route to change. At the start of the process, the route has no defined end but conscious transformational leaders trust that it will conclude successfully. Such leaders embark on the journey with relevant stakeholders as their partners, working collaboratively and transparently to confront the many mountains and valleys on the path. They feel free to fail as well as to succeed, and they expect to face and to learn from multiple challenges along the way. In this type of transformation, the goal is not only to survive, but to thrive.

Among all types of change described by these authors, conscious transformation is the most challenging. The challenge comes from the need for leaders and stakeholders to confront their values and beliefs, to ask the hard questions about whether or not their organizational structure is serving their mission, to accept the reality of changed conditions around them, and to respond creatively to new demands.

Transformation and the Status Quo

As a learning organization dedicated to innovation and improvement, AdvancED constantly asks the “what if” questions. For example, what if, now and in the future, developmental or transitional change alone offer insufficient remedies to the problems that plague our schools? So many reforms have been implemented over the years – from demanding greater accountability to providing more resources to increasing parent involvement to improving teacher quality – but far too many children have been left behind. Certainly there are many great schools and great school systems around the world, but not all children benefit from these pockets of excellence. And so, we ask ourselves, what if we need to do something radically different from what we have tried before? What if we need to risk the status quo on behalf of a future we aspire to but cannot yet describe?

Navigating the Journey

We do not take risk lightly. We understand the need to keep some anchors in the water while navigating the tumultuous (at times, shark-infested) seas of change. To that end, we offer our continuous improvement process, grounded in Standards for Quality Schools and Systems, as a potential pathway to change. Undergirded by meaningful standards for organizational effectiveness, schools and systems that engage in deep self-reflection, gather stakeholder input, and analyze and respond to relevant data are more likely to recognize when they need to introduce a developmental change, a transition, or a full-scale transformation. Although this pathway will not remove all of the stress associated with moving into the unknown, it is likely to ease the rigors of the journey.

Educational leaders must challenge themselves to be open to possibility, collaborate with others within and outside of their own system, and be willing to ask the “what if” questions. Only then, will educational organizations learn when to hold on and when to let go and begin to create a transformed system as splendid as a butterfly.

Discussion Questions

 

  1. Do you agree that education needs to transform?
  2. What kinds of developmental, transitional, or transformational changes are you willing to make (or must you make) for your school or school system to thrive?
  3. What kind of wake-up call will force you to chart a course to change?
  4. How can education leaders help provide stability while, at the same time, promoting transformation?
  5. Do you believe that the AdvancED accreditation process can be a catalyst for real change in your educational organization?

At Santa Rita Elementary School in Los Altos, Calif., a scene unfolded in 2010 not too different from scenes in schools around the country. A fifth-grade student, Jack, started the year at the bottom of his class in math. He struggled to keep up and considered himself one of those kids that would just never quite “get it.”
 
From there, however, the story took a less familiar twist. His school transformed his class into a blended-learning environment. After 70 days of using the Khan Academy for a portion of his math three to four days a week, rather than remain tracked in the bottom math group, Jack rose to be one of the top four students in his class. He was working on material well above grade level.
 
Jack’s rapid progress sounds like the stuff of movies or magic, but it isn’t. It’s an example of online learning’s power to help teachers differentiate and customize learning to fit a student’s needs.
 
Supporting Students at Their Current Level
Starting in the 2010-11 school year, Los Altos students tackled the beginning of Khan Academy’s Knowledge Map – that is, they started their math lessons by reviewing number sense and basic addition and subtraction. From here, they began to progress, each at his or her individual rate of learning.
 
The teachers, who tracked students’ progress in real-time on an iPad while wandering around the class, noticed that many students – who were ostensibly able to do fifth grade math – were getting stuck on second and third grade concepts. Equipped with data on where each child was getting stuck, they offered individual help to each student at the point of struggle. In Jack’s case, once he grasped a couple of basic concepts he had not fully mastered in earlier grades, he flew through the math curriculum with ease and confidence.
 
Why don’t all schools offer opportunities for students like Jack? One reason is that today’s schools were not designed to do what we ask of them at present.
 
Reflecting on School History
Today’s schools were designed over a century ago to emulate the efficient factories of that era. By batching students up in classrooms and standardizing—teaching the same thing to students in the same way on the same day – schools could educate children just as factories produced widgets. Not every child would master her learning, but this helped schools sort students into different career tracks. The model worked well when most students went directly to industrial jobs.
 
But the world has changed. In 1900 only 17 percent of all jobs required knowledge workers, whereas more than 60 percent do today. The world also has grown far more competitive. As a result, we now are asking our schools to educate successfully each child, but schools were instead built to sort students.
 
Experimenting with New Types of Classrooms
Individual school systems, like Los Altos, have recognized that we have an education system that mandates the amount of time students spend in class, but that does not expect each child to master her learning. The result has been that students don’t receive the support they need to master each concept before they move on to the next one. This creates gaps in most children’s education, which haunt them later in their schooling.
 
In Los Altos, school leaders and system officials brainstormed how to respond to this changing world. They built out the necessary infrastructure and cobbled together the hardware and technology to begin a pilot blended-learning program. The larger task, however, was familiarizing leaders, teachers and staff with the idea that students can and should take ownership of their learning by demonstrating mastery before moving on. The pilot started with five fifth and seventh grade classrooms at two schools. The teachers in the pilot believed that their role should not be that of the sage on the stage, but rather a coach, mentor and facilitator to support student success. Without this teacher buy-in, training, collaboration and support, Jack would still be stuck sitting in the back of the class daydreaming through his teacher’s lecture. These teachers loved the experience of working with students one-on-one. Word of mouth from satisfied teachers, along with great student results, proved a powerful lever for change. Two years later, over 1,000 students in grades five through eight in Los Altos learn math in blended-learning environments.
 
The pilot schools in Los Altos benefitted from school system leadership that was willing to give autonomy to school-level leaders. Those closest to the students are generally able to make the best decisions about curriculum, spending and support needs. In a portfolio-school model, school systems allow each school to make purchasing and leadership decisions based on ground-level knowledge of student and staff needs.
 
Although a few school systems and schools across the country are beginning to experiment and implement individualized learning systems, most remain trapped in the factory-based system, because the majority of policy is still focused on rewarding the systems, providers and operators that best meet certain input measures. Focusing on inputs has the effect of locking a system into a set way of doing things and inhibiting innovation; focusing on outcomes, on the other hand, encourages continuous improvement against a set of overall goals and, in this case, can unlock a path toward the creation of a high-quality student-centric education system. To this point it appears that policies that create access to online learning – as evidenced in the rapid growth of the movement – are outpacing policies that reward quality for each student.
 
Considering Changes to Transform Schools
To unlock the power of personalized learning on a more systemic, scalable level, we must create the conditions for both innovation and quality. As a starting point, that means that policymakers must eliminate the majority of input-based rules.First, it no longer makes sense to fund schools based on seat time, when we know that six hours of a student in a seat does not translate to six hours of student learning. Some students may progress quickly; their afternoon time might be spent better in an internship. Others may benefit from extended-learning time and extra tutoring. One size does not fit all. School leaders and teachers are, in most cases, in a far better position than the State Department of Education to determine what their students need to reach annual student-growth goals.
 
Second, eliminating well-intended student-teacher ratio requirements is critical. California’s Milpitas Unified School District had to apply for waivers to implement its innovative plan to transform two elementary schools into blended-learning schools. Principals and teachers decided collectively to increase their elementary class sizes to 36. At any given time, 12 students from each class are in a large, mixed-age learning lab using online curriculum to work on Math and English Language Arts skills. The 24 remaining students rotate within the classroom between group work and direct instruction. This innovative model shows real promise, but leaders had to first work around state policies. Giving schools the flexibility to deploy inputs as it makes sense in their circumstance to help students grow and master their learning is essential.
 
To that end, as states free up schools around inputs, they should focus more on individual student-learning outcomes that value individual growth. Having systems of assessments – from objective exams to projects and portfolios of work – that students can use to show mastery as they complete their work, will be critical.
 
Embracing the Online Learning Opportunities
As online learning continues to grow such that students are no longer limited to the menu of course options offered within their school system, more states are moving toward funding mechanisms that allow dollars to follow students down to the course level, such that students can get access to the high-quality courses they need and want regardless of where they live. As this happens, funding student outcomes – not just access – will be important. In Louisiana, for example, which passed a course choice program last year, an online course provider receives 50 percent of the cost of the course up-front and the last 50 percent when the student completes the course. This is a step in the right direction, but ultimately this policy should evolve further to reward the provider not just for output-based performance – as in, when a student completes a course – but for real learning outcomes verified independently through the systems of assessments.
 
In order for the American education system to make the sharp pivot from standardization to personalization for students, all levels of the system must participate in the change. Legislators and policymakers must clear the way for innovation and provide students access to online courses. At the district level, leaders should give autonomy to school leaders and teachers. At the school level, principals and teachers must be thoughtful and deliberate in designing a system no longer dictated by strict whole-class lesson plans and time-based units.
 
With all that in place, hopefully all students across the country will soon have the same opportunity as Jack – access to a truly personalized learning experience.
 

 
Michael B. Horn is the co-founder and education executive director of Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to solve problems in the social sector. Horn co-authored the book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. BusinessWeek named the book one of the 10 Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008 and Newsweek named it as the 14th book on its list of “Fifty Books for Our Times.” He is coeditor of the forthcoming book Private Enterprise and Public Education, as well as a coauthor of several publications and white papers on blended learning. Horn holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BA in history from Yale University. To learn more, contact him at mhorn@innosightinstitute.org.
 
Meg Evans is the Education Program Associate at Innosight Institute. She graduated from Yale University with a BA in Political Science in 2011. Her senior thesis focused on the story of education reform work in New Haven. Evans began focusing on policy while in college with the Roosevelt Institute, a national non-profit student think-tank, where she served as the Yale chapter president and later as the Chair of the National Student Advisory Board. She also interned as a President’s Public Service Fellow, where she worked in New Haven’s City Hall; at NDN, a center-left think tank based in Washington, DC; and as a creative writing teacher working with middle school students. She can be reached at mevans@innosightinstitute.org.
Online learning for students in grades K-12 has been available for over a decade in some states, and the number of programs offered by school systems or virtual (online)1 charter schools is increasing rapidly. Connections Education has been operating Connections Academy online schools since the fall of 2002 and currently enrolls almost 50,000 students.2 Families seek out online schools for many reasons. Forty percent of the students who enrolled in Connections Academy schools for the 2012-2013 school year reported they needed more flexibility. Another 26 percent reported they did not get enough attention from their previous teacher. Fifteen percent reported they were not safe at school, and 12 percent indicated there was a health problem that limited a student’s ability to attend a traditional school. Approximately 33 percent indicated they have not been successful academically. One of the major criticisms of full-time online schools is that their state standardized test results are lower than students’ scores in traditional schools. In addition, while there are some full-time online programs that score well on some states’ accountability measures, most do not. We believe that this reflects a simplistic view of a complex issue. We believe that the value of these programs needs to be determined based on an analysis of the performance of comparable student populations in traditional schools and that the composition of the tested population also is important when comparing the performance of online schools to each other.
 
As a leader in the delivery of online education, Connections Education continually reviews internal data to improve student performance at the schools we serve. We have noted for some time that while many of the students in a Connections Academy school remain advanced or proficient on state standardized tests or improve their performance as compared to their prior results, others fail to improve or even show a decline in their performance. We needed a better understanding of the factors that contribute to these different outcomes in order to improve our performance and better understand the challenges presented by current measurement systems. Our analysis of standardized test scores for students enrolled in the schools we operate highlights several factors we believe may be adversely affecting the performance of online schools (as well as the performance of some traditional schools), which may need to be specifically addressed through different educational strategies and different accountability measures. For example:
 
  1. The timing of a student’s enrollment in a full-time online school impacts the student’s state test score performance, and a significant number of students enroll in online schools after the start of the school year.
  2. A statistically significant relationship exists between a student’s household income level and state test performance. Students who enroll after the start of the school year are more likely to be from lower income families.
  3. Family engagement with the decision to enroll in an online school has a positive influence on academic performance. Engagement during the enrollment process declines after the start of the school year.

 

Enrollment Timing
Most states require online schools to accept students throughout the school year, unless they are subject to enrollment caps. There is increased demand for online schooling after the start of the school year as families look for solutions to problems that develop in their previous schools. About 30 percent of the new students we serve enroll after the start of the school year.3 Our data indicates that these students are less likely to score at the proficient level or above on their state’s standardized tests.4
 
Percentage of new students enrolled in a Connections Academy-operated school who score at the proficient level or above on their state’s standardized tests, administered during the spring of 2012, based on their time of enrollment (number of days after the scheduled start of their school).
 
 
Most states recognize that students who start after October 1 are less likely to do well on a state test given the limited time between their enrollment and the time of the test. So, they exclude students who enroll after October 1 from their accountability measures. But our data shows that a significant decline in student performance occurs well before an October 1 cut‐off date, most likely due to the conditions that caused the students to leave their previous school in the midst of the school year. With the exception of some traditional public schools that serve a highly transient student population, it would be unusual for a traditional school to enroll so many new students after the start of the school year. Therefore, online schools are disproportionately affected by the inclusion of the scores for students who enroll after the start of the school year but before a state’s cut‐off date.
 
Household Income
It is well known that low-income students generally score lower on state standardized tests.5 Since schools that serve low-income students vary considerably in their access to highly qualified teachers, time devoted to instruction, curriculum materials, etc., it has been difficult to determine if household income produces students less likely to test well or if students from lower income households do not have access to the same educational resources as higher income students, or both. Full-time online school programs use the same teacher pool, curriculum and technology and set the same time requirements for instruction for all students, regardless of their income level. So comparing low-income students to higher income students within the same online school narrows the comparison to income, without the influence of different school experiences. As shown by reported test data from the South Carolina Connections Academy (SCCA) during 20126, there is a significant disparity in academic performance based on income level.7
 
Percentage of all students enrolled in the South Carolina Connections Academy school who scored proficient or above on their state’s standardized tests, administered during the spring of 2012, based on their household income (as reported by the South Carolina Department of Education state web site).
 
 
Further, as shown below, the higher the percentage of low‐income students who are tested in the third grade, in all of the large full‐time virtual schools in Pennsylvania, the lower the percentage of their students who are proficient or above in math.
 
Percentage of all students in the largest “cyber” schools in Pennsylvania who scored proficient or above in third grade math on their state’s standardized tests, administered during the spring of 2012 (as reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Education state website).
 
 
The influence of income on the performance of virtual schools also is evident in Florida. The three full-time virtual schools that received that state’s highest rating of “A” for the 2012‐2013 school year had much smaller percentages of low income students than the program that received a “C”.8
 
Family Engagement
Full-time public virtual schools almost always are required to accept all students, even though it is widely acknowledged that online learning does not work for everyone.9 In our effort to understand the factors that contribute to student success, we examined the level of engagement by a family with the school during the enrollment process.10 Our data shows that students who enroll later in the school year are less likely to attend an orientation event or have other interactions with the school (e.g. talking to a teacher or another parent) during the enrollment process. For example, 78 percent of families who start a Connections Academy school in August demonstrate engagement with the school during the enrollment process versus only 47 percent of those who enroll in December.
 
Conclusions
We are developing strategies to address all of these findings. Starting with the 2013-2014 school year — we have completely redesigned the “onboarding” process for students who start after the first day of school to provide them with more forms of support earlier, we are increasing our early warning systems to identify students at academic risk, and we will specifically include household income as an identified risk factor. We also are increasing enrollment engagement activities after the start of the school year and, to the extent permitted by school regulatory authorities, are requiring some level of engagement with the school by the parent or student prior to enrollment.
 
We believe that a better understanding of the factors that influence academic performance in online schools will help in the design of more effective evaluation systems for all schools. This is important because it is increasingly clear that many students want to learn online and many of them are doing so successfully. Our hope in sharing our data is that it will assist in this effort, particularly when determining which students and schools should be compared to each other and how to measure the impact of online learning as compared to traditional models for comparable populations.
 
References
1 “Online” and “virtual” are used interchangeably to refer to schools where the students and teachers are not in the same location and students use the Internet in order to access instruction and curriculum materials.
2 Connections Education serves students in full-time online programs that are operated under contracts with charter schools, school districts and departments of education in 22 states.
3 Full-time online schools follow a traditional school calendar because their students must take their state’s standardized tests and the tests are administered to all public school students at the same time. While there are discussions about decoupling testing and funding models from the traditional school year, this is not yet practical for schools that are measured under existing state accountability systems.
4 While states currently use different standardized tests, they all report the percentage of students who meet or exceed their designated proficiency threshold, so we have combined the data from multiple Connections Academy schools on that basis.
6 SCCA tests students at Grades 3-8 and students in their second year of high school. In South Carolina, Grades 3‐8 take the PASS and 2nd year high school students take the HSAP. Values in the table are based on results calculated across PASS and HSAP results for SCCA and can be found at: http://ed.sc.gov/data/pass/2012/ and http://ed.sc.gov/data/hsap/
7 South Carolina is one of the few states that report the performance of students who are not from low-income households as well as those who are. So in most states, it is impossible to see the difference in performance on state tests solely based on income. Yet all states report detailed comparisons of test score performance based on ethnicity.
8 Broward Virtual, school grade of A with 20% low-income students reported; Palm Beach Virtual, school grade of A with 18% low-income; Lee County Virtual, school grade of A with 33% low-‐income (but requires low scoring students on the FCAT to attend in-person remediation sessions, which potentially disqualifies it for analysis as a completely virtual school program); versus Florida Virtual School Full-Time with a school grade of C and 48% low-income reported. http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org/
9 “Elearning works, Exactly how well depends on its unique features and barriers”, January 2013, Cornell University https://est05.esalestrack.com/eSalesTrack/Content/Content.ashx?file=6a19ac39‐d8aa‐4861‐af6d‐1a13108b8eb1.pdf While this report covers higher education, the issues are the same in online learning in K-12.
10 Family engagement is widely associated with student success. http://www.ncpie.org/Resources/resources_by_org.cfm?orgID=45
 

 
Barbara Dreyer is president, CEO and co-founder of Connections Education. She was a member of the Board of Visitors of University of Maryland University College, and Towson University. In 2010, she received an outstanding leadership award from the United States Distance Learning Association. In 2011, she received AdvancED’s Corporation and Distance Learning “Excellence in Education Award” and now chairs its Corporations and Distance Education Council. Mrs. Dreyer holds a business and economics degree from Towson University and an MBA from Loyola College. She can be contacted at bdreyer@connectionseducation.com.
 

It seems simple enough. All states need to do to meet the challenge of college and career readiness for all students is to align all the systems that support the goal. After all, systems alignment is a business principle that has been recognized as effective for decades. Schools should be able to do that. Shouldn’t we?
 
Continuous Improvement Approach
In Kentucky, the process of systems alignment has been very difficult and is still ongoing; however, there were several crucial steps on the journey that we will describe in this article. The steps are modeled after a continuous improvement approach of defining customer requirements, analyzing current performance, leadership setting a vision and specific goals to meet customer requirements, implementing an action plan and processes to reach the goals, and publicly reporting progress toward the goals.
 
The customer requirements were defined by the Kentucky General Assembly with legislation passed in 2009. The legislation required the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) to work collaboratively to increase the percentage of high school graduates who are college- and career- ready. The legislation required adoption of academic standards in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies that were nationally and internationally benchmarked. Additionally, the legislation required new assessments aligned to the standards, an accountability model based on the standards, and professional development and support for educators who were charged with implementing the standards and assessments.
 
The legislation led the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) to adopt a strategic plan called Unbridled Learning. This plan established clear priorities for Next-Generation Learning, Next-Generation Professionals, Next-Generation Support Systems and Next-Generation Schools and Districts. The plan established SMART goals for each of the priorities.
 
One of the SMART goals for Next-Generation Learning is that Kentucky will improve the college and career readiness rate from 34 percent in 2010 to 67 percent in 2015. The partnership between KDE and CPE led to clear measures for this goal. All higher education institutions in Kentucky agreed to benchmark scores for the ACT and COMPASS® assessments that would allow high school graduates to enter a credit-bearing course. The KBE added measures for career readiness that include academic measures (ACT, COMPASS®, WorkKeys® and a state-developed math placement exam, KYOTE) and technical measures (occupational testing and national industry certification).
 
Actions to Meet Goals
Perhaps the most challenging part of a continuous improvement system is the translation of the goals into specific actions and processes at each level of the system. The delivery chain from KDE to school systems to schools to teachers and classrooms to students and parents had to be aligned to the state goals, and the actions at each level had to lead to improved performance. KDE worked closely with the Education Delivery Institute to define annual targets for every school system and school in Kentucky that became the annual targets for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability waiver and specific strategies that would enable every system and school to reach the annual targets.
 
The next part of the challenge was to have a system that supported schools and school systems in translating state goals, annual targets and strategies into specific actions at the system, school, classroom and student levels. KDE partnered with AdvancED to implement a statewide consolidated school and system improvement process that is data-driven and focused on the improvement of student achievement and organizational effectiveness, which meets the requirements for major state and federal programs and priorities while being aligned to AdvancED accreditation requirements. The initial implementation and deployment of the system to support this process through AdvancED’s ASSIST™ (Adaptive System of School Improvement Support Tools), began in the fall of 2012.
 
Support for Educators
The final piece of the continuous improvement system is the support for schools and classroom teachers with key processes aligned to the goals and strategies of the state strategic plan. Connecting and aligning school systems and school actions to the Kentucky Board of Education goals in order to get the work done will be accomplished through the expectation that each school and school system will construct their comprehensive system and school improvement plans using the ASSIST tool. Through using common needs assessments and diagnostics available through ASSIST as well as Kentucky-specific instruments like The Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle, a parent engagement analysis rubric, schools will develop profiles, write executive summaries and set goals aligned with Kentucky Board of Education goals. In addition, the activities align with those identified as best practice in the Kentucky Delivery Plans at the state level.
 
In addition to ASSIST, with support from the Race to the Top award, Kentucky partnered with SchoolNet and Pearson to develop the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS). This system provides educators with 24/7 access to the standards in student-friendly language, instructional resources aligned to the standards, formative assessments, professional development aligned to the standards, and a teacher effectiveness/evaluation system aligned to the standards and student learning outcomes.
 
The Kentucky goal of increasing the percentage of students who graduate with the skills needed for college and career readiness is important to our students, their families and the economic vitality of the state. We are well on our way to reaching that goal based on the first two years of data. A key lesson learned is that a continuous improvement approach takes many partners working together to reach common goals.
 

 
Terry Holliday, Ph.D., has served as Kentucky Commission of Education since 2009. Prior to that, Dr. Holliday served as superintendent of the more than 20,000-student Iredell-Statesville school district from 2002 until 2009. Under his leadership, the Iredell-Statesville school district received the 2008 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Holliday’s previous experience includes serving as superintendent, associate superintendent, director of accountability, principal, assistant principal, director of instrumental music and band director in North Carolina and South Carolina. In December 2010, Dr. Holliday was named to the board of directors for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for 2010-11. In September 2011, Dr. Holliday was appointed to serve a four-year term on the National Assessment Governing Board. The board sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation’s Report Card. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Furman University; a master’s degree and education specialist degree from Winthrop University; and a doctorate from the University of South Carolina.
 
Susan Allred is the Interim Associate Commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Next-Generation Schools and Districts. Her focus is on comprehensive school and district plans aligned with Kentucky Board of Education goals, including alignment of all Federal Programs, alternatives, virtual, safe schools and school improvement grant processes at the state level. Allred has 20 years of experience as a classroom teacher and more than 16 years of experience as a building and district administrator. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; her Master’s of Arts from Gardner-Webb University; and her Ed.S. in Educational Leadership and Superintendency from Appalachian State University.
Learning Environments

Today’s education system was built to standardize the way we teach and test. This worked well when most students would progress from school to an industrial job. However, students are expected to perform more complex tasks in today’s workplace, when the current education system does not adequately prepare students for success in career and life. Given that each student has different learning needs at different times — we learn at different paces, have different aptitudes, and enter classes with different experiences and background knowledge — we need an education system that can offer customized instruction so that individual students can realize their full potential (Innosight Institute, A Guide to Personalized Learning, p.1).

Today’s education system was built to standardize the way we teach and test. This worked well when most students would progress from school to an industrial job. However, students are expected to perform more complex tasks in today’s workplace, when the current education system does not adequately prepare students for success in career and life. Given that each student has different learning needs at different times — we learn at different paces, have different aptitudes, and enter classes with different experiences and background knowledge — we need an education system that can offer customized instruction so that individual students can realize their full potential (Innosight Institute, A Guide to Personalized Learning, p.1).
Curriculum Designed for Learning Mastery
At Laurel Springs School, the methodology we apply to our teaching and learning criteria is focused on a common college preparatory curriculum and assessment program. This program is implemented school-wide and allows for personalized instruction. Our curriculum is developed and disseminated to teachers who follow lesson plans while working one-on-one with students. Since teachers do not create each week’s learning activities and assessments, they are able to focus on evaluating student work, providing high-quality feedback and gauging ongoing academic progress through a variety of formative assessments.
 
Today’s students will benefit most from curriculum that promotes independent thinking and active learning. Higher level thinking and open-ended assignments are included in frequent authentic evaluations. Performance-based rubrics guide students to complete assignments and strive for mastery of the concepts. Formative assessments that conclude unit studies in all core courses are comprehensive and allow students to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives. In addition, these assessments offer students options, where appropriate, to demonstrate mastery using different media or learning modalities.
 
In Disrupting Class, the authors challenge school leaders to focus on customizing an education to match the way that each child learns best. In some learning environments that is easier to do than in others. Specifically, to introduce customization successfully, schools must move away from monolithic instruction and move towards a modular, student-centric approach. I believe that if we reinvent our learning environments and embrace online or blended programs, we create a pathway to student success through personalized instruction and learning.
Data to Support Personalized Learning
In today’s world, we are inundated with data, and it can be hard to digest information about our students in time for it to have a material impact on student success in the current school year. How do we as leaders in our schools create a framework and structure to turn that data into something meaningful? Specifically, how can data be applied to improve student success and personalize learning?
 
Implementing a personalized approach to big data can add a layer of unexpected culture to a school:
  • Teachers are empowered to differentiate curriculum and instruction according to learning profile data.
  • Students are treated as individuals with assignments that speak to their strengths and address their areas of challenge.
  • Students retain information better, resulting in improved academic outcomes.
  • The “big data” collected by the school becomes an integral part of the school’s growth and success.
  • Schools can measure improved ROI for existing big data solutions.
Scholarly research supports the idea that personalizing instruction for each student improves student outcomes. Two studies reinforce bringing big data down to the individual level in our schools.
 
A Carnegie Mellon study published in 2010 that examined personalized reading instruction showed that when students were assigned reading passages aligned with “authentic connections” to their interests, their reading comprehension improved. Similarly, in a study that will be published in the August 2013 Journal of Educational Psychology, researchers examined the idea of placing Algebra instruction in contexts relevant to students’ out-of-school experiences. The study found that personalized math problems not only made it easier for students to understand what was being asked, but also helped to boost the confidence of students who may have been intimidated by the subject.
Practical Data Use
So just how do educational leaders implement customized student curricular experiences? First we must evaluate what we have always done and overlay the insights technology provides to help prepare students for the world as it is. This process begins with the data. Every school has identified different needs for their student population and, to varying degrees, data about their students’ learning profiles. Many aggregate data sources into a holistic portrait of each individual student. How do we analyze and use the data to develop an implementation plan to position our school to better meet the needs of our students?
 
In order to apply learning profile data in a practical way, we don’t just need the data. Personalizing data requires schools to view students as individuals who can achieve more with a differentiated approach. Many educational institutions use a combination of the following data sources to build individual student learning profiles:  
  • Student feedback
  • Grade reports
  • Teacher evaluations
  • IQ tests
  • Personality tests
  • Learning style assessments
  • Diagnostic assessments
  • Milestone assessments
Assessments that Support Learning
As a private online school, Laurel Springs has more than 20 years of experience in developing personalized academic programs to meet each student’s needs based on their learning preferences. The following is an example of how our school applies big data about student learning in a practical way to increase student outcomes.
 
All students participate in Performance Series assessments in the first and last lessons of their English and Math courses. These assessments play a crucial role in monitoring student growth and measuring school improvement.
 
Laurel Springs adopted this assessment program in part because it matches our student-centered approach and virtual course delivery. The program provides adaptive content so that each learner is assessed according to individual skill levels.
 
In addition to being convenient and suited to personalized learning, the assessments give immediate feedback on students’ individual progress toward core objectives. Post-assessment detailed reports feature norm referencing to compare our school’s results to national statistics. A parent summary also is included so that our families can work with their children to focus on improving areas of challenge. The benefits of this program are both immediate and long-term and work well within our personalized learning framework.
 
The Performance Series benefits students by:
  • Discovering individual content area skills students have
  • Providing specific skill sets to build on in Math/Language Arts/Reading/English
  • Demonstrating the progress achieved during the year
The Performance Series benefits teachers by:
  • Providing data to customize learning to meet individual student goals
  • Providing teachers with the necessary information to help students increase achievement levels
  • Helping teachers discover learning needs shared by groups of students that may be addressed by broad improvements to teaching and curriculum
The Performance Series benefits the entire school by:
  • Aligning assessment scores with semester exams to enhance courses and provide a foundation for the creation of new ones
  • Ensuring accurate student placement
  • Guiding teacher training topics based on student achievement
  • Evidencing school-wide progress

Our goal should be to leverage data and technology to meet student needs in real time. If a student has mastered a concept before the rest of her classmates, there should be no need to wait until the end of the unit to progress, nor should the struggling student simply continue without the time to grasp more important building blocks.

Students Experiencing Success
One of my favorite pearls of wisdom from Disrupting Class is that unless students (and teachers) are motivated, they will reject the rigor of any learning task and abandon it before achieving success.
 
We believe that personalized learning driven by digital technology has the power to transform our education system. This transformation reaches across the boundaries of economic and social barriers to meet the needs of a diverse group of students with a focus on student growth and individual learning goals. With our approach to personalizing big data about learning, each student has the potential to succeed.
 
In summary, as school leaders we should be dedicated to building a platform for learning that encourages student success and mastery of concepts to ensure each individual student’s achievement. We know from research that every student learns in a different way, and our focus should be on customizing an education to match the way that each child learns best. We need to move away from one-size-fits-all instruction and move towards a modular, student-centric approach. As we reinvent our learning environments and leverage technology to impact academic success, we find that technology affords us the opportunity to personalize the learning experience for each individual student.
It is our mission to honor our promise to prepare the students in our care for their journey beyond our school walls and into the world of the 21st century. I believe there is more we can do.
 
References:
Evans, Meg (2012) Innosight Institute, A Guide to Personalized Learning, p.1
Clayton M Christensen; Michael B. Horn; Curtis W Johnson (2008) Disrupting Class
Journal of Educational Psychology, Special Issue: Advanced Learning Technologies (2013)
International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education (2010)
Education Week (September 26, 2012)
 

 
Darby Carr, President of Laurel Springs School, an online private school, has more than 15 years of education experience. Carr has served as Head of School for an international distance learning program, as well as Chief Administrative Officer and School Principal for a charter school. She is a member of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the Academy of International Schools Heads (AISH), Association of International Educators (NAFSA), and the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE). She holds a B.A. from Bates College in Psychology/Economics. Carr can be contacted at dcarr@laurelsprings.com.
Accountability

A Rube Goldberg, according to Webster's Dictionary, is "a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation." We can see these contraptions in operation in school administration in the fetishizing of strategic planning, which has become something of an end in itself, and particularly in how we determine the effectiveness of our schools and their impact on student success.

A Rube Goldberg, according to Webster's Dictionary, is "a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation." We can see these contraptions in operation in school administration in the fetishizing of strategic planning, which has become something of an end in itself, and particularly in how we determine the effectiveness of our schools and their impact on student success. Today's accountability systems fail to identify the root causes of underperformance and therefore fail to enable actionable strategies for improvement. We have made improvement and accountability of our schools a complicated process with limited impact on student success.

A wealth of empirical evidence confirms what common sense suggests: Students do better in school when teachers make frequent efforts to check on students' progress and, if students are floundering, to help them get back on course right away. Simply put, the approach that educators call "classroom formative assessment" works. It can play a powerful part in teachers' efforts to improve student learning. Less-widely recognized, though, is the role that this strategy can play in the improvement of entire schools.

In classrooms, ongoing evaluation ensures that educators regularly collect assessment-elicited evidence from students regarding how well they are learning. Depending on what the evidence indicates, then both teachers and students can decide whether they need to adjust what they are doing.

Sometimes accompanied by other less salient indicators such as graduation rates or attendance levels, students' performances on state-administered achievement tests dominate the way we appraise the educational efforts of schools, districts, and states.

This approach works well because it exemplifies the kind of ends-means thinking that has served the human race for eons. In the classroom, curricular targets (the ends) are chosen, and then instructional procedures (the means) are selected to promote students' mastery of those curricular targets. As instruction proceeds, teachers periodically collect assessment evidence of students' progress so that, if the initially chosen instructional procedures are not working satisfactorily, changes can be made in those instructional means. It is this sort of en-route evidence gathering to see if the originally selected means are determining the desired ends that makes this approach so successful and seem as little more than common sense.

In recent years, our public schools have usually been subjected to once-a-year evaluations based on a handful of limited indicators -- typically students' scores on annually administered accountability tests. Sometimes accompanied by other less salient indicators such as graduation rates or attendance levels, students' performances on state-administered achievement tests dominate the way we appraise the educational efforts of schools, districts, and states. Chiefly intended to identify poor performance and spur improvements in subsequent years, the limited data from these annual tests have sparked a groundswell of complaints about the over-testing of students.

Moreover, the preoccupation with students' test scores have sometimes masked -- rather than illuminated -- causes of the real problems confronting our schools. Too often, educators have become fixated on students' declining test scores or a rise in the dropout rate that are often the symptoms of much deeper, systemic problems that have gone unidentified. And yet, these problems could be identified and resolved by applying a comprehensive formative-assessment strategy to the chief aspects of a school's operation.

Making this profound shift in our approach to the annual evaluations of schools would require pressing the "reset button" on our school-evaluation thinking. 

Almost all proponents to regularly adjust instruction agree that this approach is a planned process whereby the teacher decides in advance when to collect evidence of students' progress toward the key building blocks of a learning progression. If, for example, an elementary teacher is to improve students' composition skills, the teacher might have identified what skills students need to master to be successful, such as selecting and organizing content and how they employ conventions of writing such as spelling and punctuation. This requires thoughtful planning to identify when and how to assess and then determine what levels of insufficient progress warrant an adjustment in instruction.

Making this profound shift in our approach to the annual evaluations of schools would require pressing the "reset button" on our school-evaluation thinking. Instead of appraising a school's success once a year, primarily on the basis of students' performances on state-level accountability tests, we would need to replace an evaluation strategy with an improvement strategy similar to what teachers do regularly in classrooms to make evidence-based adjustments in their work. For schools, we would need to move beyond what we do today to require that any sort of overall appraisal of a school be rooted in the degree of actual improvement seen in a school.

This approach -- now being tested across entire states such as Kentucky and Michigan -- will benefit young people by helping educators make needed changes across all aspects of what happens in school that affect learning. These states, for example, are tracking changes in student performance, school climate, student engagement, and other indicators. At the local level, school districts and principals can use a possible series of pre-planned actions to get the evidence they need to adjust and improve.

School decision-makers must isolate a manageable and relevant number of such contributory dimensions -- not too many -- because for each such dimension one or more measurable indicators would need to be identified. 

First, a school's staff would need to work together to identify what matters most in their school's operation that contributes to the overall quality of education experienced by students. For example, these dimensions might include teacher morale, community engagement, instructional materials, students' attitudes toward learning, and instructional quality. School decision-makers must isolate a manageable and relevant number of such contributory dimensions -- not too many -- because for each such dimension one or more measurable indicators would need to be identified. Such dimensions must define clearly the conditions, processes and practices that impact student learning.

These measurable indicators provide the ongoing evidence to a school's staff about which, if any, adjustments should be made.

As in teaching, introducing ongoing diagnostic assessment will provide timely and actionable information for those managing change. This approach will help school leaders eliminate their blind spots and jolt schools that have little initiative to improve out of their complacency. Too many schools assume that all is well, even though a closer inspection reveals areas that need improvement in student learning, school climate, and leadership, among others. And by implementing this type of ongoing evaluation for improvement, schools where test scores are low and state sanctions are looming, may find encouraging clues to provide quality instruction and build on their hidden strengths.

The way we examine how well schools are doing must be systemic and address, on an ongoing basis, all aspects of schooling, using more comprehensive assessment data to identify needed changes. By making the complexities of schooling more visible we can make continuous school improvement possible.

Learning Environments

Marie was the kind of pre-service teacher who believed that, in her future classroom, anything would be possible — and who made you believe it, too.

Marie was the kind of pre-service teacher who believed that, in her future classroom, anything would be possible — and who made you believe it, too. We taught Marie in a class on differentiated instruction during her last semester of coursework before she began her teaching career. The following fall, she invited us to spend some time in her school so we could watch her new classroom in action.

What we encountered during our visit was a thoughtfully developed learning environment where kids came first and learning happened through a partnership between student and teacher. At the end of that day, we eagerly asked Marie what she’d done during the first few months of school to develop the climate we’d seen. Marie’s answers serve as a guide to all educators who hope to create classrooms and schools where students take ownership of their learning — and like it that way.

What we encountered during our visit was a thoughtfully developed learning environment where kids came first and learning happened through a partnership between student and teacher.

Developing a Growth Mindset

Marie began by telling us a story about her own childhood. Although she was a successful student, her greatest fear was that her teachers and peers would discover she wasn’t smart. Marie thought of being smart as something you either were or weren’t, and there was nothing you could do about it. When given a choice for an assignment, she always selected the option on which she was most likely to get an A. On the rare occasions she didn’t do well on a task, she gave up immediately, blaming the task as badly designed or saying she hadn’t really tried.

It wasn’t until Marie got to college that she realized researcher Carol Dweck (2006) had given a name to this type of thinking: a “fixed mindset.” People with this mindset see intelligence as a static trait that can’t be changed, while those with a “growth” mindset see it as a trait that can be developed through learning as a result of effort. While those with fixed mindsets don’t believe in the potential for people to grow and therefore see mistakes as failures, those with growth mindsets view their mistakes as opportunities to improve.

As a pre-service teacher, Marie saw a connection between a teacher’s mindset and the kind of classroom environment she was likely to create. Through lots of reflection and self-talk, Marie changed her own mindset. She entered the classroom with a strong belief that a student’s present lack of particular knowledge and skills isn’t tantamount to a limited potential for learning.

At the beginning of the school year, Marie shared her own story with her students and read short selections from Dweck’s (2006) book, Mindset: The new psychology of success, to the class. She encouraged them to think about which mindset they had and the relationship between their mindsets and their attitudes towards challenges and mistakes. The class decided to outlaw the phrase, “I can’t do this,” agreeing they’d have to add the word “yet” to the end of that phrase to use it in their room. As the year went on, Marie would give students lots of opportunities to self-assess and reflect on their growth in key skills and understanding. Students recorded these reflections and stored work they felt reflected their most important growth in an Evolution of Thought Portfolio. When we visited Marie’s classroom, we heard one boy whisper to a frustrated friend working on a project, “It sounds like you’re in the grips of a fixed mindset, but you can do this.”

Marie also recognized that each of her students would enter a given lesson at many different starting points with respect to her objectives. She had equally high expectations for the growth of every student but knew her students needed different kinds of challenges and supports to grow beyond where they began. Marie used differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 2001) to maximize the capacity of each learner.

Inviting Students into a Vision

Because her class included students with varied interests, needs and ways they liked to learn, Marie’s instruction was responsive to those differences. This meant that, while virtually all students worked to meet the same learning objectives or move beyond them, they might do so through different but equally challenging versions of a task, at different paces or through different modes of expression. Since Marie knew a differentiated classroom would be new to many of her students, she introduced the idea to the class directly a few weeks into the school year, after their mindset discussion.

While there are many ways she could have done this, Marie decided to use an activity called “Graphing Me” (Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2010). She chose a number of skills, both academic and non-academic, and wrote them on one axis of a simple bar graph she’d drawn on the board. On the other axis, she wrote descriptors like “outstanding,” “on my way there,” and “still needs some work.” She then completed her graph for the class, explaining that while she was a fairly good cook and a great writer, she still struggled with spelling sometimes and was not a strong swimmer. Her students graphed their own skills in a similar way and then hung their graphs around the room. Everyone walked around to see what their peers had drawn.

Because her class included students with varied interests, needs and ways they liked to learn, Marie’s instruction was responsive to those differences.

This activity allowed students to see their peers more clearly. Students whom the class viewed as the ones who never struggled had areas in which they needed to grow just like everyone else. Students whom their peers saw as frequently struggling had plenty of skills that were already strong. As the students discussed what they had learned about their peers through the activity, they began encouraging each other to work on improving what they decided to call their “growth areas,” offering to provide help in their own areas of strength when the need arose during the year. Marie said this was the day her class became a community.

This activity also caused students to notice that no one had exactly the same strengths and growth areas. When Marie asked the class how she should teach them since this was the case, a student called out, “Maybe this means you can’t always teach us all the same way. If you did, how would we each grow where we needed to?” Another said, “I think we should tell you more about our other growth areas so you know how to teach us better.” As students gained experience working on tasks in ways that were different from their peers, they came to understand that fairness meant everyone getting what they needed to grow, rather than everyone getting the same thing at the same time.

Managing a Flexible Classroom

Marie’s classroom was structured enough to run smoothly but was flexible enough to make room for instruction tailored to varied student needs. This kind of flexible-structured learning environment was necessary for instruction that emphasized students making meaning of content and solving problems, rather than rote learning. Marie also saw it as an essential part of a differentiated classroom, where students are active participants in work that is inquiry-based, done independently or in small groups, or accomplished at varied paces. Although some teachers think students will only behave appropriately in highly structured settings, Marie knew behavior issues would be significantly reduced in a setting where students were not asked to do work that was consistently too hard or too easy for them and where they felt like partners in making the classroom work.

At the beginning of the year, Marie spent lots of time teaching and practicing classroom routines, including how to access materials independently. She enlisted the help of her students to be full participants in the running of the classroom, and as a result, her students saw the classroom as theirs. Every aspect of its physical set-up was designed to support learning. One corner with five desks was an independent study area for individual work, while another had several armchairs where students could spread out. Marie taught the class three different desk arrangements which supported whole-class, small group, or individual work, and the students were responsible for rearranging desks quietly and efficiently as they transitioned between tasks. “Hint cards” with reminders of how to complete tasks or processes students may have forgotten covered a bulletin board. Rather than asking Marie for help, students referenced these cards independently during individual and small group work.

As she designed learning activities, Marie proactively planned for the management challenges that might come with them. For example, when an activity called for small group work, Marie assigned students the role of noise monitor. She also gave each group a set of green, yellow and red plastic cups, asking them to display one cup as their group worked to represent working successfully, having a question but still working, or being completely stuck. This allowed Marie to monitor group progress and prioritize giving support.

The classroom we’ve described here might have been full of high school seniors, but it wasn’t. Marie taught third grade. Her student-centered classroom demonstrates the kind of environment in which students see themselves as active learners responsible for their own growth.

 

References

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001).  How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.).  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. & Imbeau, M. (2010). Leading and managing a differentiated classroom. Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Learning Environments

In 2012, the Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool™ (eleot™) became an integral part of both AdvancED® Accreditation and Diagnostic Reviews.

In 2012, the Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool™ (eleot™) became an integral part of both AdvancED® Accreditation and Diagnostic Reviews. Given the widespread use of eleot, the AdvancED research team has collected and analyzed data from more than 45,000 direct classroom observations, the results of which are summarized below. The analysis constitutes only a small number of potential analyses that could and have been done with the current eleot data. In addition to the knowledge gained from the data, AdvancED conducts regular analyses to ensure that all of the measures are performing as designed and to guide recommendations for future updates of the measures.

Description of the eleot

The eleot is comprised of 30 items organized in seven learning environments based on a review of widely used observation instruments such as those developed by Marzano and Danielson and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). A literature review also was conducted on learner-centric tasks, attitudes and dispositions conducive to optimal learning, including digital learning as set forth by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards. In essence, eleot measures the extent to which there is observable evidence (or no evidence) that students are engaged in certain activities or demonstrate certain knowledge, attitudes and/or dispositions in a classroom during a defined period of time as measured on a four point scale (1 being “not observed;” 4 being “very evident”).The environments examined are:

  • High Expectations
  • Equitable Learning
  • Supportive Learning
  • Active Learning
  • Progress Monitoring and Feedback
  • Well-Managed Learning
  • Digital Learning

Trained observers spend at least 20 minutes in all or nearly every classroom in the school and record their observations on a standardized reporting template. Data are then uploaded and stored by AdvancED.

The eleot provides structured and quantifiable data on the extent to which learners are engaged in activities and/or demonstrate knowledge, attitudes and/or dispositions that are conducive to effective learning. The tool provides an aggregate picture for an entire school, but could potentially be used for grade level and/or in content-specific ways (e.g., to examine the overall performance of sixth grade math teachers) as opposed to providing ratings of individual teachers. This aspect of eleot, as well as its focuson students’ experiences instead of the teachers' performance, differentiates it from other widely used measures of classroom practice.

The eleot provides structured and quantifiable data on the extent to which learners are engaged in activities and/or demonstrate knowledge, attitudes and/or dispositions that are conducive to effective learning.

The eleot has demonstrated strong psychometric qualities. The overall reliability of the measure is .94 using Cronbach’s Alpha, which is considered a very strong level of reliability. In addition, confirmatory factor analysis of the measure revealed the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) as .068, which also is very good in social science research. The RMSEA is a measure of how well the theoretical model structure matches the actual structure from the data.

Summary Results

Across 45,272 classrooms observed, the average overall eleot score was 2.79, meaning that, on average, observers saw some evidence of each of the environments measured. Looking individually at each of the seven environments, inidividual ratings were:

  • Well-Managed Learning Environment (average of 3.11)
  • Supportive Learning Environment (3.05)
  • Active Learning Environment (2.95)
  • High Expectations Environment (2.81)
  • Progress Monitoring and Feedback Environment (2.76)
  • Equitable Learning Environment (2.66)
  • Digital Learning Environment (1.88)

Digging deeper into the data, AdvancED examined whether there were differences based on the subject being taught. The table below shows the results from that analysis. The table shows a fair level of consistency across subject areas. In all subject areas, the consistently lowest-rated environment was the Digital Learning Environment, indicating that technology integration remains low in a large number of classrooms. At the same time, teachers seem to be fairly consistent in their use of effective strategies across all environments outside of the Digital Learning Environment, with aspects of the Well-Managed Learning Environment being the most observed across all subjects except for Special Education.

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Examining scores across the environments based on grade level, a similar pattern emerges, whereby the Well-Managed Learning Environment is consistently the most observed environment. Interestingly, scores across all environments are highest for grades K-5 while lowest for grades 9-12 except for the Digital Learning Environment, where grades 9-12 have the highest average scores. The differences across all environments between grades K-5 and grades 9-12 are statistically significant.

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When looking at individual items, the three highest rated items, all of which are part of the Well-Managed Learning Environment, are as follows:

  • Speaks and interacts respectfully with teacher(s) and peers: 3.42
  • Follows classroom rules and works well with others: 3.32
  • Knows classroom routines, behavioral expectations and consequences: 3.26

The three lowest rated items were as follows:

  • Uses digital tools/technology to conduct research, solve problems and/or create original works for learning: 1.79
  • Uses digital tools/technology to communicate and work collaboratively for learning: 1.82
  • Has ongoing opportunities to learn about their own and others’ backgrounds/cultures/differences: 1.96

Additional examination of the items shows that one item in particular, “Has ongoing opportunities to learn about their own and others’ backgrounds/cultures/differences” tends to be confusing for respondents. Trainers for eleot report that they have updated the training modules to highlight this item to address confusion about the item. The AdvancED research team will revisit this issue in future data analyses to see if additional training has improved the performance of this item (as well as all of the other eleot items) or whether it will need to be re-written in future iterations of the eleot.

In summary, analyses of the eleot confirm the reliability and validity of the measure’s ability to accurately reflect classroom practices across a school on a given day. The result of extended psychometric review reveals that the performance of eleot is robust across multiple subjects and grades, as well as extremely stable across multiple environments. In the future, the AdvancED research team will examine the relationship of eleot scores to other outcomes of interest including student academic, social/emotional and behavior outcomes as well as teacher professional development outcomes.

Learning Environments

The idea of creating environments that are learner-centered sounds attractive. However, developing a culture around learners and building systems to support learner-centered environments takes time and a process.

The idea of creating environments that are learner-centered sounds attractive. However, developing a culture around learners and building systems to support learner-centered environments takes time and a process. Most teachers join the teaching profession to make a difference in children’s lives. Then reality sets in with their daily practices when they realize that most educational systems block the process. To initiate and move the process, key stakeholders need to start with a shared meaning of what learner-centered is all about. We call it “Personalized Learning."

The Buzz

Recently, educational companies have described “Personalized Learning” by framing their products to be all that schools need to personalize learning. When you look closer at their messaging, it is more about the technology personalizing the learning instead of the learner taking responsibility for their learning. Personalizing learning is not something that someone does TO a learner. It is about learners owning their learning and teachers guiding the process. When this happens teacher and learner roles change and that impacts the school culture.

Learning is Personal.

The Confusion

The confusion around personalized learning exploded in 2010 with the release of the National Education Technology Plan that defined the terms: Individualization, Differentiation and Personalization. All three terms were identified in the plan as “instruction.” Each term meant what teachers were to do to the learning needs of learners.

  • Individualization refers to instruction paced to learning needs of different learners.
  • Differentiation refers to instruction tailored to learning preferences of different learners.
  • Personalization refers to instruction paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences and tailored to the specific interests of different learners.

This was also the year that we, Barbara and Kathleen, were introduced to each other by a mutual friend who encouraged us to bring our individual practices of personalized learning together. We realized that we first had to do something about defining the terms. We both believed that personalized learning is about the learner and about the learner driving their learning, NOT focusing on instruction.

Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization (PDI) Chart

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We decided to compare the three terms above in a Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization (PDI) chart. Differentiation and Individualization are teacher-centered. Personalization is learner-centered. In teacher-centered environments, the teacher tends to be the hardest working person in the classroom. Under learner-centered environments, learners take control of their learning and are challenged to work harder than their teacher.

Individualization is usually where the teacher accommodates learning needs for each learner. Differentiation means the teacher adjusts learning needs for groups of learners. Personalization means each learner connects learning with their interests, talents, passions and aspirations.

The PDI chart is used as a guide, with prompts as conversation starters, especially for schools that want to build a common language around the term “Personalized Learning.”

Learners NOT Students

You will notice that we do not use the word “student” when talking about learners. All of us were born curious and open to learning or we wouldn’t walk or talk. We were not born students — we were born learners. Our first experiences of learning were through play and discovery.

If you consider anyone who is learning at any age and anywhere a “learner,” then you give the responsibility for the learning to the learner. When the institution or anyone who is teaching students are accountable for the learning — not the learners — the responsibility falls on the teachers for what “students” learn. Doesn’t this seem backwards? Where is the incentive and motivation to learn if all the responsibility is on the teacher? If you change the thinking behind the terms, then using the term “learners” makes more sense. (Read more)

We were not born students — we were born learners. 

Universal Design for Learning for All Learners

We believe Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the foundation of personalized learning. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) developed UDL which was about reducing or eliminating the barriers in the curriculum that keep learners from learning; it was not about learners overcoming their barriers.

UDL is based on decades of brain research and neuroscience of individual differences, human variability and how we learn. UDL can assist teachers in planning universally-designed lessons that reduce barriers to learning as well as optimizing levels of challenge and support to meet the needs of all learners from the start. UDL informs the design of the environment so that it is flexible enough to address the variability of all learners. It is time to rethink how we design learning environments that support the full range of learners in our classrooms.

The Process

When learners have a voice and choice in their learning, teachers change the way they teach. When we first introduced this to teachers, they scratched their heads and wondered how they would make this change. We came up with a process that helps teachers dip their toes into personalized learning by reducing some of the barriers that keep learners from learning.

  • Traditional: Teacher-Centered with Direct Instruction. This is where teachers review existing lessons that are teacher-centered in a traditional environment to determine where there is need for learners to have a voice and choice in their learning.
  • Stage One: Teacher-Centered with Learner Voice and Choice. This is where teachers design activities that engage the learners and redesign the curriculum and the environment so they are more flexible to address the variability of the learners in their classroom.
  • Stage Two: Learner-Centered with Teacher and Learner as Co-Designers. This is where learners have the skills and knowledge to choose and use the most appropriate tools and strategies to co-design the curriculum and environment with the teacher.
  • Stage Three: Learner-Driven with Teacher and Learner as Partners in Learning. This is where learners have the skills and knowledge to choose and use the most appropriate tools and strategies to drive their learning based on their learning teacher, peers and community.

After we shared this process with some of the teachers we worked with, we heard a big sigh of relief. Most of the comments were that they didn’t have to do everything all at once and if some lessons are Stage One then others might be Stage Three. The conversations were exciting for us because their concerns were valid. Teachers only know what they were taught as students or as teachers. This is all new for them and for most learners. When this same process was shared with learners, they had concerns about their grades and how they would know what to do if the teachers expected them to design their goals.

Flexible Learning Environment Starts in Stage One

Instead of designing for the average learner in a “one size fits all” environment, we ask teachers to look at four diverse learners and design for the extremes in their classroom. From what we learned from UDL and brain research, teachers need to know who their learners are first. This is what we call a “Class Learning SnapshotTM.” This snapshot is about diverse learners’ strengths, challenges and interests. We use the UDL principles to guide how learners prefer and need to learn and then develop instructional and learning strategies that reduce barriers and optimize challenges for the learners. When you design for four diverse learners who are at the extremes in your classroom, you meet the needs of most of your learners instead of designing for what you believe is the “average” learner.

There is no Average Learner.

How Roles Change for both Teacher and Learner in a Stage One Personal Learning Environment

 

The Teacher…

  • makes instructional decisions based on four diverse learners.
  • redesigns the learning environment for individual and group projects based on how learners learn best.
  • revises existing lessons or projects to include voice and choice to engage learners so they are motivated to learn.
  • universally-designs instruction so materials are more accessible for all learners.

The Learner…

  • works with teacher to establish learning goals and personal learning plans.
  • chooses the best learning environment for individual or group work for given activity.
  • has more opportunities to have a voice and choice in how and what they learn.
  • has more options to choose tools and strategies that are more appropriate to support their learning and express what they know.

The process works if teachers have the time and a flexible schedule to revise lessons. Teachers need a supportive environment where taking risks and failing is okay. This article only touches on a few of the ideas that will be coming out in our soon-to-be published book on personalized learning by Corwin Press in Fall 2014.

To download the chart and stages go to: www.personalizelearning.com/p/toolkit.html. For more information about Personalize Learning, go to www.personalizelearning.com or contact us at personalizelearn@gmail.com.

 

Learning Environments

In the The World is Flat, Friedman (2005) notes that students acquire the skills and commitment for lifelong learning so as to be “really adaptable.” “Really adaptable” workers are resilient, patient, adaptable, persistent and responsible.

In the The World is Flat, Friedman (2005) notes that students acquire the skills and commitment for lifelong learning so as to be “really adaptable.” “Really adaptable” workers are resilient, patient, adaptable, persistent and responsible. They are self-directed learners with responsibility for their own learning. Martinez and McGrath (2013) identified three commonalities in developing self-directed learners. These were: disrupting traditional expectations of teaching and learning; socializing students into a school culture signaling the expectations for learners; and using a consistent pedagogical approach in which students manage complex projects and assignments, seek feedback, revise work and reflect on what they’ve learned.

Understanding the need to support the development of adaptable workers, the Tri-Creek School Corporation focused on college and career readiness. To accomplish this, we needed to find an approach that would ensure students were, as our mission statement indicates: Engaged to Learn, Equipped to Achieve, and Empowered to Succeed. An examination of several approaches led the corporation to look at the instructional and programming strategies of project-based learning and the New Tech Network. Strategies were identified and implemented to ensure students not only mastered content, but also had an understanding of college-level and workforce expectations within the context of self-advocacy.

Engaged to Learn

Project-based learning (PBL) is at the heart of engagement and exemplifies the “really adaptable” worker. In PBL, students engage in purposeful, collaborative projects requiring critical thinking, creativity and communication during the learning process, which is different than having students complete projects at the end of a unit. Students in PBL are motivated to learn through the process of working to solve a real-world problem. Instruction is guided or facilitated by faculty who have some understanding of what knowledge the student brings with them and what might be needed in order to complete the problem-focused project.

A traditional classroom project typically follows these steps:

Lecture – Activity – Quiz – Lecture – Activity – Quiz – Review – Exam – Project

A PBL unit project is launched with an entry event, rubric creation, “Need to Knows” and next steps. The framework looks as follows:

 

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The New Tech Network advocates the PBL approach using 1:1 technology integration and inquiry to engage students in relevant experiences. Students think in complex ways and apply their knowledge and skills in integrated and cross-disciplinary projects to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge.

The project entry document frames the project providing the overall expectation. Imagine entering a classroom where the teacher hands you a letter from a congressman requesting your help in investigating energy efficiency, as he must provide an energy recommendation to Congress. The project culminates in your group’s recommendation to the congressman in person. How exciting would it be for a student to engage as a genetic counselor for a young couple planning a family? Can you imagine the passion generated as a teacher tells a class they have been asked to study the vegetation issue of their local lake and the resulting tourism impact and then to make a recommendation to the Town Council on how to alleviate the problem? Standards are embedded into each project ensuring the content is taught. Brainstorming generates a list of what is known about the project and what they need to know in order to solve the problem and complete the project. Groups of students identify their project manager, sign a contract for roles and responsibilities and begin their work. The teacher develops scaffolding activities to help students master the content and skills. They engage in “workshops” that may be direct instruction on “just in time” information needed to continue.

A Lowell High School teacher states: “With the implementation of project-based learning, I have seen tremendous growth in my students’ abilities as critical thinkers and communicators. Students are learning to analyze what they need to know in order to be successful with a given project; exploring various ways to tackle the task at hand; and possibly most importantly, how to ask thoughtful, clear and professional questions. Students see the reason behind what they are learning. My favorite moments are when my students come up with a better way of presenting their ideas than I came up with, or when they ask me to teach them more about a specific aspect of the discipline.”

With the implementation of project-based learning, I have seen tremendous growth in my students’ abilities as critical thinkers and communicators.

Another high school teacher stated: “Learners are expressing ownership in our projects. Our driving questions are directly related to our learning goals and the themes of our projects; in-turn, our students don’t spend a day in the classroom without knowing exactly why the benchmarks and tasks are absolutely necessary in the process of successfully completing each project. I leave every day exhausted but feel fulfilled in knowing that each class-period is receiving the differentiated instruction necessary to fully prepare each unique learner for college and career readiness.”

Equipped to Achieve

Project-based learning is presented in a 1:1 technology environment. The technology is the collaborative tool that enables the student to delve deeper into learning. Collaborative learning technology enables the student to continue learning in and outside the traditional classroom. One fifth grade teacher expressed her excitement regarding the impact of technology on her students after school learning, “What I find so exciting is that my students are having this conversation about their writing from home at 6:00 p.m. This is not homework, just information I shared if they wanted to know more. They are engaged and talking about themselves as authors outside of the school day. One group of students was having a conversation about tonight’s homework assignment. They ask each other questions and by the time I give my feedback, they have usually already solved their problem. For me, that is something to be excited about.”

The experience of the Tri-Creek School Corporation seems to have demonstrated that appropriate use of technology as a learning and creation tool is extremely important in learning. Utilizing the technology early ensures that students understand digital citizenship and digital literacy. It is imperative that we equip students with the knowledge, skills, tools and desire to extend their learning.

Empowered to Succeed

A strong focus on self-directed learning and learner outcomes promotes trust, respect and responsibility. Working on projects as teams makes students accountable to each other and reflects what they will experience in the work environment. Education and learning should be about empowering students to reach their goals and dreams. Students must have the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills in familiar and unfamiliar ways to continue their learning and build their confidence.

Assuring that a student has developed the skills to be a self-directed learner includes identifying, teaching and assessing those skills. The New Tech Network Learning Outcomes include:

  • Knowledge and thinking
  • Written Communication
  • Oral Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Agency (time management, work ethic, persistence, etc.)

Students sometimes find the focus on learner outcomes hard as so often school has become an isolated, individual game of memorization to answer questions and gain a good grade. It is not about learning skills. The culture of project-based learning is about ownership of the learning and the environment. One middle school student indicated that, “Project-based learning is good for me because I do better learning when I’m one-on-one with others or in a group.” Another felt, “Project-based learning has taught me how to work well with others effectively.”

PBL embodies a culture of support and empowerment. By engaging, equipping and empowering students, they acquire the knowledge, skills and attributes to be successful in college, careers and life. Transitioning to PBL is not an easy task for teachers or students. It is a disruption of the status quo. As one middle school teacher explained, “Teaching in a PBL environment is a lot of work, but the processes and outcomes are so worth it that I want to put in the effort. It’s also exciting to teach, talk and learn in a PBL environment. There’s no other way of teaching/learning for me. PBL has changed my outlook on education and our future...both are looking great!” Another teacher sums it up for all of us, “It is the most important thing I have done at work in 10 years!”

 

References

Friedman, Thomas (2005). The World is Flat. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing City.

Martinez, M. and McGrath, D. (2013). “How can schools develop self-directed learners?” Kappan V95 N2: 23-27.

Our elements: www.newtechnetwork.org/about/our elements

Project-based learning: www.newtechnetwork.org/about/project-based-learning

What is PBL: www.newtechnetwork.org/video/tutorial-what-pbl

Learning Environments

A student and teacher huddle around a laptop computer. The student clicks an Internet tab, and her classroom website fills the monitor. She opens one page that contains a reading project and another with embedded media, including a narrated slide show.

A student and teacher huddle around a laptop computer. The student clicks an Internet tab, and her classroom website fills the monitor. She opens one page that contains a reading project and another with embedded media, including a narrated slide show. Another click and she introduces her personal blog, which houses dozens of writing samples on an array of topics. “You asked me to review the video on reflection letters,” she explains to the attentive teacher. “So I went back to these three posts and added the vocabulary you said was missing.” The teacher smiles and says, “Okay, we need a report card grade. What should it be?”

This is how evaluation and reporting works in the student-centered classroom that I like to call a Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE). There is no room for numbers, percentages or letter grades in a ROLE. Instead, students collaborate with each other and with their teacher, in order to demonstrate mastery of various objectives contained in yearlong projects. Learning is a conversation built on a system of summary, explanation, redirection and resubmission — something all stakeholders in the classroom come to know simply as SE2R. If a report card is required, the student and teacher agree on what that final grade should be, based on how all feedback was handled throughout a grading period.

With the emergence and ubiquity of digital tools and mobile devices, the way we assess learning is changing. Collecting papers and workbook pages is no longer necessary, as almost any task can be completed on a website or mobile application, where the teacher can provide instant feedback. Teaching and learning in a cloud-based environment creates a powerful two-way conversation about what students understand and what they do not.

SE2R Creates Mastery Learning

Narrative feedback in a Results Only Learning Environment is based on SE2R:

  • Summarize
  • Explain
  • Redirect
  • Resubmit

Instead of judging work, based on arbitrary numbers, percentages or letter grades, teachers offer a one- or two-sentence statement that summarizes what the student accomplished in a task or project. A more detailed explanation follows, outlining concepts and skills mastered or omitted, based on the specific guidelines that were provided. The two Rs are the key to success in this kind of feedback, as redirection and resubmission are typically left out of more traditional classrooms. In a system built on lecture, practice, test and move on, the opportunity for mastery learning is lost on many students.

In a student-centered classroom, founded on collaboration, project-based learning and the use of the Web and mobile tools, learning becomes a constant, often virtual, conversation, and students are given the opportunity to learn from mistakes, revisit prior lessons and models and make changes to demonstrate mastery.

A Results-Only Learning Project

Seventh graders are researching a particular time in history. Students select a historical period of interest — the American Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Great Depression are just a few. Each student creates a fictional character and places him or her in that time period. The authors write weekly journal entries, chronicling life in the time period from the character’s point of view.

The young writers produce these detailed journals on their personal classroom websites, all contained in the teacher’s online learning management system. The students add pictures and videos to the journals, bringing their characters and time periods to life for peers, parents and any other interested readers; of course, their teacher will read all entries, evaluating their research and writing skills as the project grows. The old-school educator would most likely collect papers, assign an arbitrary point value to the project and place a subjective grade on the journals. In this old scenario, very little learning takes place. The teacher in the results-only classroom evaluates the young writers much differently.

SE2R Feedback in Action

As this immense project progresses, the teacher in this vibrant student-centered classroom provides brief, interactive lessons on myriad related skills and concepts. Students apply these lessons to their research and to their writing. The teacher moves quietly around the room, observing the authors unobtrusively, while occasionally kneeling next to individuals to ask a question or to comment on something he’s read. Later, he’ll write detailed feedback on each student’s Web page, following the SE2R model. This is what it looks like:

“Jerome, you wrote a three-paragraph journal entry from the point of view of Malcolm, a young black soldier, fighting in the Civil War. (Summarize)

“I like the way you’re developing the protagonist. In this entry, you place him in a specific battle, where he describes the scenery around him, using several adjectives and strong verbs. This demonstrates sound understanding of our mini lesson on improving diction. Several proper nouns are not capitalized, and this was another focus area for this week’s journal entries. These errors make me wonder if you don’t understand proper nouns or if you simply failed to proofread carefully. (Explain)

“While this is a well-written entry overall, I need you to return to it and correct any capitalization errors you see, so I know you understand this focus area. (Redirect)

“Please tell me when you’ve made the changes, so I can return to your Web page and re-evaluate this entry.” (Resubmit)

Revolutionizing Assessment

What makes SE2R dynamic is the immediate feedback the digital environment presents and the opportunity for the student to revisit prior learning and make changes to the work, without the punitive nature of traditional grades. Jerome receives no number, percentage or letter grade on his journal entry, which is one of approximately 30 that he’ll write over time in this yearlong project. Students like Jerome report a willingness to improve their work, because they like the feedback and working on the project digitally simplifies making changes, which leads to mastery of skills and concepts. Best of all, the SE2R model can be used on any activity or project and in any grade or subject.

Many teachers worldwide are embracing digital learning and narrative feedback, in lieu of traditional assessment. As the movement toward making learning a conversation, rather than a measurement, continues, students will become independent learners. In a world that is racing toward online classrooms, content curation and social learning, encouraging this kind of independence and self evaluation is not only important, it is a vital part of modern education.

Learning Environments

Twenty years ago, Change: The Magazine for Higher Learning published John Tagg and Bob Barr’s seminal article “From Teaching to Learning.” In the article, Tagg and Barr outlined what has come to be known as Learner Centered Teaching (LCT).

Twenty years ago, Change: The Magazine for Higher Learning published John Tagg and Bob Barr’s seminal article “From Teaching to Learning.” In the article, Tagg and Barr outlined what has come to be known as Learner Centered Teaching (LCT). By definition, LCT employs instructive practices designed to optimize opportunities for student learning. In order to optimize students’ learning, teachers must be able to answer two essential questions:

  1. Am I up-to-date on what is known about how learning happens in the human brain?
  2. Do I know what teaching actions are in harmony with what is known about human learning?

My conclusion is that most teachers are up-to-date and continually integrate new findings about teaching and learning as they are revealed. However, I am dismayed that as our knowledge about human learning has dramatically increased, in turn providing solid evidence that LCT practice is the best way to teach, improvements based on this research are still not prevalent in American education. In the past 20 years, college graduation rates have not improved, and the national K-12 system continues to be criticized for failing our students.

A New Paradigm for Students

So how do we improve performance? We need the students’ help. It is clear from research findings that the human brain needs to be prepped for learning in order to learn at its best. I am proposing a new paradigm for student learners, one in which they take on a greater responsibility for their success by preparing their brains for effective learning. I see no other pathway to improved school success. Teachers alone, even learner-centered teachers, cannot fix the problems facing the current education system. We need help, and that help must come from our students.

Five Areas that Improve Learning Readiness

Brain researchers have discovered there are five things that humans must provide their brain for it to function at its optimum level for learning. These five things are adequate oxygen, ample hydration, a proper diet, healthy sleep habits and aerobic exercise. These key elements are, to a great extent, controlled by students once they reach adolescence. Students at younger ages will need parental and school assistance to prepare their brains for learning.

  1. The Brain Needs Oxygen for Learning

Proper delivery of oxygen to the brain is crucial for developing the energy the brain needs to learn. Although the human brain represents only two percent of the body’s weight, it receives 15 percent of the cardiac output and 20 percent of total body oxygen consumption. As learning challenges increase, so too does the brain’s demand for energy in the form of oxygen and glucose. To keep up with the high energy demand of the brain, oxygen delivery and blood flow to this organ are essential for learning. The bottom line is that students need to be taught how to breathe correctly (diaphragmatic breathing), must choose to get daily physical activity and must be aware that when learning gets difficult or challenging they need to add some extra deep breaths.

  1. Hydration and Brain Communication Systems

Many students leave for school dehydrated on a daily basis. A large reason behind this is that humans lose two pounds of fluids through normal respiration while sleeping. Given that many students don’t adequately hydrate in the morning, they arrive at school with a brain that will have trouble learning. Even mild dehydration can influence mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly.

When students lose too much water, their brain cells lose efficiency. Research by EM Gorman in 2012 showed dehydration can impair short-term memory function as well as the recall of long-term memory. Even mild levels of dehydration can impact school performance. It seems like a simple thing, getting hydrated in the morning and maintaining it throughout the day, yet few students are even aware of how a lack of hydration impairs their learning and memory. Teachers need well-hydrated learners.

  1. A Balanced Diet

The brain requires about 22 times as much energy to run as the equivalent mass in muscle tissue. The energy required to run every bodily process comes from the food we eat. The foods we consume greatly affect brain function, including everything from learning and memory to emotions.

Hungry students are poor learners. It is crucial to eat before new learning and before studying, because the brain needs energy to learn. It also is important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Diets that are high in saturated fat have been shown to reduce molecular substrates that support cognitive processing. Research by Fernando Gomez-Pinilla in 2002 found this kind of diet also reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is crucial to new learning and neuronal plasticity. Students who eat a balanced diet have brains that are ready to learn.

  1. Sleep and Learning

Sleep likely has the greatest impact upon the brain’s readiness to learn. Sleep is the one student behavior that teachers have virtually no control over. It’s no revelation that a tired brain doesn’t learn very well, but what is so significant about proper sleep, which for adults is 7.5 to 9.0 hours per night and for teens 9.0 to 10.0 hours, is that memories are made during sleep. Research by Bryce Mander and colleagues in 2011 discovered that when we sleep, “sleep spindles” or bursts of brain waves help to shift memories from the brain’s hippocampus — which has limited storage space — to the nearly limitless prefrontal cortex, thus freeing up the hippocampus to take in fresh data (new learning) the next day. Much of this process occurs during the second half of the night, so if students sleep only six hours or less, they are shortchanging themselves and impeding both learning and memory.

In addition, the work of Alhola and Polo-Kantola in 2007 demonstrated that brains that are sleep deprived actually shut down key mental functions needed for learning and memory because the brain is exhausted. This shutdown has consequences on mental performance and function worsens correlatively with more time spent awake.

The effects of sleep deprivation on learning are profound. Poor memory, attention and judgment are just a few of the consequences of not getting enough sleep. If students are to be optimized for learning then adequate sleep is a must.

Sleep researcher Dr. Jessica Payne follows her own research findings, “I give myself an eight-hour sleep opportunity every night. We can get away with less sleep, but it has a profound effect on our cognitive abilities.”

  1. Exercise and Learning

Laura Carstensen, the Director of Stanford’s Center on Longevity, explains that rarely do neuroscientists, psychologists and physicians unequivocally agree on anything, but they do agree that exercise is the best thing one can do for the brain. John Ratey writes in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, “Exercise is the single most important thing a person can do to improve their learning.” This is because exercise that causes one to raise his or her heart rate and break a sweat, and lasts at least 30 minutes, allows the brain to release greater amounts of three important neurochemicals: noradrenalin, dopamine and serotonin. These three neurochemicals improve several brain functions that are vital to new learning. The first vital function is the brain’s ability to pay attention, which is the cornerstone of learning. The brain only learns what it pays attention to, and when it comes to new learning, it can only pay attention to one thing at a time. The second function improved by these neurochemicals is the brain’s ability to stay on task for longer periods of time. Third is improved mood and motivation for new learning.

In addition, and perhaps even more exciting, exercise causes the brain to make more of a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) which stimulates the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in memory and learning, and actually makes it easier for neurons to wire and fire, the basis of new learning. John Ratey calls BDNF “Miracle-Gro for the Brain.”

A brain that has benefitted from exercise is a brain ready to learn. It is a brain that is motivated to pay greater attention and focus on tasks longer. It is a teacher’s dream brain. If students can run or walk at a rate above three mph for a half hour or more, they can have a brain optimized for learning.

A Shared Responsibility

If teachers alone could repair what is wrong with schools by changing their teaching behaviors, the problem would already be fixed. I’m not claiming that all teachers have embraced LCT, but after 20 years of LCT methods being proven effective and a decade of brain science findings, most teachers are much better practitioners. Our students have to step up. They have to see that their long term success is tied to their ability to be lifelong learners. They have to become equal partners in their education. We can’t do it without them. We have been trying for 20 years, and it hasn’t worked.

Learning Environments

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of teaching is effectively reaching all learners. With 20, 30 or even 40 students in their classrooms, elementary teachers have the daunting task of meeting every student right where they are, supporting progress toward grade-level standards and cultivating the development of the whole child.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of teaching is effectively reaching all learners. With 20, 30 or even 40 students in their classrooms, elementary teachers have the daunting task of meeting every student right where they are, supporting progress toward grade-level standards and cultivating the development of the whole child.

On a daily basis, teachers make student-centric decisions by providing remediation, grade-level work or enrichment as appropriate. But this requires significant amounts of time, resources, data and content-area expertise. So when a fourth grade student doesn’t understand second grade mathematics, teachers rarely have the time or opportunity to revisit foundational number concepts with her. And with education funding cuts, the school may not have staffing resources to work with this student outside of class. At the same time, another fourth grader might understand mathematics at a sixth grade level, but she also may not receive the required support. The school’s schedule and resources are often limited and thus don’t enable teachers to make student-centric decisions for each student every day.

Despite the challenges, dedicated teachers design and implement student-centered lessons to gain insight into what each child knows and understands. Teachers could make the best use of precious class time if they had better information about what each student is thinking throughout any given lesson or learning experience. Yet with all that teachers are expected to do on a given day for a class with dozens of students, how learner-centric can classrooms become?

Potential of Technology

Many teachers and schools are looking to educational technologies to support and enhance student learning in their classrooms. Many of these technologies digitize certain instructional practices such as video lectures, textbook explanations and worksheets. But if greater access to textbooks and lectures were the key to closing achievement gaps, we would have witnessed high achievement for all students long ago. From a pedagogical perspective, static resources that simply transmit information in one direction to student “receivers” are limited in their ability to improve student understanding and enable the transfer of learning. Therefore, student-centric learning environments require engagement, independent thought and interactivity on the part of each individual student. Every classroom teacher needs lessons and resources that engage students in meaningful learning, and technology can provide support by differentiating for students while they are active learners rather than passive receivers.

Such technology needs to invite students to think independently and be capable of responding to their thoughts and ideas just as a teacher would — moment by moment — observing what each student is doing and how she is approaching each problem along with analyzing the strategies she uses. Ideally, this information can be used by both the teacher and the software to inform decisions about the student’s progress along a developmental pathway. Technology can therefore complement teachers and classrooms by first empowering individual learners when they are working independently, and then by providing data that inform teachers’ instructional planning, communication with parents and student goal-setting.

An ideal online learning experience for students provides classroom teachers not only with data about individual student understanding and performance, but also intelligently adapts in real time to provide a differentiated experience for each child. It engages students in a rigorous curriculum, reflects evidence-based learning principles and provides a personalized environment that supports motivation and inspires persistence. Online lessons also should include continuous formative assessment and provide meaningful feedback to students that is tailored to how they are solving problems. Just as in student-centric classrooms, effective learning technology can create an adaptive environment that improves student learning and closes achievement gaps.

Research-based Learning Principles

The pedagogy inherent in online lessons must engage students in “thinking and doing” rather than “sitting and getting.” It also must be informed by research-based principles of learning and cognitive development. Learning is a complex process, in which students develop understanding and expertise by connecting ideas, working across multiple contexts and engaging in experiences where they reason inductively and deductively. Decades of cognitive research validate the need for students to develop understanding by making sense of ideas in ways that honor their unique prior knowledge and skills. As teachers successfully do in classrooms, student-centric learning technology must effectively activate students’ prior knowledge in new situations that require critical thinking while engaging in achievable challenges.

The pedagogy inherent in online lessons must engage students in “thinking and doing” rather than “sitting and getting.” ...students develop understanding and expertise by connecting ideas, working across multiple contexts and engaging in experiences where they reason inductively and deductively.

In addition, the learning process should not be linear. Instead, each student should move through developmental learning progressions and pathways that are informed by decades of research and that differentiate for students based on their growth in reasoning, rather than their birthdate and grade level. Student-centric learning is at the core of a competency-based approach in which students progress through lessons, units and courses based on demonstrated proficiency. Educators must be sure that the competencies aren’t simply checklists of skills and isolated facts. Student learning must be measured by the ability to transfer knowledge in unfamiliar situations, performance in authentic situations and demonstrations of expertise in other contexts.

Partnering with Teachers and Empowering Students

To ensure high achievement for all students, we have to think differently about how to design and implement a student-centric environment for all students. And we therefore have to think differently about how new technologies can help accomplish this goal — when they’re designed in student-centric ways and honor principles of learning and cognitive research. Technology also should provide teachers with real-time, actionable data that improve their effectiveness in tailoring classroom instruction to personalize teaching and close achievement gaps.

At DreamBox, we build student-centric lessons and teacher-centric reporting to help realize the goal of high achievement for all students. Our technology enhances student thinking and complements what teachers are trying to accomplish in their classrooms. As demands on teachers increase and school resources decrease, teachers can’t always find time to connect with each student every day to know what they’re thinking and understanding. Therefore, we design DreamBox to be a trustworthy partner for teachers that supports student-centric learning so that each student will persist, progress and achieve.

Technology

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For more than a half a century online courses have been available to students. Today more than ever though, we are seeing significant growth in both courses offered and courses being taken.

For more than a half a century online courses have been available to students. Today more than ever though, we are seeing significant growth in both courses offered and courses being taken. More than one third of all college students report taking an online course, while K-12 educators are scrambling to meet the needs of students who wish to do the same.

Students gravitate to online courses for a different “classroom” experience, to access courses not available to them in their local school, to accommodate a work schedule or to simply engage in a new kind of learning. Yet, some schools and school systems struggle to find ways to integrate digital learning into the class selections offered, incorporate them meaningfully into transcripts, and see the opportunities to embrace new technologies in their own classrooms. Digital learning can reinforce personal choice and personal responsibility with students. It can empower them to examine new ideas, and it can give them options.

As the first generation of Digital Natives (those who have not known a world without the Internet) enters our classrooms and begins teaching in the digital space, they will bring new perspectives to the use of technology and all its resources for students. We must embrace allowing students to learn their way by offering different learning experiences that will expand the breadth and depth of our educational offerings. Today and tomorrow’s students are both the participant and creator of their own learning experiences. Digital technologies unlock the ability of every student to personalize and customize the learning experience.

Digital learning is a key attribute of the future systems of education, and many education leaders have begun to embrace the opportunity it offers to expand learning for all types of students. With the theme of Digital Learning, in this issue of AdvancED Source, we asked digital learning experts and technology leaders to share their perspectives on digital learning, today and in the future. We begin with Michael Horn, Executive Director, Education; and Meg Evans, Education Program Associate; for the Innosight Institute. Their article, Creating a Personalized Learning Experience, examine ways that classrooms can be transformed and technology can be used to create a more personal learning experience — and increase success — for students. AdvancED’s General Counsel, Kenneth Bergman, implores education leaders to take bold steps to create a new system that leverages digital and blended learning techniques to provide unprecedented access and expanded learning experiences in The Unique Policy Opportunities Afforded by Today’s Funding Challenges.

Barbara Dreyer, President and CEO of Connections Education, shares her study of the factors that impact student success in online courses in her article, Challenges in Measuring Online School Performance. The team of John Bailey, Executive Director, Digital Learning Now!; Samuel Casey Carter, Chief Executive Officer, Faith in the Future Foundation; Carri Schneider, Director of Policy and Research, GettingSmart.com; and Tom Vander Ark, Founder, GettingSmart.com, provide a summary of their report entitled Portable Records and Learning Profiles describing thought provoking ideas for the future. In their article, the authors insist that the current way student records and transcripts are managed is insufficient and must evolve to meet the needs of students engaged in digital learning.

Darby Carr, President of the Laurel Springs School, shares how her institution personalizes learning through both data and technology in her article, Student Focused Learning. As a technology leader for his school system, Stephen Anderson, MA Ed., Director of Instructional Technology for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, shares key questions that he believes provide guidance to schools and school systems developing a technology integration plan in his article, Questions to Guide Technology Integration.

We appreciate our authors contributing their expertise to expand our thinking on the opportunities presented by Digital Learning. In the future our understanding and application of digital learning strategies will go far beyond simply online courses. Our students are ready for such a future, are we?

Learning Environments

At Santa Rita Elementary School in Los Altos, Calif., a scene unfolded in 2010 not too different from scenes in schools around the country. A fifth-grade student, Jack, started the year at the bottom of his class in math. He struggled to keep up and considered himself one of those kids that would just never quite “get it.”

At Santa Rita Elementary School in Los Altos, Calif., a scene unfolded in 2010 not too different from scenes in schools around the country. A fifth-grade student, Jack, started the year at the bottom of his class in math. He struggled to keep up and considered himself one of those kids that would just never quite “get it.”

From there, however, the story took a less familiar twist. His school transformed his class into a blended-learning environment. After 70 days of using the Khan Academy for a portion of his math three to four days a week, rather than remain tracked in the bottom math group, Jack rose to be one of the top four students in his class. He was working on material well above grade level.

Jack’s rapid progress sounds like the stuff of movies or magic, but it isn’t. It’s an example of online learning’s power to help teachers differentiate and customize learning to fit a student’s needs.

Supporting Students at Their Current Level

Starting in the 2010-11 school year, Los Altos students tackled the beginning of Khan Academy’s Knowledge Map – that is, they started their math lessons by reviewing number sense and basic addition and subtraction. From here, they began to progress, each at his or her individual rate of learning.

The teachers, who tracked students’ progress in real-time on an iPad while wandering around the class, noticed that many students – who were ostensibly able to do fifth grade math – were getting stuck on second and third grade concepts. Equipped with data on where each child was getting stuck, they offered individual help to each student at the point of struggle. In Jack’s case, once he grasped a couple of basic concepts he had not fully mastered in earlier grades, he flew through the math curriculum with ease and confidence.

Why don’t all schools offer opportunities for students like Jack? One reason is that today’s schools were not designed to do what we ask of them at present.

Reflecting on School History

Today’s schools were designed over a century ago to emulate the efficient factories of that era. By batching students up in classrooms and standardizing—teaching the same thing to students in the same way on the same day – schools could educate children just as factories produced widgets. Not every child would master her learning, but this helped schools sort students into different career tracks. The model worked well when most students went directly to industrial jobs.

But the world has changed. In 1900 only 17 percent of all jobs required knowledge workers, whereas more than 60 percent do today. The world also has grown far more competitive. As a result, we now are asking our schools to educate successfully each child, but schools were instead built to sort students.

Experimenting with New Types of Classrooms

Individual school systems, like Los Altos, have recognized that we have an education system that mandates the amount of time students spend in class, but that does not expect each child to master her learning. The result has been that students don’t receive the support they need to master each concept before they move on to the next one. This creates gaps in most children’s education, which haunt them later in their schooling.

In Los Altos, school leaders and system officials brainstormed how to respond to this changing world. They built out the necessary infrastructure and cobbled together the hardware and technology to begin a pilot blended-learning program. The larger task, however, was familiarizing leaders, teachers and staff with the idea that students can and should take ownership of their learning by demonstrating mastery before moving on. The pilot started with five fifth and seventh grade classrooms at two schools. The teachers in the pilot believed that their role should not be that of the sage on the stage, but rather a coach, mentor and facilitator to support student success. Without this teacher buy-in, training, collaboration and support, Jack would still be stuck sitting in the back of the class daydreaming through his teacher’s lecture. These teachers loved the experience of working with students one-on-one. Word of mouth from satisfied teachers, along with great student results, proved a powerful lever for change. Two years later, over 1,000 students in grades five through eight in Los Altos learn math in blended-learning environments.

In a portfolio-school model, school systems allow each school to make purchasing and leadership decisions based on ground-level knowledge of student and staff needs.

The pilot schools in Los Altos benefitted from school system leadership that was willing to give autonomy to school-level leaders. Those closest to the students are generally able to make the best decisions about curriculum, spending and support needs. In a portfolio-school model, school systems allow each school to make purchasing and leadership decisions based on ground-level knowledge of student and staff needs.

Although a few school systems and schools across the country are beginning to experiment and implement individualized learning systems, most remain trapped in the factory-based system, because the majority of policy is still focused on rewarding the systems, providers and operators that best meet certain input measures. Focusing on inputs has the effect of locking a system into a set way of doing things and inhibiting innovation; focusing on outcomes, on the other hand, encourages continuous improvement against a set of overall goals and, in this case, can unlock a path toward the creation of a high-quality student-centric education system. To this point it appears that policies that create access to online learning – as evidenced in the rapid growth of the movement – are outpacing policies that reward quality for each student.

Considering Changes to Transform Schools

To unlock the power of personalized learning on a more systemic, scalable level, we must create the conditions for both innovation and quality. As a starting point, that means that policymakers must eliminate the majority of input-based rules.

First, it no longer makes sense to fund schools based on seat time, when we know that six hours of a student in a seat does not translate to six hours of student learning. Some students may progress quickly; their afternoon time might be spent better in an internship. Others may benefit from extended-learning time and extra tutoring. One size does not fit all. School leaders and teachers are, in most cases, in a far better position than the State Department of Education to determine what their students need to reach annual student-growth goals.

Second, eliminating well-intended student-teacher ratio requirements is critical. California’s Milpitas Unified School District had to apply for waivers to implement its innovative plan to transform two elementary schools into blended-learning schools. Principals and teachers decided collectively to increase their elementary class sizes to 36. At any given time, 12 students from each class are in a large, mixed-age learning lab using online curriculum to work on Math and English Language Arts skills. The 24 remaining students rotate within the classroom between group work and direct instruction. This innovative model shows real promise, but leaders had to first work around state policies. Giving schools the flexibility to deploy inputs as it makes sense in their circumstance to help students grow and master their learning is essential.

To that end, as states free up schools around inputs, they should focus more on individual student-learning outcomes that value individual growth. Having systems of assessments – from objective exams to projects and portfolios of work – that students can use to show mastery as they complete their work, will be critical.

Embracing the Online Learning Opportunities

As online learning continues to grow such that students are no longer limited to the menu of course options offered within their school system, more states are moving toward funding mechanisms that allow dollars to follow students down to the course level, such that students can get access to the high-quality courses they need and want regardless of where they live. As this happens, funding student outcomes – not just access – will be important. In Louisiana, for example, which passed a course choice program last year, an online course provider receives 50 percent of the cost of the course up-front and the last 50 percent when the student completes the course. This is a step in the right direction, but ultimately this policy should evolve further to reward the provider not just for output-based performance – as in, when a student completes a course – but for real learning outcomes verified independently through the systems of assessments.

In order for the American education system to make the sharp pivot from standardization to personalization for students, all levels of the system must participate in the change. Legislators and policymakers must clear the way for innovation and provide students access to online courses. At the district level, leaders should give autonomy to school leaders and teachers. At the school level, principals and teachers must be thoughtful and deliberate in designing a system no longer dictated by strict whole-class lesson plans and time-based units.

With all that in place, hopefully all students across the country will soon have the same opportunity as Jack – access to a truly personalized learning experience.

Educational Change

As the nation continues to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, it is becoming abundantly clear that the funding levels of our nation’s schools are not going to return to pre-recession levels. This funding crisis presents an unprecedented opportunity to recreate the current K-12 landscape.

As the nation continues to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, it is becoming abundantly clear that the funding levels of our nation’s schools are not going to return to pre-recession levels. This funding crisis presents an unprecedented opportunity to recreate the current K-12 landscape. The impact of the recession, compounded by the loss of federal funding due to sequestration, provides an opportunity for all governance levels of the current system to revolutionize how we are delivering education. In order to be effective, every level of our education system must use this funding crisis to create solutions that promote and expand digital and blended learning. These strategies may help to provide some relief to the nation’s funding challenges. Now is the time for education stakeholders to take bold steps to create a new system that leverages digital and blended learning techniques that will provide unprecedented access and expanded experiences to all the nation’s learners — wherever they live and whatever their personal situation.

Federal Policy Opportunities

At the federal level, expanded use of Title I and II funds would give states and school systems greater flexibility and autonomy in the use of federal funds to acquire, develop and expand digital and blended resources. Combining this flexibility with the further development and expansion of teacher training on the effective use of these resources will enable and empower the next generation of educators to fully leverage technology and unleash the power of a learner centric system. Digital and blended learning strategies are essential to the United States’ efforts to compete with other nations at preparing learners to succeed in the rapidly expanding technological economy. Federal policies must allow for greater flexibility in the use of Title I and II funds to facilitate the widespread use of digital and blended learning strategies as economical and effective solutions. In the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Congress must include language that allows for the use of federal funds for the widespread implementation of digital learning and technology. The creation of autonomy and flexibility must be explicitly defined so that states clearly understand their authority to use Title I and II funds to establish these solutions. The defined use of Title II funds must specifically allow for expanded teacher preparation and training in the use of effective digital and blended learning techniques.

Digital and blended learning strategies are essential to the United States’ efforts to compete with other nations at preparing learners to succeed in the rapidly expanding technological economy.

As the amount of available discretionary federal funding continues to remain in question and the federal government remains stifled by sequestration and budget negotiations, states are struggling to find the funding dollars necessary to maintain their traditional institutions and programs. Most states are being forced to confront the reality that federal funding levels will not return to pre-recession levels at any time in the foreseeable future. Rather than continuing to try to find ways to fund the current system, states should consider this funding crisis as the impetus to revolutionize their delivery systems for the 21st century learner. Now is the perfect time to seize the funding challenges as a rationale to shed the limiting structure of our current instructional delivery method, which reached its maximum capacity long ago. This outdated model cannot be tweaked into better performance but needs to be wholly replaced with a modern system designed to meet the constantly evolving needs and expectations of today’s learner.

State Policy Opportunities

States must adopt policies that encourage the continued expansion and use of digital and blended learning methods in all of their school systems and schools. Issues that need to be addressed in state laws, regulations and policies include:

  • allowing for individual learners to receive credit for the mastery of skills in a digital and/or blended learning environment;
  • replacing the concept of Carnegie units with a mastery of content based system of credits and advancement;
  • providing ways to award credit for courses that are taken through digital providers, regardless of where the courses are physically generated and transmitted;
  • creating more pathways by which providers can be recognized as digital learning providers;
  • establishing funding to create teacher education programs that advance the use of digital learning as an effective alternative to our traditional system; and
  • establishing aligned systems of data to drive personalized instruction based upon both summative and formative assessments.

As the concept of anytime, anywhere learning continues to take hold, states must adopt policies that will allow learners to pursue learning opportunities limited not by geography but only by the limits of their academic abilities. States must also adapt their school system, school and student funding formulas, graduation requirements and attendance requirements and begin to provide non-time based pathways for matriculation and graduation.

State Policy Initiatives

During the past year, Florida, Georgia and Michigan reinforced their commitment to digital education by enacting policy changes that will continue to expand the availability, recognition and access of digital courses to a wider range of student age groups. Further, Florida established a funding link to the end of course exams, whether the courses are taken in an online environment or a traditional school. Georgia created a framework by which a digital provider can be recognized by the Georgia Department of Education. Michigan, along with providing technology for students and information for parents, provided for the increase in approved cyber schools and the further expansion of these schools’ student rosters from 2,500 students to 10,000.

Ohio and California enacted policies that enabled school systems to implement digital and blended learning by addressing issues of attendance, teacher/student ratios and access to digital learning tools. Iowa has enacted policies that will begin to offer avenues of personalized learning and student-centered accountability. The state is challenging the traditional role of the Carnegie system as it attempts to create a new competency-based system.

Maryland, Minnesota and Washington all have recognized the challenge in preparing teachers to address the needs of digital and blended learners. Hopefully, these policies will provide other states with ideas on how to create effective teacher preparation systems compatible with the digital learning environment. These preparation systems are vital to creating, scaling and maintaining the new learning environment.

Local Policy Opportunities

Local school systems must be afforded the ability to create or leverage the accessibility of digital learning resources as a means to provide equity in the opportunities afforded all students, as well as meet the unprecedented funding challenges. As students begin to access learning opportunities outside their traditional brick and mortar buildings, districts will be expected to create new methods for determining the funding of individual schools. Superintendents and local Boards of Education will be confronted with the difficult reality of enacting policies that adapt to the necessity of fewer schools, allow for the implementation of flexible learning hours, provide educators with the opportunity to obtain training in the effective use of digital and blended learning techniques, and find ways to leverage the talents of their systems’ best instructors through technology.

School systems must redesign and reorganize more than just the physical environment of the traditional brick and mortar school. Local systems must revolutionize even the most basic ways in which they operate. Expanded hours and services at schools must be implemented to meet the reality that future learning is not simply taking place between the hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The personal needs of today’s learners are far different than those of past generations. To be truly effective, Superintendents and local Boards of Education must work together to challenge the old model of educational delivery in order to effectively meet the needs of today’s learners.

The funding challenges at all levels of our education system provide us with a unique opportunity to revolutionize the way educational opportunities are distributed and delivered. The challenge before us is to create laws, regulations and policies that build the foundation for this new system while meeting the needs of today’s learners. Many have already begun to close the door on the old brick and mortar system, now we must work to construct the new system designed to open not a school but a world of learning for all.

For additional information on the digital policies enacted by states, see The Ten Biggest Policy Winds since Digital Learning Day 2012, by Lillian Pace, February 1, 2013.

Measuring Success

Online learning for students in grades K-12 has been available for over a decade in some states, and the number of programs offered by school systems or virtual (online)1 charter schools is increasing rapidly. Connections Education has been operating Connections Academy online schools since the fall of 2002 and currently enrolls almost 50,000 students.2

Online learning for students in grades K-12 has been available for over a decade in some states, and the number of programs offered by school systems or virtual (online)1 charter schools is increasing rapidly. Connections Education has been operating Connections Academy online schools since the fall of 2002 and currently enrolls almost 50,000 students.2 Families seek out online schools for many reasons. Forty percent of the students who enrolled in Connections Academy schools for the 2012-2013 school year reported they needed more flexibility. Another 26 percent reported they did not get enough attention from their previous teacher. Fifteen percent reported they were not safe at school, and 12 percent indicated there was a health problem that limited a student’s ability to attend a traditional school. Approximately 33 percent indicated they have not been successful academically. One of the major criticisms of full-time online schools is that their state standardized test results are lower than students’ scores in traditional schools. In addition, while there are some full-time online programs that score well on some states’ accountability measures, most do not. We believe that this reflects a simplistic view of a complex issue. We believe that the value of these programs needs to be determined based on an analysis of the performance of comparable student populations in traditional schools and that the composition of the tested population also is important when comparing the performance of online schools to each other.

As a leader in the delivery of online education, Connections Education continually reviews internal data to improve student performance at the schools we serve. We have noted for some time that while many of the students in a Connections Academy school remain advanced or proficient on state standardized tests or improve their performance as compared to their prior results, others fail to improve or even show a decline in their performance. We needed a better understanding of the factors that contribute to these different outcomes in order to improve our performance and better understand the challenges presented by current measurement systems. Our analysis of standardized test scores for students enrolled in the schools we operate highlights several factors we believe may be adversely affecting the performance of online schools (as well as the performance of some traditional schools), which may need to be specifically addressed through different educational strategies and different accountability measures. For example:

  1. The timing of a student’s enrollment in a full-time online school impacts the student’s state test score performance, and a significant number of students enroll in online schools after the start of the school year.
  2. A statistically significant relationship exists between a student’s household income level and state test performance. Students who enroll after the start of the school year are more likely to be from lower income families.
  3. Family engagement with the decision to enroll in an online school has a positive influence on academic performance. Engagement during the enrollment process declines after the start of the school year.
Enrollment Timing

Most states require online schools to accept students throughout the school year, unless they are subject to enrollment caps. There is increased demand for online schooling after the start of the school year as families look for solutions to problems that develop in their previous schools. About 30 percent of the new students we serve enroll after the start of the school year.3 Our data indicates that these students are less likely to score at the proficient level or above on their state’s standardized tests.4

Percentage of new students enrolled in a Connections Academy-operated school who score at the proficient level or above on their state’s standardized tests, administered during the spring of 2012, based on their time of enrollment (number of days after the scheduled start of their school)

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Most states recognize that students who start after October 1 are less likely to do well on a state test given the limited time between their enrollment and the time of the test. So, they exclude students who enroll after October 1 from their accountability measures. But our data shows that a significant decline in student performance occurs well before an October 1 cut‐off date, most likely due to the conditions that caused the students to leave their previous school in the midst of the school year. With the exception of some traditional public schools that serve a highly transient student population, it would be unusual for a traditional school to enroll so many new students after the start of the school year. Therefore, online schools are disproportionately affected by the inclusion of the scores for students who enroll after the start of the school year but before a state’s cut‐off date.

Household Income

It is well known that low-income students generally score lower on state standardized tests.5 Since schools that serve low-income students vary considerably in their access to highly qualified teachers, time devoted to instruction, curriculum materials, etc., it has been difficult to determine if household income produces students less likely to test well or if students from lower income households do not have access to the same educational resources as higher income students, or both. Full-time online school programs use the same teacher pool, curriculum and technology and set the same time requirements for instruction for all students, regardless of their income level. So comparing low-income students to higher income students within the same online school narrows the comparison to income, without the influence of different school experiences. As shown by reported test data from the South Carolina Connections Academy (SCCA) during 20126, there is a significant disparity in academic performance based on income level. 7

Percentage of all students enrolled in the South Carolina Connections Academy school who scored proficient or above on their state’s standardized tests, administered during the spring of 2012, based on their household income (as reported by the South Carolina Department of Education state web site)

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Further, as shown below, the higher the percentage of low‐income students who are tested in the third grade, in all of the large full‐time virtual schools in Pennsylvania, the lower the percentage of their students who are proficient or above in math.

Percentage of all students in the largest “cyber” schools in Pennsylvania who scored proficient or above in third grade math on their state’s standardized tests, administered during the spring of 2012 (as reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Education state website)

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The influence of income on the performance of virtual schools also is evident in Florida. The three full-time virtual schools that received that state’s highest rating of “A” for the 2012‐2013 school year had much smaller percentages of low income students than the program that received a “C”.8

Family Engagement

Full-time public virtual schools almost always are required to accept all students, even though it is widely acknowledged that online learning does not work for everyone.9 In our effort to understand the factors that contribute to student success, we examined the level of engagement by a family with the school during the enrollment process.10 Our data shows that students who enroll later in the school year are less likely to attend an orientation event or have other interactions with the school (e.g. talking to a teacher or another parent) during the enrollment process. For example, 78 percent of families who start a Connections Academy school in August demonstrate engagement with the school during the enrollment process versus only 47 percent of those who enroll in December.

Conclusions

We are developing strategies to address all of these findings. Starting with the 2013-2014 school year — we have completely redesigned the “onboarding” process for students who start after the first day of school to provide them with more forms of support earlier, we are increasing our early warning systems to identify students at academic risk, and we will specifically include household income as an identified risk factor. We also are increasing enrollment engagement activities after the start of the school year and, to the extent permitted by school regulatory authorities, are requiring some level of engagement with the school by the parent or student prior to enrollment.

We believe that a better understanding of the factors that influence academic performance in online schools will help in the design of more effective evaluation systems for all schools. This is important because it is increasingly clear that many students want to learn online and many of them are doing so successfully. Our hope in sharing our data is that it will assist in this effort, particularly when determining which students and schools should be compared to each other and how to measure the impact of online learning as compared to traditional models for comparable populations.

References

1 “Online” and “virtual” are used interchangeably to refer to schools where the students and teachers are not in the same location and students use the Internet in order to access instruction and curriculum materials.

2 Connections Education serves students in full-time online programs that are operated under contracts with charter schools, school districts and departments of education in 22 states.

3 Full-time online schools follow a traditional school calendar because their students must take their state’s standardized tests and the tests are administered to all public school students at the same time. While there are discussions about decoupling testing and funding models from the traditional school year, this is not yet practical for schools that are measured under existing state accountability systems.

4 While states currently use different standardized tests, they all report the percentage of students who meet or exceed their designated proficiency threshold, so we have combined the data from multiple Connections Academy schools on that basis.

5http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/education/education-gap-grows-between-...

6 SCCA tests students at Grades 3-8 and students in their second year of high school. In South Carolina, Grades 3‐8 take the PASS and 2nd year high school students take the HSAP. Values in the table are based on results calculated across PASS and HSAP results for SCCA.

7 South Carolina is one of the few states that report the performance of students who are not from low-income households as well as those who are. So in most states, it is impossible to see the difference in performance on state tests solely based on income. Yet all states report detailed comparisons of test score performance based on ethnicity.

8 Broward Virtual, school grade of A with 20% low-income students reported; Palm Beach Virtual, school grade of A with 18% low-income; Lee County Virtual, school grade of A with 33% low-‐income (but requires low scoring students on the FCAT to attend in-person remediation sessions, which potentially disqualifies it for analysis as a completely virtual school program); versus Florida Virtual School Full-Time with a school grade of C and 48% low-income reported. http://schoolgrades.fldoe.org/

9Elearning works, Exactly how well depends on its unique features and barriers”, January 2013, Cornell University. While this report covers higher education, the issues are the same in online learning in K-12.

10Family engagement is widely associated with student success.

Measuring Success

The current way student records and transcripts are managed is insufficient to meet the evolving needs of teachers, students and parents. Only the most basic of information follows students into the classrooms they enter each year.

This article is a summary of Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles, one of the papers in the DLN Smart Series produced by Digital Learning Now! in partnership with ExcelinEd and Getting Smart. The series was created to provide specific guidance regarding adoption of Common Core State Standards and the shift to personal digital learning. Additional papers in the series cover blended learning implementation, funding the shift to digital learning, getting ready for online assessments, school finance reform, competency education and the evolution of the teacher profession.

The current way student records and transcripts are managed is insufficient to meet the evolving needs of teachers, students and parents. Only the most basic of information follows students into the classrooms they enter each year. Teachers have little visibility into the past performance of their students; what other teachers noted; or each learner’s strengths, weaknesses and individual needs. New personalization technologies and the demand for differentiated instruction as a Common Core strategy will only further place strains on the ecosystem of data systems and paper-based records that form the patchwork of our current student records.

What if students came to each course or classroom with a digital backpack of data about their learning levels, preferences, motivations and personal accomplishments? How would this improve each teacher’s ability to tailor learning to meet the needs of individual students? What if parents and students could easily access the student’s records to share information with afterschool providers? How would all of the personalization this affords add up to deeper learning and improved college and career readiness?

Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles asks these questions and reveals some key problems with the current system:

  • The current official transcript does not provide enough information for teachers to personalize learning from the first day of school.
  • Customized learning requires an enhanced and expanded Learner Profile.
  • Parents and teachers should have the ability to protect privacy and empower multiple providers to use and contribute to a Learner Profile.

We offer two recommendations for addressing the inadequacies of today’s student records in order to power personalization from day one, at every step, for every student.

1  The Data Backpack

The Data Backpack is an expanded common electronic student record: an official transcript that follows students through every transition — grade to grade and school to school.

The Backpack would include traditional transcript data such as demographic information, state testing data and supplementary student supports. However, it also would include additional information in order to represent a more holistic picture of student achievement — such as a gradebook of standards-based performance data and a portfolio of personal bests — and better capture the student’s progression at any moment in time. This enhanced data would provide a context for attendance and behavior patterns, supplementary support services, grades, and other performance information such as proficiency scores and learning gains.

Since this data would follow students to each new learning experience, learning could be tailored to meet their individual needs from the first lesson rather than requiring the extra time teachers must spend diagnosing student needs and abilities.

2  The Learner Profile

The Learner Profile builds on the “official transcript” of the Data Backpack to provide additional clues to unlock learner needs, preferences and potential. While each student’s Data Backpack would be populated by a set of common elements for all students at a new minimum level, the components of each student’s Learner Profile could be customized based on student needs, platform data requirements and family decisions.

Amazon, iTunes and Netflix have demonstrated the potential of predictive algorithms. Adaptive software is powering high performance blended schools. Learner profiles — powered by achievement and keystroke data — will unlock secrets about the kinds of experiences that inspire persistence and performance for each student.

In addition to standard achievement data, Learner Profiles should contain expanded achievement information, student goal statements, badges and other recognitions, and a college/career readiness tracker. Students would contribute a full portfolio of work, complemented by teacher narratives on student assets and challenges. The Profile also could include non-cognitive variables that impact achievements, as well as an “early warning system,” self-management skills, behavior/character education and a record of community service.

When learning is personalized to meet the needs of individual learners, everyone wins. Taken together, the Data Backpack and the Learner Profile would power personalization and protect privacy.

  • The Data Backpack ensures that personalized learning begins on day one.
  • The Learner Profile powers a personalized pathway toward college and career readiness.

Customized learning, informed by enhanced and expanded student data, will boost motivation and achievement — keeping more students on track for college and career readiness.

The Opportunity

We are at a critical moment in time. With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), online assessments in 2014-15 and the shift to digital learning, school systems are on the brink of receiving a flood of unprecedented amounts and variations of student data.

Although no one has yet realized a full-scale solution to unlock the potential of personal digital learning that Digital Learning Now! described in the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning, the full paper offers a rich field of toolsets and “point solutions” that address singular aspects of the overall needs. While much good work is underway, the paper concludes with a call to action and an assertion that the leaders of various efforts need to come together to create a common, integrated and comprehensive system that is universally endorsed and widely implemented. Tackling the range of challenges — from privacy compliance to technical issues — will require collaborative involvement from everyone, ranging from state leaders and policymakers to developers and industry leaders, in addition to representatives from education agencies, advocacy organizations and funders.

Learning Environments

Today’s education system was built to standardize the way we teach and test. This worked well when most students would progress from school to an industrial job. However, students are expected to perform more complex tasks in today’s workplace, when the current education system does not adequately prepare students for success in career and life.

Today’s education system was built to standardize the way we teach and test. This worked well when most students would progress from school to an industrial job. However, students are expected to perform more complex tasks in today’s workplace, when the current education system does not adequately prepare students for success in career and life. Given that each student has different learning needs at different times — we learn at different paces, have different aptitudes, and enter classes with different experiences and background knowledge — we need an education system that can offer customized instruction so that individual students can realize their full potential (Innosight Institute, A Guide to Personalized Learning, p.1).

Curriculum Designed for Learning Mastery

At Laurel Springs School, the methodology we apply to our teaching and learning criteria is focused on a common college preparatory curriculum and assessment program. This program is implemented school-wide and allows for personalized instruction. Our curriculum is developed and disseminated to teachers who follow lesson plans while working one-on-one with students. Since teachers do not create each week’s learning activities and assessments, they are able to focus on evaluating student work, providing high-quality feedback and gauging ongoing academic progress through a variety of formative assessments.

Today’s students will benefit most from curriculum that promotes independent thinking and active learning.

Today’s students will benefit most from curriculum that promotes independent thinking and active learning. Higher level thinking and open-ended assignments are included in frequent authentic evaluations. Performance-based rubrics guide students to complete assignments and strive for mastery of the concepts. Formative assessments that conclude unit studies in all core courses are comprehensive and allow students to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives. In addition, these assessments offer students options, where appropriate, to demonstrate mastery using different media or learning modalities.

In Disrupting Class, the authors challenge school leaders to focus on customizing an education to match the way that each child learns best. In some learning environments that is easier to do than in others. Specifically, to introduce customization successfully, schools must move away from monolithic instruction and move towards a modular, student-centric approach. I believe that if we reinvent our learning environments and embrace online or blended programs, we create a pathway to student success through personalized instruction and learning.

Data to Support Personalized Learning

In today’s world, we are inundated with data, and it can be hard to digest information about our students in time for it to have a material impact on student success in the current school year. How do we as leaders in our schools create a framework and structure to turn that data into something meaningful? Specifically, how can data be applied to improve student success and personalize learning?

Implementing a personalized approach to big data can add a layer of unexpected culture to a school:

  • Teachers are empowered to differentiate curriculum and instruction according to learning profile data.
  • Students are treated as individuals with assignments that speak to their strengths and address their areas of challenge.
  • Students retain information better, resulting in improved academic outcomes.
  • The “big data” collected by the school becomes an integral part of the school’s growth and success.
  • Schools can measure improved ROI for existing big data solutions.

Scholarly research supports the idea that personalizing instruction for each student improves student outcomes. Two studies reinforce bringing big data down to the individual level in our schools.

A Carnegie Mellon study published in 2010 that examined personalized reading instruction showed that when students were assigned reading passages aligned with “authentic connections” to their interests, their reading comprehension improved.

Similarly, in a study that will be published in the August 2013 Journal of Educational Psychology, researchers examined the idea of placing Algebra instruction in contexts relevant to students’ out-of-school experiences. The study found that personalized math problems not only made it easier for students to understand what was being asked, but also helped to boost the confidence of students who may have been intimidated by the subject.

Practical Data Use

So just how do educational leaders implement customized student curricular experiences? First we must evaluate what we have always done and overlay the insights technology provides to help prepare students for the world as it is. This process begins with the data.

Every school has identified different needs for their student population and, to varying degrees, data about their students’ learning profiles. Many aggregate data sources into a holistic portrait of each individual student. How do we analyze and use the data to develop an implementation plan to position our school to better meet the needs of our students?

In order to apply learning profile data in a practical way, we don’t just need the data. Personalizing data requires schools to view students as individuals who can achieve more with a differentiated approach. Many educational institutions use a combination of the following data sources to build individual student learning profiles:

  • Student feedback
  • Grade reports
  • Teacher evaluations
  • IQ tests
  • Personality tests
  • Learning style assessments
  • Diagnostic assessments
  • Milestone assessments
Assessments that Support Learning

As a private online school, Laurel Springs has more than 20 years of experience in developing personalized academic programs to meet each student’s needs based on their learning preferences. The following is an example of how our school applies big data about student learning in a practical way to increase student outcomes.

All students participate in Performance Series assessments in the first and last lessons of their English and Math courses. These assessments play a crucial role in monitoring student growth and measuring school improvement.

Laurel Springs adopted this assessment program in part because it matches our student-centered approach and virtual course delivery. The program provides adaptive content so that each learner is assessed according to individual skill levels.

In addition to being convenient and suited to personalized learning, the assessments give immediate feedback on students’ individual progress toward core objectives. Post-assessment detailed reports feature norm referencing to compare our school’s results to national statistics. A parent summary also is included so that our families can work with their children to focus on improving areas of challenge.

The benefits of this program are both immediate and long-term and work well within our personalized learning framework.

The Performance Series benefits students by:

  • discovering individual content area skills students have
  • providing specific skill sets to build on in Math/Language Arts/Reading/English
  • demonstrating the progress achieved during the year

The Performance Series benefits teachers by:

  • providing data to customize learning to meet individual student goals
  • providing teachers with the necessary information to help students increase achievement levels
  • helping teachers discover learning needs shared by groups of students that may be addressed by broad improvements to teaching and curriculum

The Performance Series benefits the entire school by:

  • aligning assessment scores with semester exams to enhance courses and provide a foundation for the creation of new ones
  • ensuring accurate student placement
  • guiding teacher training topics based on student achievement
  • evidencing school-wide progress

Our goal should be to leverage data and technology to meet student needs in real time. If a student has mastered a concept before the rest of her classmates, there should be no need to wait until the end of the unit to progress, nor should the struggling student simply continue without the time to grasp more important building blocks.

Students Experiencing Success

One of my favorite pearls of wisdom from Disrupting Class is that unless students (and teachers) are motivated, they will reject the rigor of any learning task and abandon it before achieving success.

We believe that personalized learning driven by digital technology has the power to transform our education system. This transformation reaches across the boundaries of economic and social barriers to meet the needs of a diverse group of students with a focus on student growth and individual learning goals. With our approach to personalizing big data about learning, each student has the potential to succeed.

In summary, as school leaders we should be dedicated to building a platform for learning that encourages student success and mastery of concepts to ensure each individual student’s achievement. We know from research that every student learns in a different way, and our focus should be on customizing an education to match the way that each child learns best. We need to move away from one-size-fits-all instruction and move towards a modular, student-centric approach. As we reinvent our learning environments and leverage technology to impact academic success, we find that technology affords us the opportunity to personalize the learning experience for each individual student.

It is our mission to honor our promise to prepare the students in our care for their journey beyond our school walls and into the world of the 21st century. I believe there is more we can do.

References:

Evans, Meg (2012) Innosight Institute, A Guide to Personalized Learning, p.1

Clayton M Christensen; Michael B. Horn; Curtis W Johnson (2008) Disrupting Class

Journal of Educational Psychology, Special Issue: Advanced Learning Technologies (2013)

International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education (2010)

Education Week (September 26, 2012)

Technology

Recently, I spent some time talking with the administrators in a school system nearby about technology, their vision for where they want to go and how the administrators play a key role in the development of technology practices that can have a huge impact on student learning.

Recently, I spent some time talking with the administrators in a school system nearby about technology, their vision for where they want to go and how the administrators play a key role in the development of technology practices that can have a huge impact on student learning. I asked them several questions, and I have included in this article some that I believe are most important. Some of these questions are adapted from the Principals Technology Leadership Assessment from Castle and others are questions of my own. Some of these questions are for the leader, while others are for a leadership team. These by no means are the only questions to consider, but by answering these you can gain an understanding for the direction that technology integration will take/does take in a school or system. Even if you can’t answer all or some of these questions, use them as opportunities for reflection on your goals you have for yourself and team and the direction you need to go.

Think about...

Regarding a Vision for Technology

What are we doing to make learning better for kids? (Our most important question.) Ultimately our goal is to educate kids; to help kids discover their passions and provide for them the necessary tools and resources to live and work in a world that is rapidly developing and changing. We have to ensure as a team we are doing what is necessary to create environments for student learning (with the infusion of technology) and support teachers, administrators and schools as they create those environments as well. And how can I as a technology leader empower my team? What tools and resources can I provide for them to meet their needs?

To what extent do you as the administrator compare and align your school technology plan with other plans such as your school improvement plan? Are there clear goals for the use or integration of technology that are integrated into your school improvement plan? Perhaps there is a component to address digital safety or cyber bullying, but should there be more? What should be addressed? Is technology even addressed at all?

Where are we, as a team, going? The overall vision and direction of the school system is out of our hands. That is decided by the Superintendent and Board of Education. What I can do is match the vision and direction of the Instructional Technology/Instructional Assessment program to better match the overall vision and direction of the system. How are we going to reach our goals, and what do we need to get there? How can I (personally) ensure we get there? And if we aren’t on the right path, what can I do to make sure we correct ourselves?

Regarding the Use of Technology

To what extent do you work to ensure the equity of technology access and use in your school? Some classrooms are lucky. Every kid and teacher has access to whatever they need. Others are lucky to have a working Internet connection. We have to work with what we are provided, so how are we harnessing what we have to the best of our ability? Are we making smart purchases that will enhance learning, or are we spending because this device is flashy or neat? Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, what are we doing with what we do have and how can we innovate with it?

To what extent do you support faculty and staff in connecting and using school system and building level technology systems for management and operations? Data is important. Understanding it and using it can be powerful. How, as the technology leader, do you provide access to systems that allow teachers to critically analyze data?

Regarding the Role of the Technology Leader

What are we doing to carry out our mission? In my school system our technology mission is: “Prepare our community to meet the challenges of the 21st Century Learner, act as a conduit of continual change, serve our students to help them succeed and support the technological needs through planning and integration.” So how am I and my team preparing our community, acting as that conduit of continual change, serving our students, and planning and integrating? What can I do to improve and what can I do to help my team improve to carry out our mission?

To what extent do you participate in professional development activities meant to improve and expand your use of technology? This is another important question to ponder. I know I can do a better job of offering targeted professional development specific to my administrators in my system. But what opportunities are administrators seeking outside of traditional professional development? Are they engaged in Twitter or other social networks? Do they know about #cpchat? Do they read leadership blogs? Are they going to conferences or Edcamps to expand their horizons or see what conversations teachers are having?

To what extent do you provide support to teachers or staff members who are attempting to share information about technology practices, issues and concerns? Are staff meetings wasted sharing information that could be shared via email, QR Code or blog? Or are staff meetings spent sharing best practices, examining what is working with technology integration or how we all could benefit from what a particular teacher is doing? It’s this idea of the Flipped Meeting that could be of benefit here. Are the administrators providing time for teachers to visit other classrooms to see best practices or share model lessons?

 The reflective leader is one who is constantly wondering how they can improve and, more importantly, how they can help others improve.

What connections can we make today? One of the best lessons I learned as a classroom teacher was the more connections I made with my kids and my parents, the better my classroom was. When kids learn that you care about them and genuinely care about their learning, they will do anything for you. Parents are the same. Many parents bring negative attitudes to school because of their own bad experiences. So the more connections we can make, the easier our jobs become. The same is true with Instructional Technology. When all we do is offer a menu of choices of professional development, we aren’t meeting teachers where they are or providing for them the learning opportunities they need. Nor can we make connections with them. Rather what we do as a team is meet with teachers individually or in their Professional Learning Communities to be a part of the planning process and provide them the answers they need. One benefit — we make awesome connections too. We are breaking down walls and helping schools and teachers understand technology integration. But we can’t stop there. What other connections can we make? How can we strengthen our existing connections to do more?

Be reflective. The reflective leader is one who is constantly wondering how they can improve and, more importantly, how they can help others improve. Technology and the role of the technology leader is shifting and changing, sometimes on a daily basis. We have to spend time looking deep inside, being honest with ourselves, to ensure we are walking the right path and guiding others along it.

 

Learning Environments

Digital Learning

Standards for Quality Digital Learning Institutions

AdvancED

Each and every day, educators and administrators in digital learning institutions around the world seek new ways to help students reach their greatest potential. These AdvancED Standards for Quality Digital Learning Institutions not only provide the foundation for the AdvancED Accreditation Process, but also represent the continued evolution of accreditation as a powerful tool for driving effective practices in support of student learning.

Mobile Devices in Education

Center for Digital Education

Many K-12 school systems are embracing the reality of increased mobile device usage and bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives as well as the impact this will have on IT. Those responsible for supporting this change must determine how to manage a broad assortment of end-user devices now connecting to their IT environments. This paper outlines an approach that Dell has developed and tested to meet the unique needs of education. This solution is designed to be easy-to-use for education institutions, both in implementation and management, and to address a variety of mobile devices.

Learning Environments

Creating Learner-Centric Environments

De-grade your classroom and instead use narrative feedback

Mark Barnes, SmartBlog on Education

Author of Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom (A 2013 Best Professional Book), Mark Barnes explains how he stopped grading his middle school students, instead using only narrative feedback. Barnes cites the research of formative assessment expert, Dylan Wiliam, to support his claim that students complete activities willingly and become high-achieving independent learners, once all number and letter grades are eliminated.

Knowledge in Action Research Helping to Make the Case for Rigorous Project-Based Learning

Edutopia Staff, Edutopia

This research project examines whether project-based learning can deepen student learning and increase Advanced Placement test scores. The comprehensive article provides an overview of the study, project-based learning course design, student demographics and results to date.

5 Ways to Make Your Classroom Student-Centered

Marcia Powell, Ed Week Teacher

Author Marcia Powell explores the teacher strengths needed for creating a student-centered classroom and how teachers can refine those. She encourages teachers to identify areas of focus to improve their relationships with students and their classroom results.

Teacher vs. Learner-Centered Instruction

National Capital Language Resource Center

This chart outlines the key characteristics that differentiate teacher-centric versus learner-centric environments.

10 Trends for Personalized Learning in 2014

Barbara Bray, Personalize Learning

In her blog post, Barbara Bray defines personalized learning in terms of the learner and suggests how educators might take personalized learning to a new level in 2014.

Learning Environments

As part of the MacArthur digital media and learning initiative for the past decade, I’ve been trying to understand how young people’s learning is changing in an era when there’s this complete abundance of social connectivity and information. Young people are learning how to organize and how to collaborate online and outside of school.

When my daughter was a sophomore in high school and was having a rough week at school, struggling to get through her accelerated academic work, she decided to stay off Tumblr for a week. She’s pretty active on Tumblr, her social media platform of choice. When she tells me her plan to avoid it for a week, I say, “great idea.” But, an hour later, I see her on her computer updating her Tumblr profile; so I inquire. She rolls her eyes, saying, “I’m getting off for a week, Mom. I need to cue up automated daily posts for the next week, so I won’t lose my followers.”

As a researcher who studies how young people are using social media, my daughter is constantly teaching me that Tumblr actually is a site where she’s learning how to navigate a complicated online audience and developing a set of skills, not only writing and engaging with the audience, but also understanding how to market and build a following and a lot of skills that had been very difficult for a 16-year-old to have access to in a prior era. As part of the MacArthur digital media and learning initiative for the past decade, I’ve been trying to understand how young people’s learning is changing in an era when there’s this complete abundance of social connectivity and information. Young people are learning how to organize and how to collaborate online and outside of school. They’re learning complex technical skills, but they tend not to see that as learning that can be connected to schools or civic engagement. So, how do we, as educators, bring the research into educational practice and how can we best support our kids in their learning, given how much the environment outside the classroom has changed?

Connected Learning Principles

We could address this question in many different ways. At the University of California Humanities Research Institute’s Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, the Connected Learning Research Network and the Connected Learning Alliance, we are focused on how we can build stronger connections within school and out-of-school learning. This agenda is not new. It’s something that John Dewey wrote about many decades ago. It is the core of experiential learning and project-based learning and many other movements that have been around for a long time. For those of us engaged with the “connected learning” model, we believe that today’s social and interactive media offers a new opportunity to revitalize this longstanding vision of progressive education. Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is, in turn, able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement. This model is based on evidence that the most resilient, adaptive and effective learning involves individual interest as well as social support to overcome adversity and provide recognition.

Connected learning knits together three crucial contexts for learning:

  • Peer-supported: In their everyday exchanges with peers and friends, young people are contributing, sharing and giving feedback in inclusive social experiences that are fluid and highly engaging.
  • Interest-powered: When a subject is personally interesting and relevant, learners achieve much higher-order learning outcomes.
  • Academically oriented: Learners flourish and realize their potential when they can connect their interests and social engagement to academic studies, civic engagement and career opportunity.

Core properties of connected learning experiences are:

  • Production-centered: Digital tools provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge and cultural content in experimental and active ways.
  • Shared purpose: Social media and web-based communities provide unprecedented opportunities for cross-generational and cross-cultural learning and connection to unfold and thrive around common goals and interests.
  • Openly networked: Online platforms and digital tools can make learning resources abundant, accessible and visible across all learner settings.

With the proper supports, new media and technology can make opportunities for connected learning much more accessible, through experiences of production, online publishing and organizing. My daughter’s activities on Tumblr are just one among a plethora of newly accessible kinds of engagements in public life that are available to this generation.

Youth Culture Change

According to the Pew Research Center’s ongoing studies on libraries, new media is not replacing older literacies, but augmenting them in ways that young people under the age of 24 are more likely to read more online and offline than any other age group. And, they are prolific writers. Andrea Lunsford of Stanford conducts research in this area, and her studies show that the volume of young people’s writing has expanded tremendously. She recruited Stanford freshmen for a study that collected their writing through their years at college and found that writing is much more social and participatory among young people and that they’re getting much more feedback along the way. In a study with Karen Lunsford, she compares today’s first-year student writing to the writing of 20 years earlier. The study found that the length of papers have nearly tripled, while errors are comparable in volume but different in kind.

What we’re seeing right now is a culture clash between the modes of instruction and the institutions of learning that we’ve perfected in a prior age...

The sheer volume of media immersion that young people have in their everyday lives has risen dramatically. Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that youths, ages 8 to 18 on average consume 7.5 hours of media per day. And, mobile media also marks an important shift in youth culture. It means that we can all be in a state of constant social connectivity. What we’re seeing right now is a culture clash between the modes of instruction and the institutions of learning that we’ve perfected in a prior age, one that was characterized by information scarcity, and this free-flowing networked, socially-connected learning culture that young people are immersed in today.

Offering Opportunity

Like anything in abundance, too much of a good thing is not always best. As a parent of two teens who supports their online activities and thinks gaming can be a good thing, I struggle with how to guide them in balancing the allures of their interest-driven digital engagements with other responsibilities. It is a time for tough choices. They are confronting an incredible abundance of opportunity in terms of media and social connectivity and engagement, at the same time as they are living through an arms race in educational achievement, where it’s become even harder to get a good job and there’s tons of competitive pressure. This is the world that my teens are facing daily, and they are the lucky ones. Helping equip young people to thrive in this environment of abundance, cultivating mindfulness and attentiveness are a new set of capacities for a new kind of landscape that we have to navigate as educators. This need is even more pressing for young people who are not growing up in a highly enriched environment like my own children have.

As educators, parents, policymakers and learners, we need to take a hard look at our own role in how to make the most of the opportunities for learning, especially those that come with our open, networked, online world. It’s critical that we leverage new technology to build stronger connections between our educational institutions and the world at large. Educational institutions need to connect young people’s learning to their social lives, their communities, their interests and their careers.

The Internet, social media and digital technology give us the potential to expand the capacity of our public educational system and to reach all youth in their diverse communities and with their wide-ranging interests. Realizing this potential will require concerted, proactive efforts for change on behalf of those of us who are open and committed to an expansive and equitable approach to public education.

Editor’s Note:  If you enjoyed this article, be sure to watch Ito’s video “Cultural Anthropologist Mimi Ito on Connected Learning, Children, and Digital Media produced by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2011.

Educational Change

We will not be able to simply ride our way into the future.  We’ll have to invent our way into the future...In fact, our lifestyles and technologies have once again outgrown our physical and social infrastructure. 

We will not be able to simply ride our way into the future.  We’ll have to invent our way into the future.

As we moved headlong into the Great Recession, Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, declared, “The economic crisis doesn’t represent a cycle.  It represents a reset.  It’s an emotional, social and economic reset.” 

In fact, our lifestyles and technologies have once again outgrown our physical and social infrastructure.  I’ve compared it to putting a size 12 foot in a size 8 shoe.  Every institution in society is facing not just a subtle change, but a reset.  No one gets a free pass, not even education. 

As we think about today’s learning paradigm, let’s consider this.  We invented a system of schools and colleges for an Agricultural Age.  We reinvented them for an Industrial Age.  Now, we’re moving at hypersonic speed into a Global Knowledge/Information Age, even an Age of Knowledge Creation and Breakthrough Thinking.  Many of us are working feverishly to get students ready for the 21st century, frequently operating in a setting and often facing mentalities of another time.

Perspective and Context for a New Paradigm  

Part of our job is to develop and exude a sense of perspective.  We need to help everyone around us see education in the context of a world that seems to be powering forward on steroids.  Avoidance, hoping change will go away or spending our time and energy defending the status quo, won’t cut it anymore. 

That’s why I’ve written Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future.  The book, a classic external scan, focuses on massive forces that impact the whole of society.  Each of these trends has profound implications for education.  In turn, how we educate future generations has massive implications for each of these trends.  Our education system is, after all, of this world, not separate from it. 

The Future is Not What It Used to Be

The future is where students in our schools today will be spending their lives tomorrow.  Harvard’s David Perkins observes, “We assume that our life and the lives of our children will be similar.  Wouldn’t education be more interesting if we connected what students learn to the future?”  The future, to quote a classic ad, “is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”  Here are a few pieces of evidence.  In each case, ask, “What are the implications for how we operate our schools and for what our students need to know and be able to do?”

  • Lifelong learning will be available any time, anywhere, any pace and any way.  Social media coupled with smaller, more powerful mobile devices have taken learning on the road.  
  • Active learning; project-based education; real-world education; learning through inquiry; learning across disciplines; and teaching thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills are becoming rules of the road.
  • In the U.S., non-Hispanic whites are expected to fall below 50 percent of the population by about 2043.  For those 18 and under—by 2018.  This phenomenon has already happened in many states and communities.
  • Beginning in 2011, Baby Boomers started reaching 65 and will hit that milestone at about 10,000 a day for approximately 30 years.  Millennials started turning 30 in 2012.  Count on massive retirements coupled with a whole new style of leadership and set of parental expectations.   
  • Leadership will become increasingly horizontal with an emphasis on listening, engagement, collaboration, making sense and developing a unifying sense of direction.
  • Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language on the planet, followed by English, Hindi, Spanish and Russian.  By 2050, it’s expected that the order will be:  Mandarin, Spanish, English, and Arabic.
  • Between 2000 and 2050, the populations of less developed nations will increase by 60 percent, while populations of more developed nations will increase by only 4.3 percent. 

Let’s take a look at just a few other realities we’ll all be facing.  

High-Tech, High-Touch and Digital Connections

Ubiquitous, interactive technologies are shaping how we live, how we learn, how we see ourselves and how we relate to the world.  We’ve gone from Flash Gordon to flash drives in what seems like the blink of an eye.  Big data and the cloud are already here, along with growing demand for people who work in data analytics.  Quantum computers are on the horizon. 

Damian LaCroix, a Wisconsin superintendent who served on Futures Council 21, which provided advice and counsel for Twenty-One Trends, remarks, “We can’t educate today’s students for tomorrow’s world with yesterday’s schools.”  He points to “the proliferation of technology flipping the 20th century model of education and transforming it into a new digital high-tech, high-touch landscape.”

Let’s Get Personal and Tap Ingenuity

Let’s face it.  Personalization is not just an approach to education.  In fact, it’s what we all expect.  We want our clothes to fit and instant help if our smart phone breaks down. 

Of course, personalizing education begins with knowing our students and how we can engage them in learning.  That means we’d better have a good understanding of each student’s abilities, talents, skills, aptitudes, interests, cultural background and a variety of social and economic factors.  In a world of diverse talents and aspirations, we will increasingly discover and accept that one size does not fit all.

Futures Council 21 member Laurie Barron, the 2013 National Middle School Principal of the Year and now superintendent in Kalispell, Montana, declares, “personalizing the learning environment and building relationships will be increasingly crucial.”  In addition to academics, she adds, schools should be focused on “developing students who are well-rounded, productive citizens who give back to their community.”

Our future hangs in the balance.  STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is critically important.  However, we need to aim for a fully educated person.  Every educator and student should have the ability and willingness to deal with paradox, controversy and complexity; creatively see things in a new light; and function across disciplines. 

Many people want the equivalent of education box scores, like the ones we find on the sports page, where we can easily find winners and losers.

In our new paradigm, how will we deal with a perplexing scoreboard mentality?  Many people want the equivalent of education box scores, like the ones we find on the sports page, where we can easily find winners and losers.  Yes, we need assessments to help us constantly improve individual student learning.  All institutions need to be accountable.  However, testing should give us clues, not necessarily conclusions, since there is really no finish line for an educated person.  

Revisiting the Purposes of Education

Why do we educate people?  As we consider the need for higher ground and a new paradigm, let’s imagine that each discipline or subject doesn’t stand alone but contributes to higher purposes.  Here are a few for consideration: 

  • Creating good citizens. 
  • Enhancing employability. 
  • Helping students live interesting lives. 
  • Releasing ingenuity that is already there. 
  • Stimulating imagination, creativity and inventiveness.
What Can We Do to Shape the Future?

Since the Twenty-One Trends are a snapshot of the big picture, they represent our common ground.  They are a rallying point for bringing people together in common purpose.    

Explore the 21 Trends
In Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, author Gary Marx devotes a chapter to each of these forces and places them in sections of the book that he calls “Spheres.”  All have profound implications for education.
  • Demographic Sphere:  Generations, Diversity, Aging.
  • Technology Sphere:  Technology, Identity and Privacy.
  • Economic Sphere:  The Economy, Jobs and Careers.
  • Energy and Environment Sphere:  Energy, Environmental and Planetary Security, Sustainability.
  • Education and Learning Sphere:  Personalization; Ingenuity: Depth, Breadth, and Purposes of Education.
  • Public and Personal Leadership Sphere:  Polarization, Authority, Ethics, Continuous Improvement.
  • Well-Being Sphere:  Poverty, Scarcity vs. Abundance, Personal Meaning and Work-Life Balance.

Try this.  Hold community conversations or appoint futures councils to consider implications of these trends for how we operate our schools and colleges and for what our students need to know and be able to do.  Then, clearly define characteristics of the education system we need to truly get our students ready for the future.  That process can put us on the road to common ground, a sense of ownership and a refreshed paradigm for today’s learning.   

Perspective?  The famed British Primologist and Anthropologist Jane Goodall perhaps said it best:  “We have not inherited this planet from our parents.  We have borrowed it from our children.”

Learning Environments

There is growing consensus in states across the nation that the primary goal of the K–12 education system is to prepare all students to graduate from high school ready for college and careers. There is even agreement that for students to be college and career ready they need the same set of core academic skills, particularly in English/Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics and that all students also need strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

There is growing consensus in states across the nation that the primary goal of the K–12 education system is to prepare all students to graduate from high school ready for college and careers. There is even agreement that for students to be college and career ready they need the same set of core academic skills, particularly in English/Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics and that all students also need strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. These areas of agreement are expressed in the Common Core State Standards for English and Math as well as the Next Generation Science Standards. At the same time, research is beginning to show a positive relationship between developing student’s social/emotional learning skills, metacognitive skills, behaviors, attitudes toward learning, and overall mindset and their academic performance.  Furthermore, business leaders are clear in stating their desire for graduates to have the capacity to be creative – to think about problems in new ways, design their own solutions, and be able to collaborate and communicate in multiple settings. Deeper Learning incorporates all of these outcomes in recognition that all students must have the opportunity to succeed in a rapidly changing and complex world. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation describes Deeper Learning outcomes as the following:

  • Mastery of Core Academic Content: Students build their academic foundation in subjects like reading, writing, math and science. They understand key principles and procedures, recall facts, use the correct language and draw on their knowledge to complete new tasks.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Students think critically, analytically and creatively. They know how to find, evaluate and synthesize information to construct arguments. They can design their own solutions to complex problems.
  • Collaboration: Collaborative students work well in teams. They communicate, understand and integrate multiple points of view, and they know how to cooperate to achieve a shared goal.
  • Effective Communication: Students communicate effectively in writing and in oral presentations. They structure information in meaningful ways, listen to and give feedback, and construct messages for particular audiences.
  • Self-directed Learning: Students develop an ability to direct their own learning. They set goals, monitor their own progress, and reflect on their own strengths and areas for improvement.
  • An “Academic Mindset”: Students with an academic mindset have a strong belief in themselves. They trust their own abilities and believe their hard work will pay off, so they persist to overcome obstacles. They see the relevance of their schoolwork to the real world and their own future success.

Deeper Learning can help us reimagine teaching and learning, emphasizing that the true measure of learning is not rote memorization but the ability of students to apply what they know in real world contexts.  In Deeper Learning: How Eight Public Schools are Transforming Education in the 21st Century, I take readers inside eight public schools that are educating students from a diverse range of backgrounds to offer an inspiring and expanded vision of what’s possible in schools today when teachers and principals want to focus on and ensure students develop deeper learning outcomes.  The eight schools profiled in my book are embracing Deeper Learning principles with six core strategies:

Empower: Activate Students to Lead Their Own Learning

The schools develop students as self-directed learners through a set of common practices:  disruptive experiences that signal new expectations of students’ role in learning;  socializing students through modeling and mentoring by the upper grade students and a school culture rich with messages and rituals signaling the expectations for learners; and implementation of a consistent pedagogical approach in which students manage complex projects and assignments, seek feedback, revise work and reflect on what they’ve learned. The capacity for self-direction is the foundation for learning and both the culture of the school and the instructional practices have to reinforce this.

Keep It Real: Provide meaning to students learning experiences

Whether it’s designing an app, organizing a “mock election” representative of the electoral process, or generating electricity by building wind turbines, schools that embrace Deeper Learning objectives emphasize inquiry-based learning that explores real world and complex situations or problems and get students working actively and productively in groups to create products or to solve problems together. Teachers constantly shift roles, from curriculum design to advising to coaching to networking.

Contextualize: Connect experiences and subjects

The acquisition of content knowledge and skills is promoted by purposefully designing learning experiences to be unified around central concepts and ideas. Teachers use themes and essential or guiding questions to integrate their otherwise separate courses and align them to content standards for each subject as well as key Deeper Learning outcomes.  As a result, students have a coherent context for every assignment, classroom activity, field work experience and project they undertake, as well as a deeper level of understand of what they are learning.  As Susan McCray, a teacher from Casco Bay High School states, “Everything is related. Everything matters, and we are all working all the time to help them [students] see the connections.”

Reach: Extend Learning Beyond the School

Schools extend learning beyond the school to provide students with access to experts, authentic learning experiences, opportunities to contribute, and extended networks of support and learning.  As consummate networkers, principals and teachers scout opportunities for their students by tapping local resources like museums, higher education institutions, community based organizations and corporations that match the school’s learning philosophy as well as students’ interests and projects. This is not limited to but includes the opportunity for students to explore potential career paths through internships or mentorships.

Inspire: Customize Learning to Each Student

Finding the spark—a subject, idea or project that makes a student light up—is the key to customizing learning experiences for individual students. In order to tailor learning to meet individual students’ educational needs and aspirations, teachers seek out and develop a balanced knowledge of each student’s unique tendencies, circumstances and interests through both formal processes(advisories) and informal processes (including casual conversations, insight from partner organizations, community members or other teachers).

Wire: Make Technology the Servant, Not the Master

Deeper Learning incorporates technology purposefully to enhance, rather than automate learning. This happens in several ways, among them using programs and applications that build students’ research and critical thinking skills; offering digital methods to design projects, collaborate and communicate within and outside of the school; and broadening students’ options for presenting work creatively and connecting with multiple experts. In all of these cases, technology is used as a tool to drive student learning.

This more robust and responsive set of educational practices offer a new framework for educators and schools to rise to the challenge of preparing all students for college, careers and the world today. However, we need champions to advocate, if not demand, that deeper learning becomes the new normal for all schools. Only then will we be able to reimagine teaching and learning thereby ensuring all students will thrive in the 21st century and beyond. 

Measuring Success

In all ages, whether digital or pre-digital, the measurement of student success must be driven by the education outcomes we value and the type of evidence that best demonstrates success. More than ever before, the time is ripe for performance assessment ... if we can overcome the challenges.

In all ages, whether digital or pre-digital, the measurement of student success must be driven by the education outcomes we value and the type of evidence that best demonstrates success. More than ever before, the time is ripe for performance assessment ... if we can overcome the challenges.

During AdvancED’s International Summit in June, we captured instructive insights on this topic from experienced educators and policymakers through answers to two open-response questions and a 10-item assessment perceptions survey. One conclusion stands out: despite overwhelming appreciation for the benefits of performance assessment and support for its use in measuring student success, significant obstacles exist, even among proponents.

Defining Performance Assessment

To establish common ground, we explain below what is meant by “performance assessment.” Very broadly, rather than requiring students to select a response from two or more options, performance assessment asks students to apply their knowledge and skills through some form of product, presentation or demonstration focused on key aspects of academic learning. In the context of 21st century skills the term “performance assessment” commonly refers to substantive activities — either short-term, on-demand tasks or curriculum-embedded, project-based tasks that yield reliable and valid scores. Products can be extended writing, research reports, presentations, works of art, performances and more. Expert opinion and anecdotal evidence attribute to performance assessment the promotion of deeper learning, higher-order and non-cognitive skills, and student engagement.

In the context of 21st century skills the term “performance assessment” commonly refers to substantive activities — either short-term, on-demand tasks or curriculum-embedded, project-based tasks that yield reliable and valid scores.

Performance assessment can measure proficiency/mastery in accountability testing, competency-based instructional programs and badging. It can promote/gauge learning when curriculum-embedded — as part of discrete lessons or whole project-based programs. It can be implemented for selected standards, as in Ohio’s Performance Assessment Pilot Project (OPAPP), or on an immersive basis school-wide throughout the year, as in the model developed by the Boston-based Center for Collaborative Education. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are more performance-based, as are the consortia-developed assessments. Digital technologies can be used but are not required.

Surveying Educators

Turning to the open-response question results, just 15 percent of the answers identified academic content knowledge as what high school graduates need for college or career success. As seen in Table 1, 85 percent cited 21st century and higher-order thinking skills, executive functions, and personal dispositions/mind-set. Non-cognitive needs represented more than 30 percent of the responses (some were categorized as 21st century skills). The results might reflect the championing of deeper learning, higher-order thinking and non-cognitive skills by a broad swath of education experts and stakeholders for several years.

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Given the nature of the needs, Summit attendees identified for college and/or career readiness, the answers to the second open-response question — the type of evidence needed to measure student success — is not surprising: attendees overwhelmingly identified performance-based evidence. Table 2 shows that more than 90 percent of the responses involved students demonstrating they had the knowledge, skills and/or non-cognitive attributes to succeed. Just four percent of the responses cited standardized or similar tests (that typically are not performance-based).

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These results clearly reflect what attendees want to measure. However, they also might reflect the impact of the chorus of criticism from voices across the education spectrum about the low-level-skills focus of most assessments and the primacy of measurement ease and economy over measuring what matters. The investment by leading nations in richer, more authentic assessment is frequently cited as a model the U.S. should emulate. Certainly, Summit attendees have heard — and accepted — these messages.

Yet, the results of the 10-item assessment perceptions survey are surprising and highlight challenges to the widespread use of performance assessment to gauge student success. On the one hand, Table 3 shows remarkable unanimity across multiple factors associated with performance assessment: its role in promoting deeper learning and non-cognitive skills, its inclusion in accountability testing and even the ability of educators to create high-quality assessments.

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On the other hand, there was as much unanimity about the need for professional development for teachers to create and use performance assessment. While not surprising, given how rarely performance assessment is used today, and although the capacity to effectively use it can be built through professional development, this need arises at a time when resources to help educators transition to the CCSS are stretched thin. Moreover, CCSS-driven professional development focuses on content and instruction, not assessment. OPAPP, cited earlier, is a noteworthy exception as its professional development component merges performance-based instruction and assessment.

Dispelling Perceptions

The results for other survey items raise considerable concern and suggest that some support for performance assessment is “soft.” The greatest challenges to the widespread use of performance assessment during the year are the perceptions among at least 40 percent of attendees that it is too time consuming and represents an additional commitment disconnected from the required curriculum. In addition, almost one-third of attendees think human scoring is too subjective for data-driven decision making and almost one-quarter think performance assessment is less reliable than multiple-choice testing.

We could devote entire articles to each of these perceptions, but only have space for the following brief comments.

  • While performance (both assessment development and scoring) takes time, it is the most effective way to promote and gauge higher-order and non-cognitive skills. By directly measuring student learning and enabling teachers to see student work, it more effectively pinpoints students’ strengths and weaknesses. Proven approaches along with effective uses of technology can make performance assessment more efficient now than it has been in the past.
  • All too often curriculum-embedded performance assessment is an irrelevant extra. Rich curricula and effective professional development enable performance assessment to play an essential ongoing role in teaching and learning.
  • Decades of research and high-stakes testing evidence demonstrate the reliability of human scoring. Professional development, training, collaboration, and the use of moderation and auditing can ensure accurate scoring of students’ work products.
  • Contrary to the notion that multiple-choice items — considered “objective” measures — are more reliable than performance assessment, reliability is largely a function of the amount of evidence provided by a test. Many fewer constructed-response items and still fewer performance tasks provide the same reliability as a 50-item multiple-choice test.

Addressing these perceptions — even among ostensible supporters — is essential if performance assessment is to achieve its potential in promoting and measuring student success in the digital age.

Learning Environments

Today’s students are more connected, more aware and more in touch than any earlier generation. They’re connected to technologies that personalize and empower independent learning. Developing skills to navigate the wealth of knowledge and resources available to them today; they often become their own best teacher. They learn to love learning again.

Today’s students are more connected, more aware and more in touch than any earlier generation. They’re connected to technologies that personalize and empower independent learning. Developing skills to navigate the wealth of knowledge and resources available to them today; they often become their own best teacher. They learn to love learning again. We see this every day at the Delphian School; other proficiency-based programs report similar results. Students want schools that put them in the driver’s seat of their own educational journey. 

From this perspective, schools must change from an early 20th century factory-model, group-batch approach (where time is the constant and learning is the variable) to a proficiency-based, independent-student model where learning is the constant and time is the variable. A proficiency-based educational program ensures success for all students by knowing that each student needs a different amount of time to learn and understand a subject. Proficiency-based programs let students progress through their academic studies at the pace that’s right for them, giving them time to fully understand what they’re studying before moving on.

Timed-based schools using a letter-grade system prevent students from restudying and mastering what they missed on exams. Ready or not, students must move on to new topics so that teachers can “cover it all.”  This creates many educational gaps and what Sal Khan calls a Swiss-cheese education–i.e., full of holes. The National Education Commission on Time and Learning’s “Prisoners of Time” report acknowledges that one major flaw in the system is the rule: “Learn what you can in the time we make available.” The report notes that “students are caught in a time trap–processed on an assembly line scheduled to the minute. Our usage of time virtually assures the failure of many students.” 

Proficiency-based Learning

The Delphian School has been delivering proficiency-based education for 40 years. To meet the needs of today’s generation, we developed individual academic programs for all students and an assessment and information system that replaces letter-grades and report cards. These elements are critical to shifting our broader educational culture to one where all students can thrive and cross the finish line with a complete personalized education they can use. ComptencyWorks notes that “Learning is best measured by mastery rather than time spent in the classroom.”

Delphian’s program involves guided individual study, small seminars and a wide range of project-based learning (including real-world practical activities)—all carefully designed to help students connect what they’re studying to how they’ll use it in life. Online information systems chart each student’s course through the materials and are accessible 24/7 by the student, their parents and the school.

Students in the Driver’s Seat

Moving from report cards to real-time monitoring of student progress gives families up-to-the-minute information on what the student has mastered and what they’ve yet to learn. This puts students in the driver’s seat of their own educational success. Students see how they’re doing, what they’ve accomplished and what is left to do at any given time. They can map their own educational paths through the materials and the program. Delphian School students commonly plan out their academic day, their week or even their entire month of study and projects, setting priorities and developing goal-setting skills.

Having access to their own academic programs encourages students to take responsibility for their progress; they own their educational program, they know where it’s taking them, and they understand why they’re studying each subject. Even more relevant in today’s workplace, with this proficiency-based model, students learn how to study and learn the practical skills needed to apply their education towards the betterment of their lives.

Students value this real-life aspect of education. It encourages them to work on each step until they achieve mastery and competence. Self-motivated students working at high standards that they themselves set become a reality. Restudying material that was missed on a test becomes a positive experience, because students finish each step with certainty about what they know and can do.

When students no longer compete against each other, the teacher, or the “system,” everything changes for the better. Without letter-grades, a student’s purpose for studying becomes simply to understand and apply each subject to his or her life—the real value of an education. In proficiency-based schools, students compete against ignorance, not each other. They become excited when they can demonstrate new skills and abilities and are equally excited to help their fellow students do the same. It’s a game where everyone wins.

A Different Reality

If today’s school programs focused on success for all students and made it a reality, the resulting shift in culture would change the face of education.

Putting students in the driver’s seat and ensuring they all cross the finish line requires a major shift in today’s educational culture. Today’s students need a new set of 21st century skills. Proficiency-based education is the operating system that allows the sea-change needed to move schools from “fully educating a few” to “fully educating all.” It totally rejects the bell-curve approach in which only a few students can succeed, where many are unacceptably average and some fail completely. Educating all students fully in all subjects takes time, but the accumulated payoff is both efficient and priceless. All students can achieve amazing results in educational settings where they’re free to study independently, to move at their own pace and to learn in ways that may be unique to them.

All students can achieve amazing results in educational settings where they’re free to study independently, to move at their own pace and to learn in ways that may be unique to them.

Delphian students continually describe how amazing it is to truly enjoy learning, often for the first time in a long time. They share how life-changing it is to be able to move quickly when they understand something and to be encouraged to take time to understand a subject that’s difficult for them. We see their interest re-ignited for subjects that once showed promise, but that had become difficult and often abandoned. This resurgence of educational interests is priceless and well worth the effort to move to a proficiency-based system.

It is vital to remember that parents are important teammates in this change. When parents can track, understand and appreciate not just their child’s progress but the underlying reasons for their child’s success, they become active teammates. It opens up productive communication within the student-school-parent team.

At Delphian School, we’re working hard to perfect this new paradigm and make it a reality for our students as well as for others. We’ve learned a lot since 1974, and our learning will never end. We know that individual academic programs, new student assessment and information systems, and comprehensive progress reports can work within a proficiency-based program to improve each student’s likelihood of success. This is the educational model that 21st century students, families—and indeed, the world—need to meet the demands of an ever-changing future.

Accountability

Accountability is a loaded term. Although it can mean many different things to different people, in the elementary and secondary context, the term has come to represent a set of expectations and obligations associated with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) – which has provided the overarching accountability regime in K-12 education for over a decade.

Accountability is a loaded term. Although it can mean many different things to different people, in the elementary and secondary context, the term has come to represent a set of expectations and obligations associated with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) – which has provided the overarching accountability regime in K-12 education for over a decade. Indeed, for most K-12 educators, in light of its long and somewhat tortured history, it is likely that NCLB is, in fact, among the first associations made when the topic of accountability surfaces. But that association is likely to change significantly in the next year or so – whether or not Congress and the President actually agree in 2013 on a reauthorization of that law with the establishment of a new set of federal guidelines in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. To best understand this lens on the future – and what it means for educators and policy makers – a brief history is in order.

High Standards Expectations

In the wake of a standards reform movement that galvanized among state and school system leaders in the 1980s and 1990s, the passage of the Improving America’s Schools Act and the Goals 2000 Educate America Act (both enacted in 1994) embedded a meaningful and new national focus on high standards expectations for all students. Building on those foundations, the bipartisan support and ultimate passage of NCLB heralded an even greater continuation of focus on setting expectations and obligations high – with requirements that, among other things, required disaggregation of data in the reporting and accountability for school, school system and state performance toward high standards (set state-by-state), and transparency in reporting of those results. (The two features of the law that were, as a general rule, strongly applauded.) The limitations of education systems – with insufficiently developed state data systems, as well as assessment systems that at best could capture a summative snapshot of student performance by grade, year-to-year (without actually tracking student progress over time) – presented major challenges. One such challenge was significant limitations regarding the underlying validity of the data that were to inform judgments about performance and accountability, which corresponded with a less than robust picture of the meaningful steps that should then be taken to improve systems and yield better student learning and outcomes.

In short, the NCLB Act materially but imperfectly galvanized a focus on meaningful accountability measures associated with high standards expectations, setting the stage for what is, by any estimation, a pivotal moment of transition and transformation in education policy and practice.

Transition and Transformation

There are many dimensions of action affecting this moment in time – a renewed focus and emerging consensus regarding the kinds of learning outcomes essential for success in today’s globally connected world; significant efforts to promote innovation affecting all facets of education, particularly regarding new teaching and learning strategies and opportunities; and a renewed focus on key elements of necessary systemic change, in which the roles of the federal government, the states, school systems and schools are better aligned and more coherently understood. These three dimensions are reflected in many key developments that have major consequences for educators and policy makers:

  • In a remarkably short period of time, 45 states and the District of Columbia have come together around a more rigorous set of college and career-focused common state standards, reflecting a “ground up” effort to establish important baseline expectations associated with the knowledge and skills that are demanded in today’s (and tomorrow’s) workforce.
  • A major shift from NCLB accountability is emerging on issues of testing and assessment – with a focus on a more sophisticated blend of summative and formative assessments as key foundations for improving teaching and learning, as well as on the capacity of state and school systems to track and monitor progress, by student, from year to year.
  • Correspondingly, advances in the science of testing and assessment are allowing more robust uses of test and assessment results to serve as key foundations for promoting more robust diagnostic review of school and system performance, along with the establishment of better continuous improvement strategies within schools and school systems associated with that review.
  • Technological advances are, at the same time, setting the stage for the transformation of student learning, which is increasingly personalized; reflective of a blend of teaching strategies and platforms, including online platforms; and centered both on knowledge and skills necessary to promote critical thinking, inquiry and exploration.
  • Federal policy also has reflected much of this change, with the U.S. Department of Education providing options for states to seek waivers from some of the dated NCLB requirements (in light of delays in Congressional reauthorization of that law), in an effort to promote innovation toward satisfaction of the rigorous kinds of standards established by the common core state standards.

These developments and trends do not come without challenges. Key issues associated with how the federal government appropriately defines its role among the various actors (with an appropriate accountability focus that is neither too rigid or mechanical [ala NCLB] nor too amorphous to have real meaning) must be addressed over time. And, in a related vein, ensuring that all students – including low-income students, students with disabilities and English language learners – are fully and fairly included in all facets of reform efforts remains a central point of focus.

In the end, success in achieving education goals – at the local, state and national levels – will require enhanced and good faith efforts to communicate and strategize around the many remarkable changes taking place that are literally redefining the world of education today. Everyone has a role. And all voices should be heard at this important and unique moment in time.

Accountability

Teacher accountability in the United States is in a period of transformation. In July 2012, the 26th state received an Elementary and Secondary Education Act Flexibility Waiver, marking relief for more than half of the states from many of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Teacher accountability in the United States is in a period of transformation. In July 2012, the 26th state received an Elementary and Secondary Education Act Flexibility Waiver, marking relief for more than half of the states from many of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. In exchange, these states promised to implement rigorous new teacher evaluation systems that, among other things, include measures of student learning growth. Similarly, transforming teacher evaluation was a consistent priority for the United States Department of Education through the award of grants such as Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and School Improvement Grants. To improve their eligibility to access federal funding, and to simultaneously achieve their school improvement goals, since 2009, 36 states plus Washington, DC, and hundreds of school districts have passed teacher evaluation reforms, and 33 states have additionally passed principal evaluation reforms. For many states and districts the question of how to measure student learning as one aspect of measuring teacher effectiveness – in ways that are accurate, amenable to teachers, and do-able for teachers whose grades or subject areas are not systematically tested – has consumed much of their time and resources the last few years.

A meaningful, accurate evaluation system achieves a number of important purposes. As in any field, evaluations provide those managing the organization a clearer sense of each employee’s strengths and weaknesses so that decisions about promotion, professional development, assignment, and when necessary, dismissal can be made in a more thoughtful manner. In schools, there is an additional emphasis on the role of evaluations in providing detailed, constructive feedback to all teachers, including those that are considered generally effective already, with data that can inform continuous improvement in practice. It is now commonly understood that teacher effectiveness is the single most important school-level factor affecting student achievement – with principal effectiveness a close second. It is clear, therefore, that the continuous improvement of teacher and principal effectiveness must be an integral part of any efforts aimed at raising student achievement.

...the continuous improvement of teacher and principal effectiveness must be an integral part of any efforts aimed at raising student achievement.

While improvements in educator evaluation are still evolving, the research and policy communities agree that a high quality teacher evaluation system includes several features. First, it assesses teacher effectiveness on multiple performance levels; that is, teachers are placed on a four or five point scale, as opposed to binary ratings that limit the evaluator to choosing between “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” High quality teacher evaluation systems also include multiple measures of effectiveness, and each of these measures must be carefully developed and tested for their validity (e.g., accuracy) and reliability (e.g., consistency). Evaluators must be rigorously trained on using the measures appropriately. Multiple evaluators should spend adequate amounts of time observing teachers on more than one occasion, comparing notes, and sharing detailed written feedback with teachers, while also coaching them to improve in areas of weakness.

Multiple Measures of Teacher Effectiveness

Teacher evaluations may include some combination of the following measures:

  • Classroom observations. Used by evaluators to make consistent judgments of teachers’ instructional practice, classroom observations are the most common measure of teacher effectiveness and vary widely in how they are conducted and what they assess. High quality classroom observation instruments are standards-based and contain well-specified rubrics that delineate consistent assessment criteria for each standard of practice. To be accurate, evaluators should be trained to ensure consistency in scoring.
  • Student growth on standardized tests. Student growth on standardized tests refers to the test score change from one point in time to another point in time. The related concept of value-added measures, refer to student growth measures that includes a pre-test score and a post-test score as well as a number of other variables (e.g., poverty, special needs, etc.) about students that are outside of a teacher’s control yet tend to affect students’ academic growth.
  • Other student growth data. Other student growth data includes information about the change in students’ performance on some measure such as a teacher- or district-developed test over two or more points in time. It may also include growth in terms of behavior, musical performances, or portfolios of student work. 
  • Instructional artifacts. Instructional artifacts are used by evaluators to rate lesson plans, teacher assignments, teacher-created assessments, scoring rubrics, or student work on particular criteria, such as rigor, authenticity, intellectual demand, alignment to standards, clarity, and comprehensiveness. Evaluators typically use an evaluation tool or rubric to make judgments about the quality of student artifacts.
  • Teacher portfolios. Portfolios are a collection of materials that exhibit evidence of exemplary teaching practice, school activities, and student progress. They are usually compiled by the teacher him or herself and may include teacher-created lesson or unit plans, descriptions of the classroom context, assignments, student work samples, videos of classroom instruction, notes from parents, and teachers’ analyses of their students learning in relation to their instruction. Similar to portfolios, evidence binders often provide specific requirements for inclusion and require a final teacher led presentation of the work to an evaluation team.
  • Teacher self-assessments. Self-assessments consist of surveys, instructional logs, or interviews in which teachers report on their work in the classroom, the extent to which they are meeting standards, and in some cases the impact of their practice. Self-assessments may include checklists, rating scales, rubrics, and may require teachers to indicate the frequency of particular practices.
  • Student surveys. Student surveys are questionnaires that typically ask students to rate teachers on an extant-scale (e.g., from 1 to 5, where 1 = very effective, and 5 = not at all effective) regarding various aspects of teachers’ practice (e.g., course content, usefulness of feedback, etc.) as well as how much students say they learned or the extent to which they were engaged.
  • Parent surveys. Parent surveys are questionnaires that typically ask parents to rate teachers on an extant-scale (e.g., from 1 to 5, where 1 = very effective, and 5 = not at all effective) regarding various aspects of teachers’ practice (e.g., course content, usefulness of feedback, quality of homework, quality of communication, etc.) as well as the extent to which they are satisfied with the teachers’ instruction (Goe, Bell, & Little, 2008).

A number of reform-minded districts charted an early path implementing comprehensive changes to their evaluation systems. For example, in order to address concerns about the fairness of using student test scores to evaluate teachers, Hillsborough County Public Schools, in Tampa, Florida, decided early on to focus on the growth in test scores between two points in time rather than a static achievement measure captured only once a year. That way, teachers of special education or struggling students would not be at a disadvantage compared to classrooms with more gifted or high-performing students. The district adopted pre- and post-tests in each grade and subject, including over 600 assessments. Meanwhile, TAPTM: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, adopted by districts across the country, created a system of master teachers and mentor teachers to help alleviate some of the time burden on principals by providing full- or part-time release hours to conduct teacher evaluations; provide extensive feedback and instructional demonstrations; identify context-relevant, research-based instructional strategies; analyze student data; create school-wide academic achievement plans; and interact with parents. Many more examples of new state and district policies on teacher and principal evaluation are available at www.tqsource.org, all of which offer innovative ideas and lessons learned for the benefit of other education leaders around the country.

Nevertheless, creating more robust teacher and principal evaluation systems will not, in isolation, lead to significant improvements in educator quality. For instance, what if some teachers are not willing or not able to improve enough to fully meet students needs, or if there is not a ready supply of excellent teachers and principals to replace those who are consistently not meeting expectations? To ensure that all students receive a great education, education reformers must see these new and improved evaluation systems as the beginning and not the end of a larger, systemic set of initiatives to attract and retain educators. Teacher preparation, compensation, induction and support, strategic recruitment, and the professional environment in schools must all be enhanced. For example, assessing teacher effectiveness should occur through annual evaluations, but also at the time of hiring and as part of the responsibility of the preparation programs that matriculated the new teachers in the first place.

Another critical aspect of redesigning evaluation systems is how to meaningfully involve teachers in the process. Engaging teachers, as well as principals, is essential in order to create evaluations that are well-designed, implemented with fidelity, and sustainable for the long-term. Unfortunately, genuinely engaging teachers in the evaluation redesign process is perhaps the most neglected aspect of the reform process to-date. But resources such as Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform  have been developed to assist school systems with teacher engagement.

Everyone at the Table:  Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform

Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform is an initiative of American Institutes for Research and Public Agenda, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This free online resource center provides an easy-to-use model for widespread teacher-led conversations on evaluation reform that are constructive and solutions-oriented, using structured conversation tools and activities, with the end goal of increasing teacher input into the policies that are developed. It includes:

  • A two-minute video that captures the importance and enthusiasm of education leaders around the country for broader, more genuine involvement of teachers in evaluation reform
  • An eight-minute teacher discussion-starter video that gives teachers the chance to think and talk about the pros and cons of different kinds of evaluation systems.
  • Materials such as moderator’s guides, PowerPoint presentations, and discussion summary templates to help leaders organize discussions with teachers and bring their voices to the table.

Everyone at the Table has been used with success in Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington state, and elsewhere. To read their stories and learn more about this innovative approach to teacher engagement around evaluation, visit www.everyoneatthetable.org.

Closing persistent achievement gaps as well as raising achievement for all students will simply not be possible without recruiting and retaining sufficient teachers of the highest quality for every classroom.

Closing persistent achievement gaps as well as raising achievement for all students will simply not be possible without recruiting and retaining sufficient teachers of the highest quality for every classroom. An effective accountability system must be anchored in a teacher evaluation system that is informed by research and best practice and includes teacher voice in the design and implementation. Of course, transforming teacher accountability systems as one part of a comprehensive approach to educator talent management and development requires thoughtful planning, prioritizing, and resource allocation. Based on financial data collected through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s initiative to build comprehensive educator evaluation systems, Harvard professor Tom Kane estimates that done well, a high quality teacher evaluation system is likely to consume two percent of a school district’s budget. Given the potential for new evaluation systems to produce data that can truly inform continuous improvements in teacher practice, and feed into an aligned system of educator talent management strategies that attract and retain greater numbers of excellent teachers—the cost may well be worth the investment. 

Learning Environments

It is a daunting challenge. Across the country, states, districts and schools are carrying out systemic strategies to revamp curricula and strengthen the capacity of teachers to implement Common Core State Standards.

It is a daunting challenge. Across the country, states, districts and schools are carrying out systemic strategies to revamp curricula and strengthen the capacity of teachers to implement Common Core State Standards. Educators must bring students from all backgrounds and differing levels of knowledge and skills to higher standards of learning. Students have to engage deeply with more demanding content and persist in doing so. At a fundamental level, many children must for the first time develop academically-oriented identities. Climbing this mountain successfully will be possible only when educators recognize that students acquire knowledge and skills best when their developmental needs are understood and addressed by the teachers and other adults they interact with every day at school.

Today, one in four children in the United States is growing up in poverty. Many of these children are exposed to violence, chronic insecurity, loss, hardship and disruption. They don’t shed these experiences at the schoolhouse door.

Here is another, perhaps more vivid picture of that challenge. Today, one in four children in the United States is growing up in poverty. Many of these children are exposed to violence, chronic insecurity, loss, hardship and disruption. They don’t shed these experiences at the schoolhouse door. They show up in the classroom in the form of traumatic stress, which has unique and often profound effects on the developing brain. Such stress causes children to be tuned out, preoccupied, impulsive, unable to concentrate, distrustful and nervous. It interferes with their ability to focus, to interact with others, to tackle rigorous academic material and progress in school successfully.

Now imagine a classroom filled with children who experience this kind of stress, or an entire school. The profound impact of the trauma that stems from poverty has huge implications for the way children learn and behave the design of classrooms, the preparation of teachers and what is measured as part of school improvement.

Predictable Pattern of Risk

For children growing up with the stress of poverty, the cognitive, social and emotional barriers to learning are enormous, but they also are predictable and recurring. They form a pattern of unreadiness for students, teachers and schools that is precisely what makes it possible to design an intervention to address them. To reach the new standards, much less the full potential of each student, schools can no longer ignore these barriers and challenges to teaching and learning. If anything, our school partners tell us, standards have brought them into even greater focus.

Schools must face obstacles to learning squarely, focusing not only on innovative curricular and human capital reforms, but also on strategies and supports that mitigate the risk and stress associated with poverty. They must employ powerful practices that foster the development of motivation and persistence, productive engagement with learning, and resilience. Schools and classrooms that do this offer a fortified environment for teaching and learning that fosters healthy growth and performance in all children.

The Science of Stress and Learning

To design a fortified environment, educators should become familiar with research depicting the effects of stress and trauma on student development. Even though many children are resilient in the face of extremely difficult circumstances, many others develop toxic stress responses that derail their ability to learn.

A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that adverse childhood experiences, such as chronic insecurity, exposure to violence or the sudden loss of a loved one, can affect the physiological development of critical brain structures. Stress activates the release of specific hormones, particularly cortisol, triggering a “fight or flight” response to perceived threats. Temporary increases in stress hormones are protective, even helpful, but frequent and prolonged stress from abuse, neglect or other significant hardships can produce a toxic response that impacts the areas of the brain that house executive functioning, impulse control, attention, working memory and ultimately the learning process itself. Children under this kind of stress are far more prone to behavioral issues and poor academic performance. This often produces a cycle of disappointment and failure in which children lose faith in their potential as students and the value of education itself.

The good news, also supported by research and practice, is that children’s brain functions are malleable. When they are in safe, nurturing environments where stress is buffered, the learning capacities of the brain become accessible for growth. In other words, when a teacher, for instance, fosters a sense of protection, coping and belief, this enables a child to return to a state of calm, take risks on behalf of learning and develop a strong academic identity.

How to Build Fortified Learning Environments

The following is a brief overview of what schools can do to build fortified learning environments where all students can learn.

Student Support:  Develop a High Quality Student Support System

  • A school-based social worker prepared to establish inter-disciplinary teams, assess students, resolve crises and connect with families
  • Individualized services targeted to students with the most intense behavioral and emotional needs
  • Promotion of school-wide social and emotional learning competencies
  • Structures for collaboration with juvenile justice, child protective services and other social services

Teacher Practice: Train Teachers to Build Highly Effective Classrooms

  • Establish fair and consistent rules, procedures and routines throughout school
  • Employ constructive techniques to defuse disruption and lower stress
  • Build teacher practice that promotes motivation, interaction and engagement of students at widely varying levels of academic achievement, focusing on continuous improvement
  • Use student-centered techniques that promote cooperation, communication, student agency and goal-orientation

Leadership and Management:  Establish the Organizational Efficacy Necessary to Execute Personalized Learning Environments

  • Create a multi-disciplinary school leadership team to develop and execute a school improvement plan
  • Establish a positive discipline code and practices reinforced consistently and fairly
  • Monitor progress and review leading indicators, outcome data, measures of learning conditions and measures assessing quality of implementation
Measures for School Improvement:  Stages of Progress

The goal for struggling schools is to build systematically and efficiently towards an environment that is positive culturally and effective instructionally. This sort of transformation takes time and happens in stages. Schools must monitor and manage progress with a framework of metrics that captures the scope of academic and non-academic challenges and the multiyear timeframe needed to drive effective improvement.

Specifically, school improvement efforts should be guided by a framework that measures the following critical stages of progress:

  • Delivery and Implementation — Quality delivery of intervention initiatives, such as access to and utilization of student supports; the training and usage of new teacher practices; and the establishment of a school leadership team and improvement plan guided by formative benchmarks.
  • Leading Indicators of Early Traction — Gains in school culture and classroom effectiveness essential to support a fortified environment for teaching and learning: capture key measures of culture including behavioral incidents, suspensions and chronic absenteeism; of classroom efficacy and of whole school improvement.
  • Summative Outcomes — Gains in student academic achievement and student development of key “learner attributes,” such as motivation, self-regulation, persistence and resilience: the importance of non-cognitive attributes is acknowledged by many but measured by few, despite the existence of student surveys designed to capture them and mounting evidence of their essential place in student academic growth.

Overall, this framework paints a realistic and holistic picture of school improvement and student growth over time. It acknowledges that many students face challenges beyond academics and builds towards achievement through the foundation of a significantly improved learning environment. This formative framework should be the lens through which education stakeholders view the path to school improvement and college and career readiness.

Conclusion

This is a student-development centered perspective on school improvement.  It is grounded in emerging threads of knowledge and practices drawn from neuroscience, child development and the practices of schools that have beaten the odds. As districts, schools and teachers seek to improve their ability to help all students become ready for college and career, they must build fortified environments for teaching and learning that are deliberately holistic and intentionally designed to mitigate risks, and promote cognitive, social and emotional growth. Moreover, they must collect and track data that includes formative measurements of growth in these dimensions at the student, school and classroom levels. Such environments are not only beneficial to students, they are a necessary prerequisite to effective teaching, successful learning and student growth overall.

Measuring Success

A “perfect storm” is accelerating the pace of change in education at both the K-12 and higher education levels.

A “perfect storm” is accelerating the pace of change in education at both the K-12 and higher education levels. Stimulated by technologies that are ever more powerful, more available and less expensive, as well as new standards, global competition, increasing costs, more and better data on student learning and other substantial forces, we are now “flipping classrooms,” personalizing instruction based on data, and increasing the use of online courses and open educational resources. Plus, the investments being made in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with the intent to make high quality learning experiences available to remarkable numbers of students at an incredibly low cost per student promise to create and share new tools to scaffold peer-to-peer support as well as self and peer assessment. Remarkable improvements in how we educate learners of all ages seem inevitable, but we can’t stop there. As we say goodbye to “old school” instructional practices, let’s also reinvent the report card, transform the transcript and “disrupt the diploma” (Hoffman, 2013).

Replacing Obsolete Tools

Let’s face it. The tools we use to describe student learning are obsolete.  Diplomas, transcripts and report cards were all developed when paper and pencil calculations were the norm and before calculators and computers were available. The teacher’s “grade book” kept a list of scores but few assessments that were given due to the time and effort needed to review work and record and summarize the associated scores. These scores were summarized and communicated to parents and other educators, only a few times each year, because great effort was required. Educators dreaded the end of a “reporting period” because of the workload involved in summarizing scores, communicating them to parents and then facing parents who may have been surprised by the grades they saw. We have been providing information, but too little, and often too late.

In Megatrends, John Naisbitt (1982) pointed out that when a new technology emerges it is first used to do a job that already exists better, faster or cheaper, but that after a while people wonder what the new technology makes possible that was not possible before, and begin applying it in a more transformative way. This has been true in education, as computers first were used to deliver instruction and to automate the teacher’s grade book. Now technologies are making new approaches possible, including personalized instruction and better ways to document and display progress. We no longer need to settle for summary “grades” designed to sort the recipients into categories and reported infrequently.

Introducing Digital Badges

When describing learning, grades mask the detail about what students know and don’t know, and can and cannot do. The semester-end grades people care most about are used to describe large bundles of learning outcomes, and anyone viewing a grade doesn’t know what the student whose grade is lower than an “A” is missing. Grades often include factors like attendance or class participation rather than exclusively reflecting the content and/or skill under study, therefore grades often misrepresent a learner’s capabilities. “Grades” are best reserved for finished products, like steaks or eggs (Large, Grade AA). With the technologies now readily available, we can replace grades with “Digital Badges.”

Unlike the badges of the past, today’s digital badges are far more than a pretty picture that represents an accomplishment. Digital badges are “clickable” computer-based images that display lots of important information when clicked.

Digital badges display:

  • the “issuer” (the organization or person who awarded the badge), often with a link back to the issuer’s website
  • the name of the badge
  • a description of the badge
  • the criteria for earning the badge
  • a link to the evidence submitted to earn the badge (optional)
  • a link to the rubric, test or other evaluation methods used (optional)
  • a date issue
  • an expiration date (optional), and
  • a standard to which the badge might be related (i.e. Common Core, ISTE, ABET, etc.) (optional)

What this means is that with a few clicks it is possible to understand what the learner did to earn the badge, to see the work done to earn it and to understand how the work was evaluated.

Assessing the Potential and Challenges

This transparency has the potential to change education in very meaningful ways.

Digital Badges have the potential to:

  • cause educators to think deeply about what they value, what they teach and how they evaluate it, thereby improving the quality of teaching and learning
  • encourage the adoption of competency-based models of education, which generally hold what is learned constant while allowing the time allocated to learn to vary and learners multiple attempts to demonstrate learning
  • promote the adoption of personalized approaches to learning
  • describe learning that takes place both in schools and outside of schools recommendations on what to learn next and perhaps a list of badges recommended to be completed by a certain milestone that have yet to be earned
  • transform the transcript from a cryptic, static document with very little information into a dynamic display of accomplishments that can summarize lifelong learning
  • disrupt the diploma, making it at first less valuable and then ultimately obsolete, and
  • better serve students, educators, parents and employers.

It may help to think of digital badges not as a badges, but as elements of a “micro-certification” approach, since they record and certify levels of accomplishment for each learning outcome deemed important enough to report and make the accomplishment instantly visible to students, educators, parents and potential employers.

The downside is that creating all of the badges needed to describe what we care about in K-12 education or even within a single degree program at a college or university will require a lot of work. For each badge we need to define the criteria for earning the badge and develop good ways of measuring each criterion. It’s a lot of work, but the payoff is huge. Students will know what we expect of them, and experience with well-developed rubrics shows that when educators get specific and share that specificity with learners, learners meet or exceed expectations.

But defining the badges requires up front work, and conducting the numerous assessments might seem like a daunting challenge. Where do we find the time to do all of the assessments, let alone allow students to repeat any assessments they don’t master on the first attempt? Knowledge-level outcomes can often be tested and scored via computer-based tests, and the resulting badges can be automatically stored in a database and communicated to the appropriate parties in meaningful graphical displays that indicate progress made and progress yet to come — without requiring time or energy from the teacher or professor. Higher order outcomes, like the ability to write well and for different purposes, the ability to think critically and creatively, and the ability to serve as a high-functioning member of a team, will need to be assessed by a skilled teacher and/or by peers who are trained and supported in the process by a well-structured rubric.

Re-Placing Teachers

Teachers and professors are likely to spend more time in assessment than they have in the past, but because technologies also are able to deliver recorded lectures, simulations, animated representations of complex concepts and lessons on demand, they can free up the time teachers now spend on presenting information. The “flipped classroom” model in which learners watch lessons at home and engage in discussions, work on exercises, and receive help from peers and teachers while at school is demonstrating how this can work.

Unlike the “stickers” teachers use to motivate students, digital badges signify and describe well-documented accomplishments, which can be revealed, in detail, with the click of a mouse. The information age tools that now are ubiquitous have enabled “micro-certification” or “micro-credentialing,” as opposed to semester based “macro-reporting” of large chunks of learning. This is a sleeping giant in the educational reform movement. The combination of digital badges and open educational resources (free Internet content, like the Khan Academy), emerging tools for scaffolding peer-to-peer support (like Piazza.com) and new tools for scaffolding assessment make me very optimistic about the future of teaching and learning. These technologies will not replace teachers, but they will re-place them (Peck, 2012), elevating them to a role that involves knowing and supporting students, conducting high quality assessments and helping learners develop higher-order skills.

 

References

Hoffman, R. (2013, September 16). Disrupting the Diploma

Naisbitt, J. (1982). Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. New York, NY: Warner Books.

Peck, K. (2012). “Re-placing Educators: How Innovation is Changing the Teaching Role.”

Measuring Success

I am not a teacher, administrator, instructional specialist or assessment expert. I am a student; one of the least heard voices in the education reform movement, though it is a movement that has been forged for the sake of my generation and those following. As a student, I can share what I know absolutely does not work and will not work as our educational institutions venture into an ever-increasingly digital age.

I am not a teacher, administrator, instructional specialist or assessment expert. I am a student; one of the least heard voices in the education reform movement, though it is a movement that has been forged for the sake of my generation and those following. As a student, I can share what I know absolutely does not work and will not work as our educational institutions venture into an ever-increasingly digital age. I also can share a promising alternative, one that is admittedly an unorthodox source of inspiration for the future of assessment — games.

My Story

Towards the tail-end of my eighth grade year, I developed severe Anorexia Nervosa. The causes were varied, but the root of it was simple; a sense that I had no control over my future and life, specifically due to school and the rigid confines I felt caged within. Thus, I controlled the only thing I felt I could, myself. This experience, feeling a lack of agency, control and optimism about the future, is not one at all unique to me. Depression and eating disorders are on a steep rise in our schools, and The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 11 percent of adolescents experience a depressive disorder by the age of 18. This is a systematic issue, with a systemic cause.

My anorexia became severe enough that I was hospitalized for a month, cut off from the world until I became physically healthy. Though being locked away was horrible for many, many reasons, the dark irony was that being taken away was still an escape from the very thing that had ignited the disease — school. In the hospital, I was free of the academic pressures, anxieties, fears, burdens and bars of our education system. I found a spark of hope in the brief friendships I made in the hospital and was eventually released better than I had come in. I was still, however, very depressed when I got out, and not terribly excited to return to school.

So, while I attended school by day, I found a different escape outside of my classes. I went to Azeroth, or as you might know it, the World of Warcraft. It is this game that truly restored me with a sense of resilience and optimism, and it is here I get my inspiration for the future of assessment. You see, in the World of Warcraft only one thing is absolutely certain; you will fail.

Every time you attempt something, a new quest or dungeon, the first time through you are very likely to fail, and possibly the second, third and fourth times as well! But ultimately, you will succeed. This is because World of Warcraft and most other games are exercises in mastery. The goal in games is rarely being “just good enough.” The goal is to really understand the challenge and to have the resilience and resolve to tackle it; to be the best you can be in overcoming a problem. In short, the goal is mastery. It is precisely this sort of learning process we do not foster in our current educational design, and the rise of standardized testing has only crippled student resilience further.

Fear of Failure

In school, we students aren’t taught to embrace a challenge, but rather to fear the prospect of failure. With accountability as currently applied, the lesson ingrained in our hearts and minds is that we don’t get or deserve a second chance, when nothing could be more harmful or further from the truth. Indeed, the only reason I have the opportunity to write in this publication is because I found a second chance not in school, but in an online fantasy game. Our schools, our whole educational institution, fears failure.

From the top levels of our system, which feel compelled to use standardized test scores to demonstrate progress to taxpayers, to the administrators and teachers whose jobs may depend on the results, down to students who must perform well on tests to get good grades, into college or a job, the fear of failure is pervasive. The approach of our current assessment methodology does not lend itself to good learning, and it certainly doesn’t achieve mastery of the material. It is impossible to truly learn something without the opportunity to fail, and more to the point of our education system’s future, it is impossible to innovate when an institution fears failure. It was Edison who found 10,000 ways not to build a light bulb before he got one to flicker to life, and our challenge is not wholly dissimilar.

Of course, we have much more at stake than Edison did, namely an entire generation’s educational wellbeing, and those who follow. There is reason to fear change if it is harmful. Yet I also would pose that damage is being done already, and we don’t need to wait for a few million more kids to develop depression and anorexia. So, let’s return to the World of Warcraft.

Assessments for Learning and Resilience

While the intrinsic power of games to provide mastery is great, this is not the whole picture. My generation has many names, though my favorite is the “Video game generation.” As bestselling author Jane McGonigal states in her work “Reality is Broken,” students between fifth grade and the end of high school play an average of 10,000 hours of video games, roughly the same amount of time that we spend in school between those age brackets, and with good reason as she points out. Games are simply better than real life, especially when compared to school. They provide a safe space for failure and provide the individual a sense of agency and control.

Of course, this is not because games are easy; far from it. Games require commitment, teamwork, struggle and a whole lot of learning. Ten thousand hours is also an interesting number as McGonigal states, because it runs parallel to the idea Malcolm Gladwell presents in his book “Outliers,” that it takes 10,000 hours to become masterful at something. My generation is willing to spend an average of 10,000 hours doing hard work in virtual worlds.

We crave the sense of control and agency games provide that school does not, giving way to widespread feelings of hopelessness and helplessness among students. So let’s imagine an assessment method that could empower learning and resilience as World of Warcraft does, rather than disempower it as we do now. In this system, we must let students fail safely, so that they have the opportunity to succeed meaningfully. Instead of tests being the end, they’re simply the beginning of a better learning process. Checkmarks used to inform learning; rather than have students suffer through them once for no tangible learning goal.

Education should prepare and encourage all teachers to do what good teachers already do best: know their students as individuals so they can provide feedback that helps them progress. 

Assessments also must recognize the individual and put critical thinking at the forefront. My sister has struggled her entire life in our education system, having ADD and terrible test-anxiety. Yet, she is one of the most insightful and kind people I know; most teachers simply never sat down to talk to her rather than place a bubble sheet on her desk. And let’s be clear, a bubble sheet will never do a proper job of assessing critical thinking. Education should prepare and encourage all teachers to do what good teachers already do best: know their students as individuals so they can provide feedback that helps them progress. We shouldn’t be afraid of giving teachers the ability to evaluate student growth and ability without a top-down, factory-style approach.

To end, I want to quote John Dewey, a man who knew that the most powerful force in education was in each individual’s unique qualities, who said “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” Life is about resilience, and learning certainly doesn’t end after school. I believe the future of assessment must reflect these values, and we must face our fear of failure, by embracing it instead as a crucial building block to a brighter system of education.

Educational Change

As we digest — year after year — data on our own students that attests to their middling performance on international comparisons, tragic and persistent learning gaps among different segments of the population, and depressingly high college remediation rates, lessons from the best-performing countries in the world could not be more welcome.

Given the highly favorable reviews and rave blurbs from such diverse figures as former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, one might think that Angela Ripley’s new book on education around the world, The Smartest Kids in the World, offers surprising revelations about how to improve America’s K-12 education system. Ripley sets out to draw lessons from Finland, South Korea and Poland, which have achieved remarkable educational outcomes for the large majority of their students. Certainly, as we digest — year after year — data on our own students that attests to their middling performance on international comparisons, tragic and persistent learning gaps among different segments of the population, and depressingly high college remediation rates, lessons from the best-performing countries in the world could not be more welcome.

What is stunning about Ripley’s book is that it has almost nothing new to tell us; instead, it serves to remind us in powerful terms that we simply haven’t acted on what we already know. Education systems work when:

  • Students are challenged with demanding and coherent curricula,
  • Teachers are recruited from the top echelon of college graduates, and
  • Educational culture supports telling the truth to students about their performance – and teachers, students and parents are all committed to the hard work of improving results.
Raising the Bar

I over-simplify, but not by much. There are notable sidebars — Poland made great progress by delaying tracking, high performing countries spend the most on their poorest students, and parental involvement in schools counts for far less than what they do with their children at home. But in the end, the book hammers home a single message: where schools exist “to help students master complex academic material” — and only that — students succeed.

To put the matter bluntly, if U.S. high schools applied the rigor and attention to their academic offerings that they pay to their highest-profile sports programs, our students would match their highest-performing peers. In one of her many arresting paragraphs, Ripley describes the physical education standards American students must meet to pass the Presidential Fitness Test. That test — alone among all our assessments — is in fact the most rigorous in the world.

The lesson for those who would reform American education is clear. We are right to call for accountability, higher standards and better teacher preparation; it’s smart to realize that grit, self-discipline and determination matter alongside grades and test scores. But in the end, we simply have to do what we seem to find most difficult: teach demanding material well and not constantly underestimate our students’ capacity to rise to the challenge. This means creating a teaching profession that draws in our best, and asking those teachers to teach demanding curricula that progressively habituate our students to serious thinking, mastery of complex skills and sustained study-habits. Ultimately, this is what it will take to build a working pipeline from K-12 to college.

Seeds of Progress

We are taking, certainly, small steps: backward-mapped from college-readiness, the Common Core State Standards at least open the door to much more rigorous curricula. But we will not see such desperately needed upgrades unless our new assessments demand them — and on that, the jury is still out. We have modestly upgraded the demands on our schools of education, which will now, in order to be accredited, at least have to have some publicly accountable academic admissions criteria. But until we close the many, many weak programs whose graduates simply haven’t been prepared to teach effectively (as Finland did, and Norway, with the inevitable consequences, did not), we will not make a serious impact on new teacher quality. Nor will we be able to fill the more rigorous teacher preparation programs with outstanding applicants until we re-think the teaching conditions and career structures in our public schools. We have begun to tell something of the truth to students and parents alike in a few states that, like New York, have radically raised their standards for academic proficiency — but we have yet to tell such truths to high-school students, restricting our work to date to the lower grades where the stakes are lower.

Getting Serious about Being Serious

Why has doing the obvious on behalf of our students proved so difficult? Our heterogeneous culture and cult of localism have made it extremely difficult to agree on a rigorous, shared conception of academic content in English Language Arts and social studies — and even science. Our guilt about economic inequality has translated into patronizing condescension about the capacity of disadvantaged students to hear the truth about their performance and then raise it — dramatically — if they are taught effectively. Our post-World War II economic boom gave too many parents the sense that success was almost inevitable regardless of their children’s educational achievement, which in turn left us relatively indifferent to the caliber of our teachers. And our history of locally funding so much of our public school expenditure has undermined most serious efforts to remedy the per-student funding gap between affluent and poor districts.

This means, above all, telling the truth — the truth about how little we demand of our students, how poorly we select and prepare their teachers, and how little effort too many of us make to work with our children to ensure that they come to see sustained hard work as the vital path to a better future.

In the end, if we are serious about preparing a far higher percentage of our students for college-readiness, we have to get serious about being serious. This means, above all, telling the truth — the truth about how little we demand of our students, how poorly we select and prepare their teachers, and how little effort too many of us make to work with our children to ensure that they come to see sustained hard work as the vital path to a better future. I leave the last words to Ripley. Writing of the experience of Finland’s students, Ripley comments:

I started to suspect that the answer was fairly straightforward. They took school [in Finland] more seriously because it was more serious. And it was more serious because everyone agreed that it should be.

Educational Change

John Lennon’s immortal words apply to our quest to redesign America’s education system. One that is better for all stakeholders, especially our students. Our challenge: How do we extract ourselves from this century plus, time-based dinosaur of a public education system that we find ourselves stuck in?

John Lennon’s immortal words apply to our quest to redesign America’s education system. One that is better for all stakeholders, especially our students. Our challenge: How do we extract ourselves from this century plus, time-based dinosaur of a public education system that we find ourselves stuck in?

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time speaking at the AdvancED International Summit in Washington D.C. this past June. I felt that my remarks fit perfectly with the opening remarks of AdvancED President/CEO Mark Elgart and provided the logical implementation answer to Keynote Speaker Sir Ken Robinson’s vision of what the future of education will be. Lots of nice people from lots of places came up to me remarking about how much they appreciated my comments. So, is that it? Beyond my remarks, Mark’s remarks or Sir Ken’s, what takeaways will attendees bring back to their school systems and begin to implement?

Competency-Based Learning

Incredulously, our nation’s system of education was not designed around learning. It is a system designed around time in which attempts are made to fit learning into that time. Sometimes it works, usually represented by A’s on report cards; sometimes it doesn’t work, represented by C’s D’s and F’s. Regardless, at the end of the semester or school year, A’s, B’s C’s D’s and F’s don report cards and students then move to the next level of learning regardless of whether or not they have actually mastered the previous level. Does this sound like a ridiculous system to you? Then why, after hearing the remarks of Mark Elgart, Sir Ken Robinson and me, do so many go back to their schools and systems only to repeat the fool’s errand?

As frustrated as I may sound in the above paragraphs, I’m actually quite optimistic. In August, for the first time, I, actually, heard the President of the United States talk about the promise of competency-based education! Less than a year ago, I saw an article about Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker promoting competency-based education. President Obama and Governor Walker on the same page!  As the Sicilian said in the movie, The Princess Bride, “Inconceivable!”

Yes, there’s a new model of public education, and it’s coming soon to a school system near you. It’s called competency-based learning and, unlike the time-based model created in 1906 at a Harvard conference funded by the Carnegie foundation, a competency-based system is actually based on learning. “Genius!” you might say. No, not genius; quite the contrary. How come it took us over 100 years to figure this out?

Roadblocks to Progress

I have been all over the country trying to find someone willing to defend the time-based Carnegie unit system of education, and I can’t find one. Maybe this article will surface someone who would be willing to step forward and argue that we should continue to move kids to the next level of learning based on how old they are. This type of person, I am guessing, would be the one who might think that putting a new paint job on a model T and painting flames on the sides would actually make the car go faster. While it sounds like I’m insulting someone, I don’t think I am because, in 10 years of making this case, no one has actually come forward to debate the merits of keeping in place the time-based system.

Here’s the problem. If no one will defend the merits of staying in a time-based system, yet, the vast majority are involved in perpetuating a system that moves students to the next grade, regardless of whether or not they’ve actually learned the things that we believe they should learn, then we have a big problem.

What is stopping us from implementing a new model of education, one based on learning not on time?

So, what is our problem with moving away from a time-based system? Is it vision? Is it ignorance of even the existence of a different way of doing things?  Don’t feel bad about that because the President of the United States is only recently getting onboard. Is it complacency? Is it the belief among educators who have often felt that this is just the latest in a long line of reform efforts and, if they just wait it out, this too shall pass? Is it leadership? What is stopping us from implementing a new model of education, one based on learning not on time?

Hope and Help for the Future

While it’s not happening as rapidly as I’d like, there are a number of groups and individuals around the country that clearly see the future of an American education system based on competency and are working tirelessly to change the system. There are some states that are aggressively leading this effort including my state of New Hampshire, Iowa, Maine, Wisconsin, Kentucky and more. None of these states has fully moved to a competency-based system, but each is committed and their leaders are working tirelessly to speed up this transformation.

Readers of this article should ask themselves whether or not this conversation is happening in their school systems and, if so, at what level. If anyone needs help, I'm an e-mail click away, or you can read my book, Off the Clock: Moving Education From Time to Competency (Corwin, 2012). 

Your kids need you to do something significant. We can’t continue trying to get better and better at a system that doesn’t work for too many of our kids. We can do better. It’s time for revolution!

Technology

How can we realistically expect to transition away from a factory model of education when we’re still using factory measurements of success?

How can we realistically expect to transition away from a factory model of education when we’re still using factory measurements of success?

Although historically students have been evaluated heavily based on their GPA and test scores, a 21st century education can no longer be measured by what begins and ends in the classroom. Today’s standards of success require the capacity to measure students by a host of new criteria, including their ability to problem solve and navigate their own skills, talent and career development.

Portfolio of Skills and Experiences

Student records should become a personal portfolio with both quantitative and qualitative measurements of educational accomplishments, emphasizing the skills and experiences that are of the greatest interest to potential employers and postsecondary schools:

  • Internships (real-world experience)
  • Leadership Roles
  • Research (using the scientific method)
  • Communication Skills (writing and public speaking)
  • Community Service
  • Innovation/Critical Thinking (adequately addressing a real problem and building a solution)

So how do we measure these critical skills and experiences?

This is the question we are asking and answering at WorkReadyGrad, an EdTech startup in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s incubator, the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC).

Proactive Education System

Increasingly, educators can take a much more holistic and longer-term view on student success, thanks to the availability of longitudinal data, professional social networks and big data analytics. To elaborate, here in Georgia we have at least eight years of student longitudinal data, much of which was collected under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As we have transitioned away from NCLB and toward the Common Core Curriculum, educators have increasingly asked, “How do we actually use this data to enable a proactive education system?”

Phase 1:  Content Delivery Speed & Method

Phase 1 of answering that question by education technology resulted in tailoring the content delivery speed and delivery method to the learning style preference of the student.

Phase 2:  Personalization & Portfolios

Phase 2 within education technology is just now ramping up where personalization of a student’s educational experience will be more encompassing to include what the student accomplishes outside the classroom as well. Rather than simple report cards with letters A-F, students will be developing portfolios of work that can highlight experiences achieved and skill sets developed as they relate to real world applications.

Phase 3:  Educational Ecosystem Map

In Phase 3 we will be able to both measure this holistic picture of the student and map his or her entire educational ecosystem both inside and outside the school. Eventually with big data analytics, we’ll be able to write algorithms that provide personalized recommendations on which:

  • books to read for class,
  • professionals to engage in the student’s local community or professional online community,
  • internships to pursue,
  • classes to take in person or online (i.e Massively Open Online Courses like Coursera, EdX, and Khan Academy),
  • clubs to join, and
  • alumni to engage who will maximize chances of success at achieving the student’s aspirations.
Technology Adoption for Continuous Improvement

If we look at the restaurant industry in the past, knowing where to eat dinner on a Friday night was largely based upon word-of-mouth among friends, though there were always far more restaurants out there than friends. Now with social media and the Internet, our methods for restaurant selection have changed. Within sites like Yelp, we can map out the whole culinary spectrum of a city—the location of Southern Brunswick Stew, Thai Masaman Curry or Chinese Dim Sum and then within these categories of food, which restaurants have the best versions of these dishes. These data then influence where we eventually decide to dine.

Just as social media and big data have enabled us to map the culinary digest of a city, so too will they in time enable us to map the educational resources of a city.

Just as social media and big data have enabled us to map the culinary digest of a city, so too will they in time enable us to map the educational resources of a city. What makes mapping educational resources a more challenging task is that there are so many educational resources out there, and the existence of each is not always as permanent or obvious as a stand-alone restaurant.

From my perspective as an EdTech entrepreneur, the challenge we now face isn’t so much a technological one. The challenge we now face involves societal adoption of existing technology and societal transfer of responsibility for a “good education” away from solely our teachers and instead more onto the shoulders of the students themselves and their entire community.

With these advances in technology comes greater responsibility on the part of students, because the cause and effect between their efforts and future success become more apparent. Professional social media networks expose a student to dozens of careers and also can inform them of the required skills and experiences to achieve those careers. Future platforms then will go a step further and pinpoint where exactly in the community or online to acquire those specific skills and experiences. It is this facilitation of more direct and frequent connections between students and professionals that generates a virtuous cycle: it’s going out of the classroom that will then enable the student to actually be comfortable and self-motivated in the classroom.

Within the pioneering EdTech startup, WorkReadyGrad, students are creating digital portfolios of their accomplishments within a feedback loop of continuous improvement. They receive insights from employers regarding the real world skills they’re seeking, and they learn from alumni what they’re now doing with their degrees, how they gained employment, and what skills and experiences distinguished them from other job candidates. Our Fall 2013 pilot is underway, so we invite you to join us to address the issue of truly enabling an entire community to empower their students in a support system that both motivates and rewards. 

Measuring Success

How does the mission of the Archdiocese of Chicago drive success for both our schools and students? We “know” in our committed hearts that mission is at the core of our success, but can we prove it?

How does the mission of the Archdiocese of Chicago drive success for both our schools and students? We “know” in our committed hearts that mission is at the core of our success, but can we prove it?

The Mission

Like all schools and school systems, the mission and vision statements, plastered on every publication, serve as guidance and conscience to the work of our 244 elementary and secondary schools in Lake and Cook Counties. Condensing those myriad public statements into sharp focus was probably best done by Cardinal Francis George in a letter to donors. He simply called the schools to be “centers of learning in a community of love.”

For years, the Catholic schools’ brand was largely seen as faith and scholarship, two distinct strands to be measured and weighed. In reality, the academic excellence is largely a result of a faith-filled culture that reverences each student and demands the use of God-given talent. Measuring service and worship (and eternal life) can be a slippery slope, but the results of students being surrounded in a culture of prayer, respect, discipline and generosity has enduring impact. The shared expectations of parents, community and teachers — a centering on the mission in service to the future — is the key to Catholic school success in the Archdiocese of Chicago and (I would expect) elsewhere.

A common mission is identifiable across Catholic Schools in the United States. The logo of the National Catholic Educational Association, flames representing the light of the Holy Spirit flowing through its educators, speaks to a shared vision. However, every diocese carries its mission with a different “flavor,” and every school site is unique. Local ownership of mission is the hallmark of subsidiarity; local branding is encouraged and expected.

The Measure

Given the wide latitude allowed each site in terms of their charism (gift to the people of God), there are still general criteria and best practice for each Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Chicago to meet. Current governance models dictate that our Catholic schools who are accountable to their sponsoring religious communities and boards be given the most flexibility; those sponsored directly by the Archdiocese are accountable to the Archbishop through the Office of Catholic Schools.

Measuring this best practice has a long history. Long before applying as a candidate for AdvancED School System Accreditation, the schools sponsored by the Archdiocese were recognized by the State of Illinois (This will continue and will remain a separate process.). In addition, the Office of Catholic Schools’ Genesis School Improvement Plan was used to evaluate school quality. Genesis measured three areas of school performance: Catholicity, Academics and Vitality. While many dioceses choose to retain their own accreditation process, we chose to “baptize” AdvancED. The electronic platform, the requirement for aligned data and artifacts, the use of an “outside” trained team, the incorporation of the National Catholic Standards and Benchmarks, the opportunity to walk all schools though the process at once, and the emphasis on teaching and learning made AdvancED a solid choice for us.

Within the AdvancED framework, Genesis found a measurable home:

Catholicity/Faith:

  • Solid surveys for school climate and culture
  • Probing questions around teacher qualifications and curriculum
  • Student behavior and service metrics

Academics/Achievement:

  • Analysis of Terra Nova Scores (grades 3,5,7), disaggregated by region, reflecting economics
  • Break-down of 8th grade EXPLORE scores in all categories for early high school intervention
  • Mandated ACT for high schools

Vitality/Focus:

  • Study of governance models that best fit local realities
  • Renewed enrollment growth
  • Scholarships with generous donors and a planned capital campaign to fund them

The demand for the data is important to us. With all seventh graders in every elementary school taking the Terra Nova Test, only one school has a composite score (and for it, just barely) below the national average. Our mission of service and excellence to families says that is not good enough: we still need to do a better job of moving schools into the “exemplary” category.

From System to Student

Our mission is to educate each student, to provide schools in which God-given talents can be fully developed in service. Getting to the individual student growth data is still a work in progress, despite the analysis being performed by schools at the local level. The long over-due full implementation of a student information system in 2015 will allow the schools and the “central office” to more clearly examine both school trends and student growth.

Getting to the individual student growth data is still a work in progress, despite the analysis being performed by schools at the local level.

In general, we can measure our progress with cohorts longitudinally and with assessment “snapshots.” We know the Terra Nova scores (mandated testing at grades 3, 5 and 7) are well above average, the eighth grade EXPLORE is at the eighty-second percentile and ACT composite for 40 very different high schools is at 23.1, but we need to do a better job with each student and every area of study.

Having our young people “college and career ready” is embedded in the mission of both elementary and high school. University studies that tracked the individual performance of our grade school students showed that the longer a student is in the “district” of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the more dramatic the improvement.  (Hallinan, Maureen T. and Warren N. Kubitschek. 2010. “School Sector, School Poverty, and the Catholic School Advantage.” Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice 14(2): 143-172.)

From each school’s annual school report, data is collected not only in terms of summative test scores but in other areas relevant to mission: hours of service, engagement in the community, participation in technology, before and after school enrichment, global outreach. The AdvancED stakeholder surveys will bring together data relevant to Catholic Identity and parental satisfaction, going beyond the current school surveys in depth and scope. Measuring “centers of learning and communities of love” is not merely a central office task, but a local responsibility.

AdvancED processes should help us dig even deeper into academic benchmarks. Resting on the laurels of 75 U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon schools will not bring all of our schools into alignment with our mission. While what we do is excellent, there is more to be done....because there is a mission that simply does not quit, a mission that calls a network of engaged adults to impact the life of every child of God in the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Educational Change

Although the growth of knowledge may vary by discipline, there is some evidence that indicates that on average human knowledge is currently doubling every 13 months. Clearly we are in the midst of a transition from linear to exponential growth of human knowledge...

According to Buckminster Fuller (1981), who first identified the “Knowledge Doubling Curve” and is recognized for the invention of the geodesic dome, human knowledge doubled approximately every century until around 1900, but by the end of World War II was doubling every 25 years. Although the growth of knowledge may vary by discipline, there is some evidence that indicates that on average human knowledge is currently doubling every 13 months. IBM asserts that the build out of the “Internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.  Clearly we are in the midst of a transition from linear to exponential growth of human knowledge, which will require “the development of vastly more complex software, share-ability, and artificial intelligence.” (Schilling 2013)

Given this exponential increase in knowledge and a learner’s ability to instantaneously access it using devices and platforms that are becoming more compact, analytically powerful and faster by the second, it becomes even more critical that learner success be defined and measured in ways that heretofore would be perceived as unconventional and possibly revolutionary.

Attributes of Prospective Employees

An education system or school’s success is often defined by outcomes like graduation rate, closing achievement gaps between groups, students’ scores on standardized tests, college going rate of graduates, percent of students reading at grade level, number of AP courses offered/taken, number of students who passed algebra and other such metrics. Students collect credits in required subjects, earn good grades, finish homework, do well on quizzes and participate in class — all ways that they demonstrate their desire to be successful.  Are these all indicators for what is valued by the communities that our schools and school systems serve?

Employers endorsed educational practices that “require students to conduct research and use evidence-based analysis; gain indepth knowledge in the major and analytic, problem-solving and communication skills; and apply their learning in real world settings.”

Ironically, if we were to ask potential employers how they define the attributes of a successful entry-level employee, the aforementioned indicators are curiously absent. Indeed, the findings from a recent online survey of employers conducted by Hart Research Associates (April 2013) support this. Key findings included: skills that help contribute to innovation are a priority and essential to an organization’s continued success; demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than an individual’s chosen major; the importance of ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills and the capacity for continued new learning. Moreover, employers endorsed educational practices that “require students to conduct research and use evidence-based analysis; gain indepth knowledge in the major and analytic, problem-solving and communication skills; and apply their learning in real world settings.” To what extent are students in today’s education institutions developing these types of skills and attributes in any given day, month or year of learning/instruction? It likely varies from state to state, district to district, school to school and yes, from classroom to classroom, but there is certainly no overarching system in place that reliably and accurately determines how well learners are being equipped with these types of skills and attributes.

21st Century Skills

Over the years, a number of organizations have emerged that focus on identifying the competencies, skills and attributes needed for success in the Digital Age as well as others that forecast what learning systems need to be in place to meet the educational demands of an information-rich society.

More than a decade ago, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning was formed to bring together the business community, education leaders and policymakers to position 21st century readiness at the center of U.S. K-12 education and to kick-start a national conversation on the importance of 21st century skills for all students.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework includes creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem-solving, communications, collaboration, information and media literacy, ICT (information, communications and technology) literacy, life and career skills in addition to core subjects and 21st century interdisciplinary themes. It is in some ways surprising that the framework, which includes a number of the skills and attributes employers in the Hart survey identified as both important and desirable and even essential, has not been adopted in more educational institutions as a foundation for learning. Perhaps academic history, traditions and conventions run so deep that they are most influential in what happens on the ground in teaching and learning, despite what research tells us.

Success in the Digital Age Defined by Learners

KnowledgeWorks has created its business to look into the future of learning and to identify the societal contexts and trends that influence that future. Their first infographic, A Glimpse Into the Future of Learning, identifies changes that will “point the way toward a diverse learning ecosystem in which learning adapts to each child instead of each child trying to adapt to school.” Included are terms and constructs like continuous career readiness, diverse credentials and certificates that reflect the many ways in which people learn and demonstrate mastery, self-organizing “schools,” individualized learning playlists, digitally-mediated or place-based learning experiences, radical personalization, social innovation and ownership of learning in new ways. According to KnowledgeWorks, at some point in the not too distant future, learners will define their own goals and aspirations for learning, and meeting or exceeding them will define success.

Thus, instead of striving to set down a marker and define what learner success and outcomes could or should be today or 20 years from now, perhaps it would be more constructive to allow definitions to emerge from and be shaped by the learners themselves; employment market needs; and our changing societal trends, contexts and values. Time will be the marker and a global force majeure may very well dictate how quickly we shift to meet the fundamental changes needed to be successful in the Digital Age.

 

References:

Fuller, R. Buckminster (1981). Critical Path. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press.

Schilling, D. (April 2013). Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours

It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success. 2013. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities and Hart Research Associates.

KnowledgeWorks. (July 2013).  A Glimpse into the Future of Learning.

Measuring Success

Measuring Student Success

Experimental College’s First Graduate

Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed

Author Paul Fain shares details of Southern New Hampshire University’s competency-based online education program and its first graduate. Students can control how fast they move through the program working with academic coaches and reviewers who determine if they have mastered each task or send them back to for more work until they demonstrate competency.

Performance Assessment

Samuel J. Meisels, Ed.D.

This article examines how performance assessments can be used successfully with younger students and the components and benefits of performance assessments.

‘Digital Badges’ Would Represent Students’ Skill Acquisition

Kate Ash, Ed Week Digital Directions

In this Ed Week e-newsletter, author Kate Ash explores the merits of, as well as the skepticism towards, digital badges. The concept includes students earning electronic images for a wide variety of reasons in multiple learning spaces, including after-school programs, summer workshops, K-12 classrooms and universities. Once earned, the badges could follow students throughout their lifetimes.

Accountability

The late Stephen M. R. Covey, in his 2006 book The Speed of Trust, notes that in a high-trust ethos, everything is more efficient. Covey builds this theme throughout the book with the idea that leaders of organizations have the power, the responsibility and the ability to engender high trust.

The late Stephen M. R. Covey, in his 2006 book The Speed of Trust, notes that in a high-trust ethos, everything is more efficient. Covey builds this theme throughout the book with the idea that leaders of organizations have the power, the responsibility and the ability to engender high trust. Covey defines trust in its simplest form as confidence (p. 5). He further notes that there are five waves of trust: self-trust, relationship trust, organizational trust, market trust and societal trust (pp. 34-35). Private schools must have high trust to continue to exist.

Fostering Accountability

Trust is integral to an environment where there is an accountability norm. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in The Leadership Challenge propose that it is a crucial task of leadership to foster an environment of accountability. They note, “Individual accountability is a critical element of every collaborative effort,” and “leaders know that part of their job is to set up conditions that enable each and every team member to feel a sense of ownership for the whole job” (2007, p. 258). Schools, at least the effective ones, operate as high-trust organizations and foster individual and collective accountability that is crucial to sustaining credibility.

In the private school world, parents choose a school to educate their children. Parents choose a private school for a variety of reasons, but in essence it is about the best school, given their goals for their children. These schools are sectarian or nonsectarian, parochial or independent, proprietary or not-for-profit, but in all cases there is a tuition cost to the parents. This is a highly significant accountability factor for the private school sector. Parents have an annual opportunity to rethink the “value proposition” for the education that their children are receiving.

At a meeting (in May 2012) of the California Private School Organization colloquium on private school accountability, the following was noted in the program background document:

In truth, nowhere is educational accountability greater than in America’s K–12 private schools, where every student is enrolled by choice, where a free alternative exists just down the street or around the corner in the form of the local public school, and where schools that fail, cease to exist. Every private school leader is cognizant of these realities. But, in today’s climate, private school leaders must be equipped to answer questions from an ever-more-demanding public concerning curriculum, personnel and assessment, with clarity, sophistication and conviction. (p. 1)

Managing Enrollment

According to an annual survey of over 3,000 U.S. member schools in the Association of Christian Schools International, tuition accounts for about 80 percent of school income. Hence, enrollment is critical to the economic life and sustainability of private schools. This stakeholder accountability is part of the daily life of private schooling. It creates an accountability tension that wise school leaders distribute across the scope of the school. Everyone has an enrollment management position. The reasons that parents choose a private school vary greatly as do the types of private schools that they choose. In the religious school community, it is often a particular theological tradition or faith emphasis that attracts parents. In other cases the choice is based on a school’s reputation for academic quality, or issues of convenience or safety. There is little doubt, given the state of the U.S. economy in the last few years, that the price point of school tuition is a factor in private school choice. Private school leaders face the daunting task of meeting the expectations that ripple out from these choices while also seeking to build enrollment around the mission, culture, vision and ethos of independent schools.

The school’s reputation is a critical drawing factor in attracting mission-appropriate families. This is the marketing metric for school sustainability. Schools develop a reputation for quality by consistently delivering on the promises that they make in their advertising: cultivating a culture that is attractive from the first moment a prospective family steps foot on the campus and by demonstrating each day that the school is very good at caring for, well educating and inspiring children. Schools must build an increasingly positive reputation as an organization that delivers. One of the reputation building blocks is the quality of the school’s graduates and their reflections on the value of their past school experience. Schools are wise to keep longitudinal data on both students and graduates. The data can be compared to studies of outcomes by similar types of schools.

Meeting Stakeholder Expectations

The 2011 Cardus Education Survey  looked at the motivations for private and religious Catholic and Protestant education in North America (in the United States and Canada) and if those motivations align with graduate outcomes. The study compared Catholic and Protestant schools with each other and with public schools. Cardus interviewed religious schools’ graduates between the ages of 24 and 39 and measured them across three outcomes: spiritual formation, cultural engagement and academic development. The “Executive Summary” of the study notes:

In many cases, the difference in outcomes between Catholic and Protestant Christian schools is striking. Catholic schools provide superior academic outcomes, an experience that translates into graduates’ enrollment in more prestigious colleges and universities, more advanced degrees, and higher household income. In Catholic schools, administrators put a higher value on university than their Protestant Christian peers, and Catholic schools’ academic programs consist of more rigorous course offerings across the board….

….Compared to their public school, Catholic school, and non-religious private school peers, Protestant Christian school graduates have been found to be uniquely compliant, generous individuals who stabilize their communities by their uncommon and distinctive commitment to their families, their churches and their communities, and by their unique hope and optimism about their lives and the future. (p. 13)

This study indicates, in segmented fashion, a level of accountability that is fairly unique to the private school as part of the education universe. Parents come with checkbook in hand and enroll their children in the school with a particular set of expectations, and in the high-expectations and low-loyalty culture of today, unmet expectations result in disenrollment, and often in short order. Parents have expectations of the school that are academic, social, perhaps religious and relational. The school has its mission, but student enrollment, particularly initial enrollment, may only be tangentially related to that mission. An accountability tension exists for private school leadership among the competing expectations of enrolling families and the organization’s ability to maintain a missional emphasis while substantially meeting a variety of stakeholder demands.

An accountability tension exists for private school leadership among the competing expectations of enrolling families and the organization’s ability to maintain a missional emphasis while substantially meeting a variety of stakeholder demands.

While results that are missional are important to all schools, parents are primarily focused on the core schooling aspects of child development and academic achievement. Whether the school has a maturational, sociological or theological philosophy, the parents are strongly interested in the child’s personal well-being at school. These relational components are critical for the child and to the parents, and they are a key index of whether the family remains a school constituent. Private schools measure this by re-enrollment data, a metric of the percentage of students enrolled the previous year who return to the school. In the accreditation process by the Association of Christian Schools International, the school profile is expected to demonstrate an average reenrollment that is about the 90 percent level.

The academic expectations of enrolling private school families are significant. These expectations seem to parallel upward with the cost of tuition. These expectations include the scope (width) of the program in both the curricular and co-curricular areas and the quality (depth) of the instruction, the instructor and the results. Enrolling families want to know the results the school produces on standardized tests as well as College Board or American College Testing scores. The list of colleges where students gain admission is another selecting metric for private schools. Parents want data on how many students get into their first choice of schools, and they want to know what the ranking is for those colleges and universities.

The accountability metrics of reputation, re-enrollment and results are in constant play in every private school. These metrics provide a daily tension to be managed by private school leaders. They are a reality that serves both the general public and private schools well, sometimes painfully well.

References:

Bassett. P. F. (2005, March). Remarks on accountability by NAIS President Patrick F. Bassett at CAPE’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. CAPE Issue Paper.

California Association of Private Schools Organizations (CAPSO). (2012). CAPSO colloquium on private school accountability.

Council for American Private Education. (2004, March). Educational accountability. CAPE Issue Paper.

Covey, S. M. R. (2006). The speed of trust. New York, NY: Free Press.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Pennings, R., et al. (2011). Cardus education survey. Hamilton, Ontario: Cardus.

Accountability

It seems simple enough. All states need to do to meet the challenge of college and career readiness for all students is to align all the systems that support the goal. After all, systems alignment is a business principle that has been recognized as effective for decades. Schools should be able to do that. Shouldn’t we?

Continuous Improvement Approach

It seems simple enough. All states need to do to meet the challenge of college and career readiness for all students is to align all the systems that support the goal. After all, systems alignment is a business principle that has been recognized as effective for decades. Schools should be able to do that. Shouldn’t we? In Kentucky, the process of systems alignment has been very difficult and is still ongoing; however, there were several crucial steps on the journey that we will describe in this article. The steps are modeled after a continuous improvement approach of defining customer requirements, analyzing current performance, leadership setting a vision and specific goals to meet customer requirements, implementing an action plan and processes to reach the goals, and publicly reporting progress toward the goals.

The customer requirements were defined by the Kentucky General Assembly with legislation passed in 2009. The legislation required the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) to work collaboratively to increase the percentage of high school graduates who are college- and career- ready. The legislation required adoption of academic standards in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies that were nationally and internationally benchmarked. Additionally, the legislation required new assessments aligned to the standards, an accountability model based on the standards, and professional development and support for educators who were charged with implementing the standards and assessments.

The legislation led the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) to adopt a strategic plan called Unbridled Learning. This plan established clear priorities for Next- Generation Learning, Next-Generation Professionals, Next-Generation Support Systems and Next-Generation Schools and Districts. The plan established SMART goals for each of the priorities.

Perhaps the most challenging part of a continuous improvement system is the translation of the goals into specific actions and processes at each level of the system.

One of the SMART goals for Next-Generation Learning is that Kentucky will improve the college and career readiness rate from 34 percent in 2010 to 67 percent in 2015. The partnership between KDE and CPE led to clear measures for this goal. All higher education institutions in Kentucky agreed to benchmark scores for the ACT and COMPASS® assessments that would allow high school graduates to enter a credit-bearing course. The KBE added measures for career readiness that include academic measures (ACT, COMPASS®, WorkKeys® and a state-developed math placement exam, KYOTE) and technical measures (occupational testing and national industry certification).

Actions to Meet Goals

Perhaps the most challenging part of a continuous improvement system is the translation of the goals into specific actions and processes at each level of the system. The delivery chain from KDE to school systems to schools to teachers and classrooms to students and parents had to be aligned to the state goals, and the actions at each level had to lead to improved performance. KDE worked closely with the Education Delivery Institute to define annual targets for every school system and school in Kentucky that became the annual targets for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability waiver and specific strategies that would enable every system and school to reach the annual targets.

The next part of the challenge was to have a system that supported schools and school systems in translating state goals, annual targets and strategies into specific actions at the system, school, classroom and student levels. KDE partnered with AdvancED to implement a statewide consolidated school and system improvement process that is data-driven and focused on the improvement of student achievement and organizational effectiveness, which meets the requirements for major state and federal programs and priorities while being aligned to AdvancED accreditation requirements. The initial implementation and deployment of the system to support this process through AdvancED’s ASSIST™ (Adaptive System of School Improvement Support Tools), began in the fall of 2012.

Support for Educators

The final piece of the continuous improvement system is the support for schools and classroom teachers with key processes aligned to the goals and strategies of the state strategic plan. Connecting and aligning school systems and school actions to the Kentucky Board of Education goals in order to get the work done will be accomplished through the expectation that each school and school system will construct their comprehensive system and school improvement plans using the ASSIST tool. Through using common needs assessments and diagnostics available through ASSIST as well as Kentucky-specific instruments like The Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle, a parent engagement analysis rubric, schools will develop profiles, write executive summaries and set goals aligned with Kentucky Board of Education goals. In addition, the activities align with those identified as best practice in the Kentucky Delivery Plans at the state level.

In addition to ASSIST, with support from the Race to the Top award, Kentucky partnered with SchoolNet and Pearson to develop the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS). This system provides educators with 24/7 access to the standards in student-friendly language, instructional resources aligned to the standards, formative assessments, professional development aligned to the standards, and a teacher effectiveness/evaluation system aligned to the standards and student learning outcomes.

The Kentucky goal of increasing the percentage of students who graduate with the skills needed for college and career readiness is important to our students, their families and the economic vitality of the state. We are well on our way to reaching that goal based on the first two years of data. A key lesson learned is that a continuous improvement approach takes many partners working together to reach common goals.

Accountability

With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) off the table for at least 32 states in the U.S., accountability measures will be left to states and local school systems. NCLB has been clear about closing achievement gaps between groups of students considered at risk. To ensure that there is an ongoing focus on school improvement, accountability should continue to be rigorous and focused on achievement gaps along with whole school improvement.

With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) off the table for at least 32 states in the U.S., accountability measures will be left to states and local school systems. NCLB has been clear about closing achievement gaps between groups of students considered at risk. To ensure that there is an ongoing focus on school improvement, accountability should continue to be rigorous and focused on achievement gaps along with whole school improvement.

Clear accountability systems have to be in place at seven different levels to ensure student success now and in the future. Goals, beliefs, values, visions and actions must be aligned similar to what one may find in a balanced scorecard. If these things are not operating in tandem, then the system may be doomed to fail.

The seven levels of accountability for student success are: 1) state; 2) school system; 3) school; 4) principal; 5) teachers; 6) parents; and 7) students.

Level 1:  STATE

All states should have a strong plan in place to measure accountability. Out of the 32 states approved for No Child Left Behind waivers, eight states have a conditional waiver, meaning they have not yet satisfied the Obama administration’s requirements for a new principal/teacher evaluation system, incorporation of College and Career Readiness Standards and other stipulations. If these states are granted waivers, it is imperative that they have a plan in place so that all educators, parents, students and other stakeholders understand how schools will be monitored and what criteria will be used to determine school improvement.

Many of the states that have received No Child Left Behind waivers have developed impressive accountability plans.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, their new accountability model is a more robust – next generation model that holds all schools and school systems accountable for improving student performance and creates four performance classifications that determine consequences and guide interventions and supports. School and system classifications are based on the following measures: 1) Achievement (Content Areas are reading, mathematics, science, social studies and writing.); 2) Gap (percentage of proficient and distinguished) for the Non-Duplicated Gap Group for all five content areas; 3) Growth in reading and mathematics (percentage of students at typical or higher levels of growth); 4) College Readiness as measured by the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in three content areas on EXPLORE at middle school; 5) College/Career-Readiness Rate as measured by ACT benchmarks, college placement tests and career measures and 6) Graduation Rate.

Level 2:  SCHOOL SYSTEM

For school systems located in states where NCLB is still active, the accountability standards remain the same: required scores in key subject areas, test participation rates at 95 percent, attendance, graduation rates and adequate performance of special populations such as disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. What will be the accountability of school systems in states with waivers? The measures should certainly be well aligned to the state accountability plan components that we monitor and hold systems accountable for. In many cases, the new accountability measures growth over a period of time. Superintendents, boards of education and school system leaders will need to be visionary, progressive thinkers who are well versed about what is happening around the country and how to keep their school system on the cutting-edge of transformation.

A strong strategic plan that communicates the school system vision, mission, goals, beliefs, values and objectives should be transparent for all to see. The metrics embedded in it should communicate what the system is holding itself accountable for. There has to be a whole school system focus on building a culture of continuous improvement.

Curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional learning are critical success indicators for school systems. All levels of system operation have to link back to improvement of student achievement. High expectations must be in place for school system leaders, principals, teachers, students and their parents.

Level 3:  SCHOOL

An important question for a school to ask: “How do we know if our students are successful and what actions will we take if they are not?” Schools with an answer to this question and an accountability plan in place will have the greatest level of success. Generally, the school improvement plan is the accountability plan for the school. It outlines the same components one would find in a school system strategic plan; it is clear about the actions that will take place to address the question posed earlier. There should be an action plan for improving each content area based on current school realities or baseline data from the most recent school assessments; a professional development plan aligned to the action plans; a technology plan; a plan for improving student attendance and parent involvement; and a plan that outlines how data will be utilized, analyzed and interpreted.

Ensuring student success in schools means holding teachers and other staff accountable for quality work directly impacting student achievement. Identification of root causes for lack of student success and aggressive interventions to address areas of weakness must be implemented. Use of research-based practices in all key areas of instruction, leadership and school operation should be evident in schools aiming for high levels of student success. Innovation and creativity are not only encouraged but celebrated.

Level 4:  PRINCIPAL

It is often said that principals must be strong instructional leaders. That is only part of what principals should know and be able to do. They also must be change agents, capable of dealing with vast ambiguities; human relations gurus; school culture shapers; savvy budget administrators; and outstanding performance managers. If principals are knowledgeable, courageous and willing to hold everyone accountable for keeping their students at the center of everything they do, success is bound to follow.

An effective principal is needed in every school building of a school system striving for excellence in education. These principals understand the complexity of their position, perform duties and responsibilities at a high level, and are able to multi-task, fitting all of the interconnected pieces of school life together for the good of their students. They are results-driven and accept no excuses from anyone. Success is the only option and mediocrity is simply not acceptable in a school run by a strong leader.

Many states have new leader accountability instruments that will be used to evaluate system and building level leaders. Principals operating at the proficient to exemplary level of these accountability systems will have the most positive impact on student achievement.

Level 5:  TEACHERS

Research is clear about the damage an ineffective teacher can do. It can take years of instruction with an effective teacher to turn that damage around. Schools and school systems will need a laser-like focus on building the capacity of teachers through strong induction programs, job-embedded professional learning, support for implementation of the new Common Core Performance Standards with accompanying assessments and teacher evaluation programs linked to student achievement outcomes. Teaching children at a high level of proficiency should be the core work of every teacher.

All teachers should continue to be highly qualified to teach the subjects and grade levels they are assigned. Use of varied instructional strategies, effective assessment techniques, data utilization and integration of technology are a given for teachers who want their students to be successful. Teachers should be held accountable; however, their success begins with holding students accountable for learning what is taught.

Level 6:  PARENTS

The outside curriculum of children does matter. This curriculum has to do with how they spend their time away from school, what they value, the support systems they have in place and how parents involve themselves in the school. What is learned in schools can be easily unlearned if not sufficiently enforced at home, in the community, ingrained in character and properly supported.

Parents need the requisite skills to help their children succeed in school. The local school and school systems should provide these skills through parent education workshops, parent involvement meetings, adult education classes and engagement in volunteerism. The Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets is a good starting point, along with the six types of parent involvement established by Joyce Epstein.

The chances of children being successful increase when their parents are fully vested in the school community; capable of monitoring school work; communicating effectively with teachers; and able to identify resources to help with social, emotional health issues and other impediments to school success.

Level 7:  STUDENTS

Students must be taught to be responsible and take ownership for their education. Personalized learning environments are significant when it comes to establishing schools where students can thrive and be successful. Working with teachers who understand the importance of building relationships cannot be overemphasized. We must remain steadfast in our mission to prepare 21st century students in our country to compete in a global economy. Failing to do so will be detrimental to not only the individual child, but to our future as a nation.

Accountability

The first day of school for the Wickenburg Unified School District was August 8th – August 8th at 8:00 a.m., to be specific. At precisely 8:10 a.m., during a record heat wave in Arizona, the air conditioning units in Wickenburg High School went down. On the same day, we enrolled 100 more students than anticipated, and class sizes were nearing 40.

The first day of school for the Wickenburg Unified School District was August 8th – August 8th at 8:00 a.m., to be specific. At precisely 8:10 a.m., during a record heat wave in Arizona, the air conditioning units in Wickenburg High School went down. On the same day, we enrolled 100 more students than anticipated, and class sizes were nearing 40. The heat caused the girls to break the dress code, the milk to spoil in the cafeteria coolers, and the copy machines to overheat. This also was the day that Wickenburg High School began the implementation of a new core curriculum designed to increase the rigor in all courses. We had planned for a year; received over $500,000 in grant funding; and purchased iPads, textbooks and supplemental instructional supplies. We had trained teachers, written pacing calendars, unwrapped standards and created lesson plans of which we were extraordinarily proud. And, on this – the first day of school - the only focus we had was the 116 degree temperature that was creating 90 degree classrooms. Such is the life of a principal.

Wickenburg High School is a small rural school in Wickenburg, Arizona. Our school is located approximately 50 miles northwest of Phoenix and has a student population of 750. The attendance area for the school is 1000 square miles and draws from five feeder elementary school systems. Fifty percent of the freshman class is “home-grown” from the Wickenburg Unified School District’s elementary schools. The remaining 50 percent arrive at our door from the surrounding, even more remote, attendance areas. As a rural school, Wickenburg High School has a difficult time attracting and retaining teachers and often must resort to using long term substitutes when highly qualified and appropriately certified teachers cannot be found. Despite these challenges, the Wickenburg Unified School District is ranked 15th in the state in academic achievement, as determined by state assessment results, and is often cited as a model for the implementation of national initiatives.

Educational accountability, while an ever-changing moving target, requires school leaders to accept their responsibility to society, to parents and to our students.

We find ourselves on the cutting edge of these national initiatives by maintaining a laser-like focus on the destination of moving every student to the next academic level. We take accountability very seriously. Accountability, by definition, is accepting responsibility for someone or something. Educational accountability, while an ever-changing moving target, requires school leaders to accept their responsibility to society, to parents and to our students. It is my job, as a school leader, to anticipate the changes and ensure that the academic culture of my school thrives in this new environment. There never has been a time in education where the stakes are higher and the accountability so demanding. As the public eye continues to focus on principals and their ability to deliver results, I find myself responding to those challenges in the following ways.

Construct a Solid Road

The road to student achievement is paved by effective school system leadership, by strong governance and leadership. The Wickenburg Unified School District is fortunate to have a superintendent with a clear focus and a Governing Board that understands the role it plays. Dr. Howard Carlson has created a path for us to follow that leaves no room for misinterpretation, and the Governing Board, led by Board President Joe Maglio, supports us every step of the way. The focus statement of the Wickenburg Unified School District is: “We are creating A+ schools with a laser-like focus on the Essential Elements of Instruction and moving each student to the next academic level.” We have a specific framework for the improvement of student learning. We are expected to maintain constant alignment with this focus and vision. The road is paved, and the lanes are clearly marked. Deviation from this road is unacceptable, and the system and building-level leadership maintains check points of calibration along the way. Without the absolute and unyielding commitment to this purpose and direction, it is not possible to prepare a system or a school for the demands of accountability. Once the road is built, it then becomes the responsibility of each principal to get behind the wheel and reach the destination.

Anticipate the Curves and Embrace Innovation

As the Common Core Standards were adopted in the state of Arizona, and around the nation, it became clear that multiple changes in accountability were just around the corner. The rigor was unmistakably increasing and intensifying. Teachers now would be held accountable for effective instruction through new evaluation systems intended to measure not only the effectiveness of instructional delivery, but the academic progress of each student in a teacher’s classroom. Students now would be assessed on that increased rigor. Wickenburg High School anticipated this momentous change in accountability and made a conscious decision to stay ahead of the curve.

In 2011, Wickenburg High School joined the national movement “Excellence for All,” led by Marc Tucker and the National Center on Education and the Economy. Titled “Move on When Ready” in the state of Arizona, and under the guidance of the Center for the Future of Arizona, this initiative provides a new pathway for students through the administration of Board Exams in all core content areas and allows students the option of moving to Community College after the sophomore year if all exams are successfully completed. It is a system designed to break the boundaries of seat time and simple accumulation of credits. It is an innovative approach to creating high rigor curriculum and schools that are competitive in the international arena. It is a system that will ensure our students are college and career ready.

With the goal of increased rigor, Wickenburg adopted the ACT Quality Core curriculum, fully aligned with the Common Core Standards, and we spent a year preparing to implement the new curriculum in 2012-2013. We were fortunate to receive more than $500,000 in private foundation funding to assist in the implementation, which includes paying for Community College tuition for those moving on; funding the ACT Explore, Plan and ACT tests; and upgrading classroom technology. As the new state assessments are created and items released, it has become apparent that we made a wise decision. The language of test items released by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) mirrors the depth of knowledge found in assessment questions of the ACT Quality Core exams. Our teachers are beginning to deliver instruction differently and at a higher level. As a principal, I have found myself providing more specific and effective feedback for the teachers as I spend time in the classrooms. By anticipating this change in accountability, Wickenburg High School finds itself ahead of the curve and well on the way to reaching the final destination.

Stay in the Lane

The final destination has been determined by a visionary school system leadership. The road has been established. The landmarks on the educational journey have been anticipated on the map of accountability. Fortunately, the GPS coordinates for students, teachers and administrators of the Wickenburg Unified School District have been calculated with precision. All that remains is for school leaders to stay in the lane and remain focused on increased student achievement. It is only with such purpose and intent that we meet the challenges of accountability.

Accountability

For some time now, school leaders have come under fire to demonstrate greater accountability for the learning of all students. While there are pockets of educational excellence that exist, the preponderance of public schools are considered underperforming and that is unacceptable. Who is accountable for student learning?

For some time now, school leaders have come under fire to demonstrate greater accountability for the learning of all students. While there are pockets of educational excellence that exist, the preponderance of public schools are considered underperforming and that is unacceptable. Who is accountable for student learning?

The Meaning of Accountability

What is educational accountability? In the context of reform and restructuring, accountability has different meanings for various stakeholder groups, i.e., political leaders, education officials, teachers, parents, community and business leaders and the general public. Far too often, the concept of accountability is inextricably linked to high stakes testing of students. Unfortunately, based on the results of a single test, huge numbers of schools are declared failures, while much lesser numbers are considered high performing. Accountability is multifaceted. It includes responsibility, authority, evaluation and control. Moreover school accountability is a complex issue, because it involves both internal and external relationships. While local school governance bodies, superintendents, school staff, parents, etc. may be viewed as internal accountability relationships; policymakers, government agencies, education officials, etc. may be viewed as external accountability relationships.

Successful Outcomes

In Matteson School District 162, located in the south suburbs of Chicago, we have witnessed a dramatic improvement in student learning over the past 10 years. It is an incredible story about accountability and student success.

From 2002 to 2012, our students have demonstrated a 30 percent gain in students meeting and exceeding the state standards. This was the result of strategic leadership. Also on this journey, one of our schools was identified as a Blue Ribbon School. This was the result of our students’ achievement level of 90 percent or higher as measured by state assessments for seven consecutive years. Additionally, we opened a public charter high school approved by the Illinois State Board of Education to ensure that our students continue to experience high levels of learning. What drove this effort is the well documented fact that too many students are failing to learn, failing to improve academically, and failing to complete their education in Illinois. That failure is compounded by the reality that youth of today will be confronted with a world information economy that demands better than we produced in the past—and therefore makes the prospects for those who fall short of success even gloomier than we now see.

What drove this effort is the well documented fact that too many students are failing to learn, failing to improve academically, and failing to complete their education...

Ron Edmonds the leader of the Effective Schools movement, states, “We can whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” Edmonds and his colleagues provide a plethora of research literature that hits at the core of the accountability question.

All high performing schools share certain essential characteristics that reflect the Correlates of the Effective Schools literature. Our school system’s student success record is reflective of Edmonds’ work. An examination of this body of scholarly research is central to ensuring successful outcomes for all students.

The Leadership Difference

Without question, leadership at every level in the internal organization is pivotal to student success. This leadership includes school boards, superintendents, system office staff, principals, teachers and parents. These are the areas where we exert the greatest control over the educational enterprise. Accountability in the aforementioned areas i.e., internal relationships, will have a gargantuan impact on student success today, tomorrow and in the future.

We must overcome perceptions that have a stranglehold on the public’s collective belief that improvement is impossible – such as the belief that our schools do not and cannot educate the “urban child;” that the difficulties of overcoming the effects of poverty, high mobility rates and the dropout rate may be insurmountable; and that we simply cannot find global success in teaching children to read at accepted levels. All of these are mental assumptions that must be climbed and conquered. To not fix these problems would be remiss for any caring society, but merely fixing them is clearly not ambitious enough. We propose to go all the way in our effort to have an ultimate goal of providing Illinois children the finest public education in the nation.

What works for us? At the highest level of the organization, we have dynamic leadership with the school board and the superintendent. The relationship is like a textbook 101 in school governance. Ostensibly the board empowers the superintendent to provide unequivocal leadership for the school system without interference. This professional relationship sets the tone for the school system and communities we serve. Our mission is clear – it is learner-centered. Our superintendent’s performance goals are clearly articulated throughout the internal organization and enthusiastically embraced by the community of learners. A well conceived and designed accountability system allows every adult to work unrelentingly on behalf of our children. We have achieved against the odds in large part because accountability is at the core of our school system mission.

References:

Edmonds, R. (1979) Effective Schools for the Urban Poor. Educational Leadership, 37 (1), 15-24.

Darling-Hammond, L and Synder, J. (1992) Reforming Accountability, Creating Learner-centered Schools. In A, Lieberman (Ed.) The Changing Contexts of Learning, Chapter 2, pp. 11-36. Chicago, IL University of Chicago Press.

Heim, M. (February 1995) “Accountability in Education”. Honolulu, HI, Hawaii State Department of Education.

Lezotte, L and Snyder, K. (2011) What Effective Schools Do: Re-envisioning the Correlates. Solution Free Press.

Learning Environments

If you look at the most stunning achievements of mankind, a good portion of them occurred because man was confronting heartbreak. From harnessing fire to expand our diet, to perfecting the wheel to enable migration, to creating the polio vaccine to save lives, to courageous responses to natural and man-made disasters, we are at our best when challenged by the worst.

“One of the enduring difficulties about technology and education is that
a lot of people think about the technology first and the education later.”

Dr. Martha Stone Wiske

“The only feature that I am looking for in an #edtech tool is
whether or not it makes it possible for kids to change the world.”

Bill Ferriter

If you look at the most stunning achievements of mankind, a good portion of them occurred because man was confronting heartbreak. From harnessing fire to expand our diet, to perfecting the wheel to enable migration, to creating the polio vaccine to save lives, to courageous responses to natural and man-made disasters, we are at our best when challenged by the worst.

There is genius in everyone one of us. But for most of us, genius needs a reason to show up.

This summer, I attended an event at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Representatives from a number of our well-known technology companies took the microphone to pledge support to better wire and equip our nation’s schools to enable students to have high speed access to the vast trove of information and experiences available to them online. When the floor was opened to public comment, I publicly proclaimed that all of this investment would never achieve its potential if students were not challenged to use it to change the world.

Students today are technologically savvy. Yet it is too often the case that students, and teachers, are using technology simply to do old things in new ways. When a student submits a PowerPoint file to a teacher discussing an assigned topic, instead of a set of sheets of construction paper, learning is not advanced, and genius remains with its head in the sand.

More importantly, the student is not any more animated about the assignment. The result is that most students leverage their tech savviness to find quick, shallow answers to research problems or to entertain themselves, and rarely to achieve deeper learning.

High school teacher Sean Crevier explains: "Asking kids to be motivated by technology is a lot like asking them to be motivated by their shoes and socks. It's hard to be motivated by something you use every day without giving it a second thought."

Providing state-of-the-art technology to students will not by itself spur them to great achievements. Replacing the band saw in Shop Class with a 3D printer will not create a generation of Michelangelos. A group project fed by the latest software will fuel cooperating, but not transformative collaboration. We don’t need to “market” anything to students - we just need to challenge them to work together to solve problems that break their heart.

We don’t need to “market” anything to students - we just need to challenge them to work together to solve problems that break their heart.

In my work with Choose2Matter, we challenge students to share their story with their community, and then examine what matters most to them and why, what breaks their heart about it, and what we can collectively do about it. Their zeal to properly learn and effectively use the tools and methods best-suited to accomplish their goals has been awe-inspiring.

When a student selects his or her own topic after an exhaustive examination of what matters most to him or her and why, and uses advanced video editing skills to create a compellingly persuasive video that attracts the attention of a large or influential audience on social media, learning, and the learner, is transformed.

This focus on what matters to students can be uncomfortable for many teachers. Teachers have learning objectives to cover and a well-constructed curriculum aligned to standards, and there is only so much time in the day.

Nonetheless, teaching students how to pursue a task that matters is essential to their finding their place in the world today. Learning to code in Java becomes a minor challenge when addressing a student’s heartbreak—homelessness, the environment, mental health—is her objective for the week. This student desire to self-direct learning is not new, but technology offers an unprecedented opportunity to meet this demand.

This generation of young people worries more about social issues than the generations before them. In their work, they value meaning more than money. As their teachers and mentors, it is not so much our job to tell them to pursue what they care about as much as it is our duty to let them pursue it. Let’s not be the ones standing in the way of a generation of change-makers.


Let’s be the educators who start with what matters.

Measuring Success

If you walked into a traditional high school today and asked 100 students if they liked school, I would guess that very few of them would say, yes. Maybe some of you have heard these comments, “Why do we have to learn about this? I am never going to use it anyway!” How might these responses change if the students got to choose what they learned about?

If you walked into a traditional high school today and asked 100 students if they liked school, I would guess that very few of them would say, yes. Maybe some of you have heard these comments, “Why do we have to learn about this? I am never going to use it anyway!” How might these responses change if the students got to choose what they learned about? What if students could follow their passions in high school? What if following their passions also prepared students to be successful for the rest of their lives?

A Student’s Role in Education

How do we define success in our students today? Is success the ability to pass a test at the end of a class? Is success the ability to do just well enough in school to get a diploma without any extra stress? I would suggest that success is the ability to go to college, get a job and live in our society after high school. There are a lot of students out there who do not think that they need to start thinking about life after high school while in high school, but is that not why they are going to school? Schools are supposed to be preparing students to go out on their own and be successful in their lives. But how do we prepare each individual student for success in his/her own life? Giving each student individualized attention is almost impossible when teachers have classrooms of 30 to 50 students and see a total of 120 to 200 students each day. If we are willing to take away the traditional mindset of courses and classes, we find that there are other, non-traditional school systems that do a good job of helping each student find success, not only in high school, but also throughout life.

It is not the educators or the institutions that graduate then go to college, or get a job, it is the students. These students will be the next educators, CEO’s, engineers, nurses and lawyers. These students will be held accountable for everything they do from now on, everything from choosing a career to getting married to buying a house. Their bosses are not going to be held accountable if they do not show up or get their work done; it all rests on the individual. I believe students in high school should be held accountable for their education. I understand that students need guidance and help along the way, but they should still be a part of deciding what they get out of their education.

An Educator’s Role with Students

I just graduated from the Minnesota New Country School (MNCS) in Henderson, Minnesota. This is a project-based charter school with full-time advisory groups. What this means is that students individually get to choose projects, plan them, set goals and deadlines, and then follow through with everything they said they would do. This school puts a student’s education right into his/her own hands. This is an incredible way to go through school because everyone – the teachers, parents and other students, hold each student directly accountable. There is no teacher standing in front telling the lesson for the day or the homework. There is, however, a teacher standing along side each student supporting and encouraging. Each student sets goals and tries to meet those goals every day. If students do not get their work done, they will not get credit for their project, which is far more significant than just getting a lower grade in the class. If students do not get enough credit each year they will not move on to the next grade. So, students at MNCS who do not get their work done, are only hurting themselves and making it harder and harder to graduate.

You may wonder how we can measure success in a school setting like this. There are proposal teams made up of three or four staff members. Each student has one of these teams for his/her projects. First, a student goes to the team to propose a project. This team then approves it (sometimes a student has to change things and come back a few times before it is approved) and says come back when you are done. As students go through a project they keep records of everything they do and time logs and journals describing the time they are putting into the project. All of this is under the supervision of an advisor. When the project is completed students will bring their time logs, reflection and other materials that they produced throughout the project to the proposal team to ask for credit. This is a time where they will have the opportunity to show the staff what they have (or have not) learned and if they met the goals they set for themselves. The student then gets credit based on the time put into the project and the outcome of the project.

The Role of Standards

Students still have to meet all of the state mandated standards; they just go about it a little differently than you might think. Students at MNCS first look at their interests and choose projects based on that and look at the standards second. They see which standards they need and work those into the projects, instead of basing projects solely off of the standards. This helps students engage in their education and learn about something that not only interests them but might even be applicable to their future or relevant to the world around them.

For example, as a senior at MNCS I was required to complete a 300-hour senior project. I chose to help one of the youth leaders at my church start a non-profit. We named this non-profit MeForYou. We sell backpacks one for one. Every time we sell a backpack we will be donating a backpack full of school supplies to a student in our area that cannot afford to buy supplies. We started the business this spring and already this fall are donating 200 backpacks full of supplies to students throughout southern Minnesota. This is just one example of a project that has started at MNCS, but has long lasting effects on an entire community. This project showed me how I, even as a high school student, could make a difference in the lives of those around me. I will continue to work with MeForYou after high school and hopefully for the rest of my life.

In doing these projects, students branch out and try things they might not have tried before. For example, art is not my favorite subject; I’m more of a math person, but I had the opportunity to participate in a week long experience where I worked with another student to design and build a stained glass window that is now displayed in our school. This was an amazing experience for me and helped me out of my comfort zone and into new fields. This school system also makes it easier for students to find and follow their passions. One student thought she wanted to be a beautician, so she did projects on hair and make-up, but she also had a couple of experiences where she got to work outdoors. When she graduated, she enrolled in a school to study agriculture, which she found to be her true passion.

The staff skillfully helps each student figure out what to do after high school and guides him/her to become a successful member of society.

Another amazing thing about graduating from MNCS is that MNCS requires every graduate to have a post-secondary plan. That might mean going to a two-year college, a four-year college, going into the military or even starting a business. The staff skillfully helps each student figure out what to do after high school and guides him/her to become a successful member of society.

Consider a high school that strives for each student to not only meet the state requirements but also strives to guide each student to meet his/her personal education goals and have a plan in life as well as how to get there. This is a high school where students are engaged and want to learn. I believe if school systems gave students the opportunity to dream big, set goals, meet those goals, follow their passions and get high school credit for it, there would be a lot more students excited to go to school!

Accountability

Research and Accountability entered the 2011-12 school year with a new department leader, two vacant data analyst positions, and a vacant state testing coordinator position. The inter-departmental change established a climate ripe for promoting and supporting a Data-to-Action, results-driven culture within R and A.

Setting the Stage

The beginning of the 2011-12 school year was a time of transition within the Research and Accountability (R and A) Department for Durham Public Schools (DPS) in Durham, NC. R and A entered the 2011-12 school year with a new department leader, two vacant data analyst positions, and a vacant state testing coordinator position. The inter-departmental change established a climate ripe for promoting and supporting a Data-to-Action, results-driven culture within R and A. Through the hiring of new, data-driven leaders to fill vacancies within the department, along with the leadership of a data-driven, results-oriented leader, R and A was re-organized and re-focused to devote its resources to serving the educational leaders and teachers of DPS.

R and A's pursuit of a higher-quality Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture was supported by the results-driven practices of DPS Superintendent Dr. Eric J. Becoats. One of the first actions taken by Dr. Becoats upon his arrival in DPS was to lead the school system and members of the DPS community in the development and implementation of the DPS Strategic Plan, One Vision. One Durham. Within this plan, goals and strategies were adopted that promote the Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture that R and A has so diligently sought to establish.

An immediate strategy supported by the newly appointed Assistant Superintendent of R and A was to assess the baseline performance of R and A through the completion of an external department audit. The findings from the external audit in October 2011 and the system-wide Central Services Customer Satisfaction Survey in March 2012, provided baseline information on the quality of services provided by R and A, according to the perceptions of a diverse sample of DPS employees, which included central office and school administrators, as well as teachers. R and A also used findings from these two assessments to design a continuous improvement service plan for R and A for the remainder of the 2011-12 school year and beyond.

Higher Quality Service:  Modeling a Data-to-Action Culture

A key organizational decision made within R and A early in the fall 2011 involved setting higher standards for deliverables and service to constituents. An emphasis on high-quality, impeccable deliverables and service was identified as a possible area for improvement by the external audit and by school administrators via their completion of the R and A, department-specific questions within the Central Services Customer Satisfaction Survey. Processes of accountability and documentation were established within R and A to track the quantity of data requests submitted to R and A, the purposes of these requests, and the audiences who made these data requests. Accountability processes such as the triangulation of vetting data for accuracy, the creation of data communication plans and the creation of data set cover memos resulted in the production of more impeccable deliverables and service. By improving the quality of its deliverables and service, R and A was successfully modeling the Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture team members wanted to promote to system and school-level administrators and teachers. In its successful promotion of a of this culture, R and A was developing evidences that aligned with AdvancED Standard 5, Using Results for Continuous Improvement, within the system’s schools and the school system. With the foundation for a higher-quality and impeccable Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture established, R and A team members focused for the remainder of the 2011-12 school year on identifying potential areas for improved data analysis service.

Taking Data Analysis to a New Level:  Data Projects and Deliverables During the 2011-12 School Year

Several R and A endeavors during the 2011-12 school year illustrated the Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture. The 2011 Academic Update, an analysis, comparison and presentation of system and school-level student academic achievement data from 2009-10 to the 2010-11 school year completed in October 2011 represented a transformation point in the culture shift within R and A. During the completion of this analysis, processes and procedures were established that set high expectations for future deliverables and service provided by R and A. Comprehensive reports and presentations on: the Early Warning Tracking System Data Protocol, teacher working conditions, professional learning communities, student academic growth and proficiency on End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests and additional educational programs and initiatives currently implemented within DPS were later completed using the same standards and expectations. Likewise, the feedback obtained by R and A from system leaders in the completion of the 2011 Academic Report reinforced the importance of using results to drive the continuous improvement process. R and A converted the immediate credibility and recognition it received from the 2011 Academic Update into momentum that would drive the Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture beyond the realms of the department to other educational arenas within DPS.

The second data analysis venture that allowed R and A to model its Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture was through the creation of the Early Warning Tracking System Data Protocol. Beginning in late fall 2011, Ms. Karin Beckett, Data Analyst and Program Evaluator and designer of the Early Warning Tracking System Data Protocol for DPS, created data files for elementary schools that measured the presence of at-risk indicators (variables) for all students. The purpose of the Early Warning Tracking System Data Protocol and how its data can be used to better meet the educational and socio-emotional needs of elementary school students was presented to Elementary Area Superintendents, principals, assistant principals and school instructional facilitators. At the request of Area Superintendents and other members of the DPS Executive Leadership Team, the Early Warning Tracking System Data Protocol was modified and expanded to assess at-risk indicators for middle and high school students during the spring 2012.

...the Early Warning Tracking System Data Protocol was modified and expanded to assess at-risk indicators for middle and high school students

A fourth step taken within R and A during the 2011-12 school year to promote the importance of establishing a Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture within DPS was the increased emphasis on creating and administering surveys in an effort to assess various programs and initiatives currently active within DPS. Processes for administering high-quality surveys, which included establishing an annual survey calendar, creating accurate sample lists for administered surveys and concluding each survey with a comprehensive analysis of the survey data, were established.

A final endeavor that has allowed R and A to promote its support of the Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture throughout the school system has been the development of various professional development training sessions that have empowered DPS administrators and teachers to implement Data-to-Action strategies within their departments and schools. Since the late fall, 2011 professional development training modules have been developed for the Early Warning Tracking System Data Protocol and the use of the K12 Insight Survey software platform, which will allow constituents to gather data on various programs and initiatives at the system and school-levels.

The Data-to-Action Vision for R and A;  2012-13 and Beyond

The initial goal R and A intends to pursue in its promotion and support for a Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture throughout DPS during the 2012-13 school year is the re-design of the R and A web page on the DPS website. Throughout the summer 2012, DPS employees external to the R and A department have collaborated with members of R and A on the desired information they wish to see incorporated on the re-designed R and A website. The new website will improve communication between R and A and its school system and external constituents. A second point of emphasis for R and A throughout the 2012-13 school year is to continue to establish written processes and procedures for customer service. Working towards this goal should result in R and A delivering higher-quality, customer service for which Superintendent Becoats is a strong proponent. A third major point of emphasis for R and A throughout the 2012-13 school year is to continue to design and deliver professional development sessions that will empower DPS constituents with the data analysis skills they need to continue the promotion and support of a Data to-Action, results-oriented culture in their schools and departments. A final point of emphasis for the R and A department for the 2012-13 school year is to continue to provide the behind-the-scenes, data analysis services needed by DPS’s model for data-driven leadership, Superintendent Eric J. Becoats. As Dr. Becoats and his Executive Leadership Team recognize the need for the assessment of current educational programs and initiatives within DPS, R and A will strive to model the Data-to-Action, results-oriented culture that drives our data analysis work, and which we emphatically support and promote to all administrators and educators within DPS.

Accountability

Accountability Needed Today for Success Tomorrow

Transforming Education: Delivering on our Promise to Every Child

The Council of Chief State School Officers

It is imperative that we transform the national education agenda so that each and every child may succeed. This paper identifies four areas of focus that will lead the systems change necessary for a true transformation of teaching and learning. Those areas are Next Generation Learning; Standards, Assessment, and Accountability; System of Educator Development; and Comprehensive Data Systems. The main purpose and intention of this document is to fuel discussion, establish a rationale for why we have chosen these four areas of work, highlight the connections among the areas and outline next steps.

Testing, Standards, & Accountability:  Overview

National Conference of State Legislatures

This article provides an overview of the possibilities of a standards-based accountability system, which sets goals in the form of standards, assigns responsibilities for meeting those goals and holds the system accountable for its performance. Under this type of system, the state’s role changes from ensuring compliance with regulations, to providing incentives and offering technical assistance to build school capacity. Included with the article is a list of resources on education accountability systems.

CEO Message

When discussing education today, it’s difficult to escape the topic of accountability. Educators and legislators alike have perspectives and priorities regarding accountability – from how to change the current system, to teacher evaluations, to measuring student achievement and to who is accountable when a school fails to meet the educational needs of students.

When discussing education today, it’s difficult to escape the topic of accountability. Educators and legislators alike have perspectives and priorities regarding accountability – from how to change the current system, to teacher evaluations, to measuring student achievement and to who is accountable when a school fails to meet the educational needs of students.

What do we want from our future accountability systems? We certainly want them to result in improvement and effectiveness. We want accountability systems to use information and data, expand beyond a single test, be transparent and include monitoring. Also, accountability systems must include diagnostic review. Diagnostic review is a causal analysis that can highlight problems early and lead to targeted interventions. Diagnostic review is included in the key principles of next generation accountability proposed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and is part of the ESEA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate HELP committee in October 2011.

Most importantly, the accountability systems of today that focus on the institution and the teacher’s effectiveness to improve student learning must transform to a learner-centric approach in the future. As students continue to expand and diversify their learning ecology to include multiple education providers, we must create an accountability system that measures, analyzes, and improves learning for every student in a customized and personalized manner. Current diagnostic review practices must move from the system and school level to the individual student level and provide a root cause analysis that informs and enables every provider to enact targeted strategies specific and unique to each learner. Our current accountability systems continue to challenge our ability to realize our desired expectations for student learning. However, with continued efforts to increase and improve our capacity to create and sustain an aligned accountability system that is learner-centric, we will meet the challenge of improving learning for every student.

This issue of AdvancED Source, with a theme of Accountability Needed Today for Success Tomorrow, explores many perspectives regarding accountability – from a high school principal, a state superintendent, a research organization, a district administrator and even a student. We have arrived at, as author Art Coleman, managing partner and co-founder of EducationCounsel, shares, “a pivotal moment of transition and transformation in education policy and practice” in his article Key Trends and Implications for Elementary and Secondary Educators and Policy Makers.

Authors Dr. Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt and Dr. Sabrina Lane of the American Institutes of Research explore teacher effectiveness and evaluation in their article, Strengthening Teacher Evaluation in the Age of Accountability. Take a look at their measures of teacher effectiveness.While private schools do not need to meet many of the same state requirements of public schools, they are accountable to those who elect to pay for their children’s education. Dr. Derek Keenan, vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), outlines the accountability challenges facing private schools in his article, Reputation, Reenrollment, Results.

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday and Interim Associate Commissioner Susan Allred in their piece, How States Can Meet the Challenge of College and Career Readiness, share some of their latest work on state accountability systems. Authors Dr. Sharon Riley Ordu, director of an early college high school and founder and CEO of ETLL Consulting, and Dr. P. Augustine Ordu, a full professor and Chief Operating Officer and Managing Associate of ETLL Consulting, explore the Seven Levels of Accountability for Student Success.

In Surviving the New Age of Accountability, Jacquelyn A. Jacobson, principal of Wickenburg High School, provides a humorous, and serious, look at the challenges facing building administrators as they implement new accountability requirements. Matteson School District leaders, Dr. Blondean Davis and Dr. Brian Ali, examine who should be held accountable for student learning in their article, Student Learning is our Work.

AdvancED Source is fortunate to have received an article from Minnesota New Country School student, Ally Kroehler. In her piece, Holding Students Accountable, she asserts that students must be accountable for themselves and their future. Our issue wraps up with Promoting and Supporting a Data-to-Action, Results-Oriented Culture within Durham Public Schools. School system leaders, Dr. Brent Cooper and Dr. Terri Mozingo, along with Dr. Dustin Johnson, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at High Point University, describe Durham’s new accountability approach and implementation.

With the focus on accountability only increasing, we appreciate our authors sharing their experiences and expertise as we explore Accountability Needed Today for Success Tomorrow.

Teaching & Learning

When you visit a middle or high school science classroom, what do you see? You may see students working on tablets or laptops, a teacher projecting the latest NASA images on the interactive white board, or a laboratory filled with probes and other gadgets. Does this mean you’ve entered a classroom that prepares students to negotiate the rapidly-changing yet imminently accessible global knowledge base?

When you visit a middle or high school science classroom, what do you see? You may see students working on tablets or laptops, a teacher projecting the latest NASA images on the interactive white board, or a laboratory filled with probes and other gadgets. Does this mean you’ve entered a classroom that prepares students to negotiate the rapidly-changing yet imminently accessible global knowledge base?

Probably not. After a decade of ogling the shiny devices that promised instant student transport to the information age, I think we are finally ready to admit that they were necessary but hardly sufficient. We need to dig deeper and ask serious questions about the architecture of our courses and programs those devices were purchased to support. What, exactly, should drive curricular designs in an information age? After leading teams to develop over 2000 pages of secondary STEM content and visiting over 1000 secondary classrooms, I share with you four considerations for changing the shape of secondary STEM programs, as well as the curricula supporting them. While my team strongly believes in supporting skills development, the following considerations focus on how to help students negotiate information in the 21st century.

Information Schema

Our brains naturally utilize hierarchies and patterns to make sense of the information that bombards us from a plethora of sources. Without an internal organizational network or schema, we cannot assimilate new information easily (Piaget, 1983). Just for fun, ask your fellow colleagues whether their courses are planned with networks, patterns/themes or hierarchies in mind. We notice that even in a project-based learning environment, curricular designs tend to cover certain content only once and foster skills in a haphazard manner. We need to think more deeply, as a field, about curricular models that build long-term vertical coherence and are fortified by networks of horizontal connections. These are the constructs that will serve students well in an information age.

In a way, curriculum is schema for the brain of the school. What patterns and perceptions are we helping students build via the STEM curricular designs we employ?

  • Math done in math class is different from math done in science class.
  • Chemistry and Biology are only related to each other in the easy, beginning chapters of the textbook—or in the call-out boxes that no one reads.
  • Engineering is something that only older students in advanced math or physics are permitted to do.
  • Technology = Digital Devices

Many high school math and science courses are built according to topic- or chapter-based designs. These designs tend not to emphasize knowledge networks or iteration. Rather, topic-based curricular models deliver information packets in a single sequence within a single timeframe. While I agree that much of math and science builds over time, the user interface of STEM classroom curriculum is often a ‘learn it, leave it and lose it’ experience for students. This is the schema for information accountability that many of our students may be building:

  • The teacher determines how many information packets are going to be on the test.
  • The teacher determines when the test is taken.
  • Students who are not ready for the test are slow learners.
  • After a long hiatus, information packets from the beginning of the year must be re-learned for one big test at the end of the year.

Information gained in school and information gained in the real world are organized by completely different schemas. It is ludicrous to add hardware and software to curricular models that bear no resemblance to the way information is organized and assimilated in the 21st century—or in the human brain.

Information Assimilation

Piaget (1983) felt that the easiest way to acquire new information is through the process of assimilation, since new information can fit into existing schemas without trouble. This requires existing schemas to serve children well. How can our STEM curricular designs better prepare students to assimilate new information over extended periods of time? As one initial step, we can heed the research and build coherent vertical schemas for critical concepts with which we know students struggle. It is imperative that we remove curricular barriers to subsequent learning progress.

For example, we know that fractions and ratios are gateway concepts to Algebra success (Watson, 2014). It’s time to design curricula that intentionally revisits fractions time and again, in different disciplines, and for several critical years in upper elementary and middle school. Moving up the math vertical, Algebra I & II become gateway courses to university success—regardless of major (Adelman, 1999). So why are we not populating middle and early high school science and technology courses with more Algebra, using persistent schemas?

Another way to support information assimilation is to ensure that students have enough appropriate schemas in their repertoire. The current model of ‘school’ requires a degree program, an instructor, a class schedule and a syllabus populated with electronic and print resources. Yet in the information age, both formal and informal learning can happen anywhere one has a mobile device and connectivity. By adhering to traditional learning formats, we are not positioning students to enter a world of learning opportunities that do not fit traditional school schemas. Learning needs to equate to multiple, varied schemas in the minds of our young people, or we will be to blame for generations of people who are ill-equipped to learn in the 21st century.

Information Integration

Our team has thought deeply about the organization and volume of content that belongs in a single year of secondary STEM curriculum. Many teachers lament that there simply is not enough time to cover the content required for success on state and national exams. On a course-by-course basis, we agree. However, as we zoom out and view secondary STEM verticals, we begin to see how inefficient curricular models waste precious time.

Here is a simple exercise to conduct with your high school science faculty: Convene the group and their accompanying curriculum maps or pacing guides. Review the beginning of everyone’s year. What chapters are taught first? The Scientific Method? “[fill in the subject] and You?” Does the biology teacher go over a little chemistry, but not too much? What biology, chemistry and earth science concepts are retaught (in the same way) in that Environmental Science elective? Note whether the same concepts are named either nuclear chemistry or nuclear physics depending on the course. Then add up all time across courses devoted to the ‘ramp-up’ or overlapping content. Fascinating, right?

Deconstructing just two of the four years of subject-specific high school science to create a more integrated approach can afford more time for deeper, spiraled learning experiences. Not only does integration better resemble the way STEM is authentically practiced, it also helps complex, real-world issues come to the fore. The integrated curricular schema helps connect student learning to their future adult lives.

Deconstructing just two of the four years of subject-specific high school science to create a more integrated approach can afford more time for deeper, spiraled learning experiences.

From a logistical standpoint, integration can open pathways for students formerly stuck in a track due to scheduling issues. And the integration of two or more of the STEM subjects might also encourage higher enrollments in advanced courses (Rubin and Wilson, 2001). In June 2014, a group of researchers from the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) released a series entitled Supporting the Implementation of NGSS through Research. Their call to action resonates harmoniously with an integrated curricular approach.

Information Generation (Content Creation)

Regardless of curricular model, educators must make a single profound decision daily: who in the classroom is generating the information used by the classroom? One of my favorite New Zealand educators, Karen Boyes, says “we must stop giving students the final product of our own thinking.” Yet when I visit STEM classrooms I see teachers using PowerPoints and Prezis to deliver snazzy products of their own thinking. The only person actually negotiating raw information is the teacher, and 99 percent of the time that negotiation is completed prior to class.

Of course, time and testing are the culprits: “We need to explain the content clearly to students so we can get through the curriculum in time for the [insert your favorite standardized] test.” I urge the field to consider, however, what students are supposed to do when the real world feeds them raw information. Not only might the information itself look different, it undoubtedly will be conveyed using different language. Do our 21st century students possess the cognitive enzymes necessary to digest raw information themselves?

Students do require direct instruction and explanation from the teacher, but we need to reduce the percentage of pre-digested information they receive. In STEM classrooms, raw information is free and plentiful, available in the form of large public data sets, reference tables, real-time satellite images, global reports on hot topics, environmental regulations, credible blogs, open-source code, etc. And, by consuming raw information that is readily available, students hone the critical thinking skills necessary for information production.

Ultimately, students should produce their own information while simultaneously learning how experts have done the same over time. In this fashion, students become hands-on apprentices to the masters—masters that include but are not limited to their teachers.

STEM contexts provide exciting, rich opportunities for ushering students into the information age. It is time to provide curricular designs that optimize the delivery of meaningful STEM learning experiences.

References:

Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the toolbox: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor’s degree attainment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Carlson, J., Davis, E. A., & Buxton, C. (2014). Supporting the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) through research: Curriculum materials. Retrieved from https://narst.org/ngsspapers/curriculum.cfm

EduChange, Inc. (2014). Project-based Learning and Integrated Science. Los Angeles: EduChange, Inc. Retrieved from http://educhange.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/PBL-vs-Integrated-Science.pdf

McCain, T.  (Ed.). (2005). Teaching for tomorrow: Teaching content and problem-solving skills (1st ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Corwin.

Piaget, J. (1983). Piaget's theory. In P. Mussen (ed). Handbook of Child Psychology. (4th ed., Vol. 1). New York, NY: Wiley.

Rubin, C. S. & Wilson, S. (2001, October). Inquiry by design: Creating a standards-based high school science program. The Science Teacher, 38-43. Washington, D.C.: National Science Teachers Organization.

Watson, E. (2014, April 24). Fractions: The gatekeeper to algebraic thinking. [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.watsonmath.com/2014/04/24/fractions-the-gatekeeper-to-algebraic-thinking/

Teaching & Learning

Seemingly everything about our schools is changing as America shifts from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information economy–demographics, technology, curriculum, standards and testing. The skills and knowledge students need, as they compete for jobs with peers from around the world, have risen to the highest levels in history.

Seemingly everything about our schools is changing as America shifts from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information economy–demographics, technology, curriculum, standards and testing. The skills and knowledge students need, as they compete for jobs with peers from around the world, have risen to the highest levels in history. Demands for accountability by policy makers have mounted. The job of teacher today is very different than it was only a few decades ago; however, teacher preparation has remained stagnant.

This has served our students and our schools poorly, particularly in high-need schools and high-need subjects such as science and math. As AdvancED readers already know, research shows that having a great teacher is the single most important element of learning for children, especially those in high-need schools.

The question, then, is how to bridge the current realities with the clear needs for the future. With all we know about teaching and learning in the 21st century, how can we ensure that the next generation of educators, those who will only know a digital age, are the classroom leaders we need and seek, as well as those the future demands?

Pipeline of Excellent Teachers

Our experience with the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship has taught some key lessons about how to accomplish this.

In states like Indiana and New Jersey, Ohio and Michigan, and now Georgia, we are seeing new paths blazed in the area of teacher preparation. There, institutions of higher education are partnering with local school systems, state government leaders and community voices to redesign teacher education. The objective: to better prepare tomorrow’s teachers, ensuring that they are ready to take full advantage of new paradigms they will face during a career in the classroom—and at the same time, to change the way future educators are prepared.

There, institutions of higher education are partnering with local school systems, state government leaders and community voices to redesign teacher education.

For the past seven years, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation has been working in these states to help spur the reinvention of teacher education. Today, we are partnering with 28 universities to ensure a strong pipeline of excellent STEM teachers for tomorrow’s classrooms. As a result, those who either have been or are currently Teaching Fellows will touch the lives of more than 1.5 million students over a 15-year teaching career. Just as important, these Fellowship programs are now serving as a model for how a new, more relevant approach to teacher preparation can be institutionalized in states that share little in common other than a desire to improve the teacher education process and close the achievement gaps.

STEM Teacher Preparation

The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows program is focused on preparing the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers, because that is where state leaders told us they had the greatest need, particularly in historically underserved and disadvantaged communities. By focusing on the area of teacher preparation most acutely in need of redesign, we have identified four key lessons important to the ongoing dialogue on how to better align teaching and learning with the opportunities before us. 

Recognize that recruiting STEM teachers is difficult. It can be challenging to recruit STEM teachers, particularly recent college graduates who are being offered attractive private-sector career opportunities.  That is why it is important to seek prospective educators from non-traditional paths. In addition to pursuing recent college graduates, for instance, we must also look to career changers, veterans and those with private-sector STEM experience.

Move beyond standard coursework. Today, effective teacher education requires three key components—rigorous, relevant and up-to-date academic instruction; intensive clinical experience integrated with academics; and ongoing mentoring. Each piece is essential to the success of both the teacher and the student, and none can be overlooked.

Focus on high-need schools and high-need subjects. This is where the real shortages are. It seems unlikely there will ever be a shortage of elementary school teachers in the nation’s suburbs. We must ensure that our teacher education efforts build stronger pathways into high-need schools, providing a wealth of excellent middle and high school teachers in urban and rural communities. 

In both Ohio and Indiana, components of the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships are focusing particularly on rural communities’ often-overlooked need to strengthen STEM education. Through Purdue University, Fellows are part of a statewide “STEM Goes Rural” initiative. And in Ohio, the Ohio University Learning Network uses distance-learning models to ensure strong collaboration between Fellows in rural areas and their mentors elsewhere in the state.

Reinforce the importance of mentoring. In other industries, mentors support new employees for years, even decades. We should bring the same best practice to the teaching field. Every new teacher should have a mentor for at least the first three years in the classroom. And that mentor should support additional professional learning, with both pedagogical and practical help.

Positive Outcomes

When the Foundation began the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships, there were some who said that the goal was impossible to achieve. That excellent teachers couldn’t be prepared at traditional education schools. That it was too ambitious to focus on STEM teachers for high-need schools. That we were expecting too much from a field that is experiencing high turnover, particularly of new teachers in hard-to-staff schools. Rather than adjust the “floor,” we focused on the ceiling. All Fellows earn a master’s degree at a partner university. All gain certification in a STEM subject. All go through a year-long rigorous prep program before becoming a teacher of record. All commit to three years as a teacher and receive the support and mentoring throughout those three years to succeed.

The result? Let’s look to Indiana to see the potential outcomes. In school systems there, more than 85 percent of Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows remain in the classroom after their three-year commitment. The teachers themselves are quickly becoming the excellent teachers we collectively seek, especially given that more than 90 percent of Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows have field STEM certification, compared to just 20 percent of non-Fellow peers.

Amerah Abed, a 2012 Woodrow Wilson Ohio Teaching Fellow said, “I teach STEM because it’s the future.” It is educators like Abed that are the future. As 21st century classrooms, schools and expectations continue to shift, we need to ensure that the educators leading those classes have the knowledge, skills and confidence to rise to the occasion. We hope other states will learn from the new ground broken by states like Indiana, Michigan and Ohio to reimagine how we prepare the classroom leaders of tomorrow.

CEO Message

Welcome to the inaugural digital issue of The Source. For more than five years, AdvancED has been publishing the AdvancED Source twice a year for educational leaders around the world. With each issue, we have received accolades for the content, ideas and innovation presented by our authors. However, we recognized that printing the AdvancED Source limited our reach and audience. We asked ourselves, “Why limit the distribution to 30,000 when we can reach over 100,000 educators by publishing the content online?”

Welcome to the inaugural digital issue of The Source.  For more than five years, AdvancED has been publishing the AdvancED Source twice a year for educational leaders around the world.  With each issue, we have received accolades for the content, ideas and innovation presented by our authors.  However, we recognized that printing the AdvancED Source limited our reach and audience.  We asked ourselves, “Why limit the distribution to 30,000 when we can reach over 100,000 educators by publishing the content online?”

Renamed The Source, our new online knowledge resource will include the bi-annual, theme-based publication while also connecting viewers to videos and opinion pieces throughout the year.  Additionally, readers will be able to access back issues of the AdvancED Source and search for topics under pre-populated categories.

For this inaugural issue, we have explored the topic – Today’s Learning Paradigm.  How has today’s digital age student changed the learning environment?  As teachers and administrators around the world are adapting educational cultures, embracing social media, and applying technology and new instructional techniques, students are becoming their own teachers, accessing media for content and knowledge beyond the classroom.  Our authors for the fall 2014 issue explore how classrooms and other platforms of learning are preparing the next generation of teachers, engaging students in defining their own outcomes, integrating technology as a tool for producing and creating, and educating today’s students for their futures.

Cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito in Learning that Connects explores connected learning that allows young people to pursue a personal interest or passion and link this learning to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement.  Ito, Professor in Residence and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California, Irvine, also provided a must watch video on students’ new media practices.

We welcome back Gary Marx, president of the Center for Public Outreach, who wrote for one of the first issues of AdvancED Source.  Author of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future, Marx examines the realities facing educators and a refreshed paradigm for today’s learning in his article, Getting Students Ready for a Fast-Changing World.

Monica Martinez, author of Deeper Learning:  How Eight Innovative Public Schools are Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century and former member of the AdvancED Board of Trustees, shares core strategies used by eight public schools that offer an inspiring and expanded vision of what’s possible in schools today.  In her article, she suggests a framework for educators and schools to rise to the challenge of preparing all students for college, careers and the world today.

Assistant Headmaster at the Delphian School in Oregon, Mark Siegel introduces profiency-based education supported by individual academic programs for all students.  In his article, A New Paradigm – Putting All Students in the Driver’s Seat, he discusses how a shift away from time-based learning opens the door for fully educating all.

In The Heart:  An Underused Tool for Digital Learning, Angela Maiers, founder of Choose2Matter, a global movement that challenges and inspires students to work collaboratively to develop innovative solutions to social problems, urges readers to consider that students learn best when focused on what matters most to them.  Award-winning educator, author and speaker Maiers challenges, “students and teachers are using technology simply to do old things in new ways.”

Catherine Saldutti, President of Educhange, Inc., explores what should drive curricular designs in an information age.  Her article, STEM Curricular Designs for an Information Age, suggests how educators can develop an information schema that more effectively delivers STEM education at middle and secondary levels.

Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine examines the critical need to change teacher preparation programs to ensure that the next generation of educators will meet future demands.  In Redesigning Teacher Preparation Today for the Classrooms of Tomorrow, Levine provides key lessons gleaned from several state models for better aligning teaching and learning.

We want to thank each of our authors for their insights into Today’s Learning Paradigm and their contributions to this inaugural, digital issue of The Source.  While we will reach 100,000 educational leaders with a link to this issue, we hope you will help us reach 100,000 more.  Pass along an article or link, share a comment, join our social network, connect with an author, and let us know what you think about our new online knowledge resource. Finally, share this resource with your students and use it to spark a dialogue about their perspective on learning.  After all it is readiness for their future we must ensure.

Learning Environments

Today's Learning Paradigm

Blogging in the 21st-Century Classroom

Michelle Lampinen, Edutopia

High school English teacher, Michelle Lampinen shares her initiative to expand her students’ writing through blogging.  She built assignments around several objectives and encouraged students to incorporate other classes.

Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century: Out of the Trenches and Into the Future

Gary Marx, Education Week

Futurist and author Gary Marx provides a quick look at his groundbreaking book, Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century: Out of the Trenches and Into the Future. This go-to guide for thinking and planning outlines an array of significant trends with that can define our lives and our futures. 

What the Heck Do We Do with Social Media

Betty Ray, Edutopia

As a follow-up to the annual ISTE conference, Betty Ray provides the many perspectives among educators regarding social media.  She includes examples from educators and provides some first steps for getting started with social media in education communities.

Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century

monicamartinez.com

In Deeper Learning, authors Monica Martinez and Dennis McGrath offer a transformative framework for learning that has led to standout results in schools across the country and has the potential to support the development and success of every student.

3 New Teaching Methods Improve the Educational Process

Sonia Jackson, Getting Smart

Author Sonia Jackson explores three modern teaching methods that are engaging and impactful.

CEO Message

Few can dispute the need to identify and act on opportunities to transform our schools and school systems for the 21st century learner. Is it easy? Never. Does it challenge some of our most talented educators? Often, yes. Are we confident in where the changes will lead us? Often not. Is it the right thing to do, even if it takes trial and error? Absolutely!

Few can dispute the need to identify and act on opportunities to transform our schools and school systems for the 21st century learner. Is it easy? Never. Does it challenge some of our most talented educators? Often, yes. Are we confident in where the changes will lead us? Often not. Is it the right thing to do, even if it takes trial and error? Absolutely!

Schools and school systems around the world are facing the need to change, and many are embracing it. They are finding the resources, innovation, tools and courage to transform their schools and school systems into learning environments that serve the next generation of students. Transformation can take place in many ways — technology, culture, function, and leadership. However it requires us to break free of our “boundaries” and ensure that we provide a global education for the students of the future.

In this issue of AdvancED Source, we invited authors to share their viewpoints and expertise on Transforming Schools. The result is a rich perspective from many angles that will build your confidence to leverage your power to transform your school.

This issue opens with Dr. Robert Evans, author of The Human Side of Change. His article, The Savvy School Change Leader, explores how savvy leaders focus their efforts and maximize their leverage to truly achieve their goals. Recognized researcher and author Dr. Andrew Zucker shares how technology is making schools more effective and engaging, and yet must be integrated wisely and with clear purposes. See his article, Using Digital Tools to Help Transform Schools, to explore how technology can help you meet the challenge of transforming your school.

Dr. Jillian Darwish, Vice President of Organizational Learning and Innovation at KnowledgeWorks, examines the emerging demands for learners and some educational leaders who are successfully pioneering approaches to transforming schools and to building learners’ capacity to communicate and collaborate in our globally interdependent world. Her article is entitled Transforming Education: Trends, Models and Policy. Roy Chan with the National Center for Time and Learning provides a case study on achievement gains experienced by Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School when more time was added to the learning schedule each day — Transforming Schools through Expanded Learning Time.

In Transition to a Catholic School District, Francine Conway and Mary Elizabeth Rhodes, with a collective 70 years of educational experience, share a practical approach for school systems to help ensure the quality of their individual schools. AdvancED’s  Dr.Vicki Denmark, Vice President for Innovation, in her piece, Transformational Leadership: a Matter of Perspective, outlines the skills and characteristics of transformational leaders, aligning them with research and practice. Elementary School Principal Dr. Sabrah King and University Faculty Member Dr. Dustin Hebert describe five hallmarks to cultivating a culture that is aligned with the vision in Five Hallmarks for the School Culture You Want.

Patricia Deklotz, Superintendent of Kettle Moraine School District, shares her school system’s journey to transform the educational delivery system to better meet the needs of all students in The Road to Meeting Individual Learners’ Needs. Dr. Anthony Muhammad, author of Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division, describes the four primary categories of individuals in a school culture and how the interaction among them can make school reform difficult. His article is entitled Understanding the Framework for Change.

We are grateful to our authors for sharing their viewpoints on what truly matters in Transforming Schools.

Leadership

To travel widely in good schools is to meet many talented, dedicated leaders who are in over their heads.  Not in terms of their skills but of their goals.  They are adept at running their institutions but swamped by their commitments. 

To travel widely in good schools is to meet many talented, dedicated leaders who are in over their heads.  Not in terms of their skills but of their goals.  They are adept at running their institutions but swamped by their commitments.  They’ve embraced complex changes and lofty challenges that are far beyond their schools’ reach.  Overreaching, however, is de rigeur in American education.  Since the early 1980s it has been a defining characteristic of school improvement.  The academic outcomes expected of schools and the non-academic responsibilities assigned to them have mushroomed beyond anything imaginable back then.  This reach for greater height, breadth, and depth has become a source of purpose and pride for many educators.  But it has become a heavy burden.  In schools of all kinds delivering on all the goals and responsibilities has become a source of growing frustration and declining morale, posing a real challenge to leaders.

The savviest leaders I’ve met are committed to innovation and improvement, but in a no-nonsense, practical way. They know that the conventional wisdom in the field vastly exaggerates the potential (and hence the apparent failure) of schools to shape the lives of children. They work hard in the service of their goals, but they know that there is a large gap between ideals and needs, realities and resources. They don’t just work hard, they think hard — about how much and how fast, about what they and their schools can truly achieve, given the students and families they serve and the resources they command.  The answers don’t inspire easy optimism, but they stimulate savvy leaders to focus their efforts and maximize their leverage.

The reform movements of the past 30 years have brought, among other changes, many new approaches in the areas of curriculum and instruction, special education, and technology and have spawned many efforts to improve students’ leadership skills and character development and to prevent a wide range of ills, from drug and alcohol abuse to bullying.  Together, all this makes a commitment that is truly noble — and hopelessly unrealistic.  It ignores a crucial fact of educational life:  on the day seniors graduate from high school they have spent, on average, less than ten percent of their lives — and none of their formative first years — in school. 

What happens in students’ non-school lives is increasingly undermining the habits, norms, and values that nurture academic achievement and social development. 

School’s narrow time window alone would make a sharp rise in performance expectations a difficult challenge.  Unfortunately, this rise in expectations has been accompanied by a sharp drop in student readiness.  It’s not just the quantity of students’ non-school time that looms so large, but its quality.  What happens in students’ non-school lives is increasingly undermining the habits, norms, and values that nurture academic achievement and social development.  The evidence is ubiquitous that more and more children arrive at school less ready to learn.  Not less intelligent, less ready to be students.  The fundamentals that make it possible for schools and teachers to influence children — from attendance, attention, and cooperation to courtesy, industry, and responsibility — are all in broad decline.

Savvy school leaders are practical.  They know all this.  They know that no matter what we might wish or legislators might mandate, their schools cannot fulfill the bloated agenda thrust upon them.  They want their schools to be the absolute best they realistically can.  But they know that this means choosing and concentrating.  They don’t try to fulfill everyone else’s agenda.  They aren’t inflexible, and they make compromises where they must, but they are clear and focused.

Clarity and Focus

Studies of high-performing systems repeatedly show that their leaders provide direction that is clear, and unambivalent — not dictatorial, but definite — that although leadership style may vary among such organizations, within each it tends to be remarkably consistent.  This clarity brings many advantages.  It fosters trust, the sine qua non of leadership.  When leaders are consistent, straightforward, and firm, staff members find them reliable and predictable.  High levels of trust raise confidence and competence and make the workplace more compatible, which in turn makes people more likely to cooperate and better able to tolerate stress.

Clarity also fosters commitment and garners attention.  Goals cannot be shared unless they are understood — none of us can invest in a vision we don’t grasp — and a consistent, lucid formulation of goals and their rationale over time creates clarity throughout an organization about broad purposes and immediate objectives.

One might theoretically be clear about a long list of goals, but the longer the list the harder it is to grasp, let alone fulfill.  Savvy leaders are focused on their goals and, by actively communicating their judgments about what is important, they bring focus to staff behavior.  Because few people can accomplish multiple complex changes at once, choosing where to concentrate is crucial — especially in schools, which are the object of so many different improvement efforts.  Even if choosing results from a collaborative planning process, someone will need to serve as its overseer and navigator.

When I recommend focus to educators most agree readily — they know the futility of the bloated improvement agenda better than anyone — but cannot imagine how they might even begin to press seriously for it.  One practical way is to advocate strongly and proactively for purposes that one values rather than against those one doesn’t.  Savvy leaders tend to control the terms of debate by asserting their key themes over and over.  Being so positively focused on their goals, they emphasize not just the external rationale of the effort, but its intrinsic rewards — how exciting, how promising, even how enjoyable it is.  This creates interest and invites participation.

A second way is to ask not just, “What do we need to start doing?” but also, “What can we stop doing?” Most of what is called “prioritizing” in schools does not result in a list of goals that is actually ranked but one in which each goal is a top “priority.” Savvy leaders are willing to de-emphasize one initiative (even though this will displease its advocates) so that faculty efforts can be concentrated on one that is more pressing.

Reach and Realism

Many writers on organizational innovation and proponents of school reform believe change agents should overreach.  They argue that change agents often have a brief window in which to accomplish their agenda and that, especially when the institution is entrenched in its outlook and practices, seeking incremental improvements will take forever.  They acknowledge that leaders who pursue a full-bore approach to change often fail to achieve their full agenda.  But, they claim, these leaders achieve more than they otherwise would.

I don’t recommend excessive caution, but I have consulted in over 1,600 schools, and I have never seen a school successfully implement multiple major innovations at one time.  I have seen leaders who took such an approach inspire much fear and loathing, and I’ve seen many of them be fired and most of the rest give up in dismay. The savviest school leaders know that they can’t succeed if they push themselves and their teachers to accomplish the impossible; everyone burns out.  But they also know that they can’t succeed if they simply accept the status quo as unchangeable; everyone gives up.  The art is to combine reach and realism.

These leaders don’t abandon their commitments, but they also don’t ignore psychological and organizational realities.  They are committed to high standards, for example, but not in the standard ways — not in the simplistic, absolutist fashion that has become the norm.  They know that historically schools have always reflected society more than they have shaped it and that this will continue to be the case.  Defining their own high standards, they keep reminding their teachers of both the challenge and the opportunity in working with today’s students.  They expect progress to be incremental and they don’t ignore small gains against long odds.  They set an example of perseverance, but not of perfectionism.  And they do for teachers what the best teachers do for students: they make it safe to try, they honor effort, and they celebrate meaningful growth, small and large, whenever it occurs.

Educational Change

The world changes amazingly quickly and schools need to change, too.  Among ourselves, we educators and policymakers discuss the transformation of schools, recognizing how great the changes in these institutions need to be.  Unfortunately the public does not like the term “transformation,” probably for the same reason many people dislike the idea of transforming the health care system.

The world changes amazingly quickly and schools need to change, too.  Among ourselves, we educators and policymakers discuss the transformation of schools, recognizing how great the changes in these institutions need to be.  Unfortunately the public does not like the term “transformation,” probably for the same reason many people dislike the idea of transforming the health care system.  The public fears that something familiar and important will be lost as institutions are transformed.  In fact, we know that the United States faces greater risks if our schools fail to improve fast enough than if they change too slowly.

Computers, the Internet, online courses, smart phones, cameras, interactive whiteboards, and other digital tools play an important role in improving and, yes, transforming schools.  The role of technology in schools will increase, and as we use these new tools wisely, they help make schools more effective and engaging.

Still, no one should pretend that today’s technology is like a magic cloak that turns an ordinary person into a super hero.  With or without technology, schools need more first-rate teachers, communities need new ways of organizing schools and related services, and funding must better reflect the higher costs of educating America’s neediest students.  Flawed assumptions in the No Child Left Behind Act should be replaced with a smarter set of incentives and a vision that incorporates broader goals for schools than performing well on multiple-choice tests.  It might be easier if technology could accomplish these changes—but it cannot.

Integrating Technology Wisely

Imagining the future of technology in schools is difficult, but science fiction author William Gibson, who coined the term cyberspace, once said “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” One school that does a beautiful job of incorporating technology in ways that seem futuristic to some visitors is the Denver School of Science and Technology, a public charter high school serving large numbers of students from poor and minority families.  The school provides laptops to all students, and teachers integrate digital media into all the core academic subjects. Teachers and students value the technology highly, yet the school’s mission statement does not mention technology, focusing instead on preparing all students for success in college and the 21st century while also aiming to graduate students “with character and a sense of civic responsibility.”  When the school rapidly became one of the best in Colorado, Denver asked for more schools just like it.

One lesson to learn from the Denver school is that digital tools serve as a means, not as an end.  Another lesson is that teacher leadership is as important as administrative leadership; many instructional software applications at the school were first used by teachers, who then spread the innovation.  Formal and informal learning communities for teachers are vitally important to support productive changes in schools.

Although they once seemed futuristic, online courses and online schools have been around for more than 15 years and are now common.  Used in the right way, by the right students, online courses have become a useful, well-accepted approach.

Surprising ways to use digital tools sometimes appear suddenly.  A few months ago almost no one had heard of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); now they are serving large numbers of learners.  At Stanford University, for example, 160,000 students last year enrolled in one online course about Artificial Intelligence.  Homework problems were machine-graded automatically.  Although the students do not gain University credit for taking this course, its popularity, and the technology behind it, is astonishing.

A significant innovation for elementary and secondary schools is that Apple and several publishers recently announced the release of school textbooks designed especially for iPads.  Last year, for the first time, the sale of trade e-books (electronic books) exceeded the sale of printed books in almost all categories, and experts believe it is only a matter of time before the same is true of textbooks.

Electronic textbooks delivered on a computer, or other device, can be interactive, including exercises for students that are automatically graded so students and teachers quickly know areas of strength and weakness.  E-textbooks can include movies, animations, simulations, spreadsheets, and other ways to learn and to solve problems that are not feasible in print.  Students can highlight e-textbooks, or write marginal notes, without damaging school property.  In the not-distant future, the cost of buying electronic devices and the e-texts will be low enough that many schools will see the cost benefit of abandoning printed textbooks.  Henrico County, Virginia, and Mooresville, North Carolina, are among the school systems that have already eliminated some or all printed textbooks.

Administrators need to ask themselves how well teachers and students in their schools are using computer-based tools (some of which are free) to learn, to create, and to solve problems.

The mathematics education community, among others, has realized for decades that technology not only makes it possible to teach and learn in new ways, it also changes what should be taught, such as how to solve problems.  Slide rules are out; symbolic computer algebra systems and other tools, often available inexpensively, are in.  In many school subjects, searching the Internet and vetting Web sources carefully are among the new basic skills for students, supplementing traditional library skills taught in pre-Internet days.  Administrators need to ask themselves how well teachers and students in their schools are using computer-based tools (some of which are free) to learn, to create, and to solve problems.

In science, computers make it possible for students to conduct experiments that would be too dangerous, expensive, or challenging for a school laboratory.  Simulations can make invisible phenomena, like atoms or heat, visible to students.  For example, the Concord Consortium’s free Molecular Workbench software includes lessons about diffusion, osmosis, protein folding, and dozens of other phenomena.  Students can change temperature, the concentration of chemicals in a solution, or other variables, and then watch representations of atoms and molecules respond accurately, obeying laws of physics and chemistry.  Such simulations deepen students’ understanding of concepts that are difficult to learn.

Using Technology to Support Multiple Education Goals

It is impossible to list the thousands of ways that schools use digital tools.  It is easier to consider the purposes served by using technology. Used wisely, technology can help:

  1. make schools more relevant and engaging;
  2. increase student achievement (for example, using word processors helps students to write better prose);
  3. provide a high-quality education for all students (e.g., by providing individualized practice to students who need it, or by automatically reading text on the screen aloud, if need be);
  4. attract, prepare, and retain high-quality teachers, many of whom feel empowered by the use of high-quality digital tools;
  5. increase links between home and school; and
  6. help provide accountability for results.

These six goals are recognized as important in virtually every state and school system in the nation.  Technology also can support other noteworthy goals, such as enabling students to become creators and generators of knowledge.

Educators, policymakers, and the public should think first about education goals, and then about using technology to help meet those goals.  For instance, is it important for your students to learn about the institutions that support a democratic society and to become thoughtful citizens?  If so, how can the Internet and other digital tools help your school meet this goal (which, sadly, is not part of many states’ education standards)?

Use Technology to Help Meet the Challenge

Since humans mastered the use of fire, which according to myth was stolen from the gods; technology has always been a two-edged sword, creating problems as well as opportunities.  Today’s students may have shorter attention spans in school, multi-task too often without regard for the impact of doing so much at once, and read fewer books than their parents and grandparents did.  Schools must pay information technology (IT) staff and address a variety of new technological problems, from fighting computer viruses to keeping private information truly private.

Nonetheless, like it or not, the genie is not going back into the bottle.  Schools should learn to harness the best applications of technology while minimizing and mitigating the costs and risks.  Unquestionably the benefits are great.

One notable risk is that the most important function of technology in schools will be to reduce costs.  It would be sad to become a more stratified society, with students from low-income families receiving an inexpensive computer-based education focusing on drills, while those from more affluent families were taught to think by live teachers.

In recent years we have experienced several economic “bubbles,” including the dot com boom-and-bust of the late 1990s, and the more recent mortgage debacle.  Education has more than its share of “bubbles,” with gurus suggesting computer games are “the answer” or that online courses or some other idea will soon, and inevitably, result in huge benefits for the education system.  These bubbles pop and evaporate— but the Internet and digital tools are here to stay.  The challenge is to use them wisely to transform schools in ways that help students and thus our whole society.

Educational Change

The rapid proliferation and advancement of digital tools, content, and platforms are undeniably key contributors to a transformed view of learning and schooling. 

Since 2006, KnowledgeWorks has studied major trends and drivers of change that are transforming our fundamental assumptions and relationships at all levels of society.  We investigate, with our partners at the Institute for the Future, how new tools, processes, and resources are altering our interactions with ourselves; within our organizations; and with systems, societies, and economies.  We also examine how these shifts are dramatically transforming every area of our individual and collective experiences, including our experience of, and expectations for, learning and education.

The rapid proliferation and advancement of digital tools, content, and platforms are undeniably key contributors to a transformed view of learning and schooling.  In fact, the possibilities offered by open education resources, mobile devices, and new types of learning platforms, when combined with growing interest in learning progressions, hyper-personalization, and alternative forms of credentials, are already beginning to suggest entirely new models for the future of education.  In these future-leaning models, students are experiencing learning that is customized, connected, amplified, authentic, relevant, and resilient.

These learners are:

  • Making an impact on their immediate and broader communities as they engage in service-based, project-based, and other types of immersive and authentic learning experiences
  • Contributing, co-creating, taking risks, feeling ownership, and even making use of failure as they engage in a continuous learning process
  • Using data to track their progress and to understand their cognitive, social, and emotional strengths and challenges
  • Collaborating with educators and with experts in their communities and around the world to customize rigorous learning experiences based on competency and interest instead of time and age.

As they do so, these learners are making robust connections to their own performance, their communities, and the world and are redefining what we prioritize as essential skills and capacities.  Each of these connections is important in its own right.  However, as globalization continues to redefine the economic, social, and cultural dynamics of contemporary societies, it is essential that our students develop the ability to work with a highly heterogeneous range of groups and individuals in order to thrive in the future.

Leading Examples

As complex as such emerging demands for learners may appear, there are leaders who are successfully pioneering approaches to transforming schools and to building learners’ capacity to communicate and collaborate in our globally interdependent world.

In one example, DaVinci Charter Academy in Davis, California, which is part of the New Tech Network of more than 90 schools, is embracing the demand to develop learners as connected citizens who can work collaboratively with a wide variety of individuals.  It is doing so by creating a culture characterized by trust, respect, and responsibility and by immersing students in project-based learning across the curriculum.  Lydia Dobyns, President of New Tech Network, tells the story of Sam Warren, a senior at DaVinci.  When asked to describe his experience at school, he says, “It’s not necessarily all about group projects in the literal sense, but a place where people are looking to learn from each other, rather than compete with each other all the time.  It is a very intellectually involved, warm, and welcoming community.” Sam goes on to say, “Students have the right to bend the rules with the help of the teacher for the sake of their learning.”

DaVinci Charter Academy in Davis, California is embracing the demand to develop learners as connected citizens who can work collaboratively with a wide variety of individuals... by creating a culture characterized by trust, respect, and responsibility

And how does Sam feel he will benefit long term from having attended DaVinci?  “I’m much better at communicating with all sorts of people in many different ways,” he said.  “I’ve been taught to properly communicate with peers, teachers, and community members.” As our world becomes smaller, Sam is developing the necessary skills to interact effectively with anyone and everyone he encounters in his community and around the globe.

From Ohio to Washington, EDWorks schools are focused on building students’ capacity to work with a wide range of individuals of all ages and all levels of expertise.  At the eSTEM Academy in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, students participate in regular “design challenges” through their Advisory classes, according to Harold Brown, President of EDWorks.  These cross-curricular design challenges require students to apply theory learned in mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies to solve real-world problems.  The problems that they address range from building a model roller coaster that moves cars with a specific g-force to creating new tools that help older adults overcome limited mobility.  At Delta High School in Richland, Washington, chemists, geologists, biologists, and engineers from the Pacific Northwest National Lab hold professional seminars for students on the school’s campus, coming into the classrooms to help students conduct experiments and find solutions to a wide range of community problems.

Policy Opportunities

The only unfortunate thing about the examples above is that they do not yet represent the typical experience of most students across the nation.  This disparity of experience creates what we might call an “old world learning” versus “new world learning” gap.  The good news is that federal and state policy can play a significant role in dissolving this gap, helping innovations such as these thrive and scale.  Specifically, according to Matt Williams, Vice President, National Advocacy and Partnerships at KnowledgeWorks, federal policy should address the following: transforming low-performing schools, reimagining the roles of school systems and communities, advancing educational technology, fostering innovation and research and development, and using data to drive continuous improvement.

At the state level, the Obama Administration’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver package presents an opportunity to rethink and re-scope the way states support schools and school systems by investing in a new accountability system and developing systemic supports for low-performing schools.  To fully capitalize on this waiver package, KnowledgeWorks recommends that states establish the following:  a new accountability system; innovative interventions; recognition and supports for low-performing schools; a new approach to state takeover of failing districts; and anytime, anywhere learning experiences for educators. 

Implementation of these state and federal policy recommendations will make it possible for more learners to experience high-quality learning experiences, such as those described in New Tech Network and EDWorks schools, which will prepare them to thrive in our globally connected world.

Learning Environments

Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School (OGPS) opened in 2003 amidst much fanfare. Its $30 million building represented a large-scale effort to revitalize one of Boston’s poorest communities. But for its first seven years, OGPS was plagued by low academic performance and high staff turnover.

Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School (OGPS) opened in 2003 amidst much fanfare. Its $30 million building represented a large-scale effort to revitalize one of Boston’s poorest communities. But for its first seven years, OGPS was plagued by low academic performance and high staff turnover. From 2003 to 2010, Orchard Gardens proficiency rates on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) stagnated below 20 percent in both English Language Arts (ELA) and math. “The best this school had ever done in the past was getting one-fifth of our students to proficiency,” says Toby Romer, the school’s director of professional development and data inquiry.

Due to its poor achievement history, Orchard Gardens was designated for turnaround status in April 2010. With an innovative plan centered on additional classroom time for all students and staff, the school has demonstrated impressive gains in just one year. While school-wide proficiency rates are still low overall, student growth in both English Language Arts (ELA) and math—as measured by the 2011 MCAS performance—was among the highest in the state, with a 10 percent jump in ELA and 16 percent in math from the previous year. As students and teachers gear up for 2012 assessments this spring, school leaders are anticipating another dramatic jump in performance.

Today, with additional time in their school day, Orchard Gardens’ students receive instruction rich in both depth and breadth. “One of the biggest reasons for my students’ success was the extended period of time with them,” says Ben Rockoff, the school’s seventh-grade math teacher. In 2011, the median student in Rockoff’s math classes ranked at the 92nd percentile among all Massachusetts seventh-grade students; only three seventh-grade math classrooms in the state demonstrated greater improvement. The expanded day also allows teachers—many of whom were new to the school in 2011—to devote time to setting clear expectations at the beginning of the year. Says Kellie Njenga, one of only two current staff members who have been at OGPS since its opening in 2003, “Compared to previous years, the biggest difference this year is the culture. We devoted a lot of time at the beginning of the year to teaching procedures and establishing a consistent set of expectations.” Today, visitors from the school system regularly remark that Orchard Gardens feels like a new school. An expanded school schedule has benefited teachers as well, providing them not only more time with their students, but more time for teacher collaboration and data analysis. “Collecting, analyzing, and actually planning around data requires a lot of time,” says Romer. “Setting aside time each week to do that was really important for our teachers to teach at a high level.”

As policymakers and educators continue to grapple with the compelling challenge of remaking our nation’s underperforming schools, many are realizing that an expanded school schedule for teachers and students offers tremendous promise. Orchard Gardens is an example of the transformative impact a longer school day can have when time is used effectively and in concert with other important reform measures.

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More Time for Focused Academics and a Well-Rounded Education

In the 2010-2011 school year, one hour was added each day for students in grades K to 5 and 8, and four hours for students in grades 6 and 7. For all students, the new school day created more time for ELA and math, with 110 minutes for each period in 2010 compared to only 75 minutes in 2009. Longer periods allowed teachers to work more closely with individual and small groups of students, as well as cover more material throughout the year.

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In addition to more time for core academics, the expanded day includes more time for academic supports and enrichment courses — including art, theater, dance, music, Mandarin, and physical education. From 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, sixth and seventh graders also receive homework support, math instruction, apprenticeship opportunities, and college-readiness courses offered by Citizens Schools, a major partner of Orchard Gardens. Although the school day for students in grades K to 5 and 8th grade ends at 2:30 every day, many stay after school. Staff from City Year — an AmeriCorps program that supports schools across the country — tutor approximately 30 students in the 8th grade after school. Younger students also receive after school tutoring from their classroom teachers, while a number of other students in grades K to 5 are enrolled in enrichment programs after school.

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“The existing schedule just wouldn’t have allowed us to both make the gains we wanted to make academically and educate kids in ways that aren’t measured by MCAS,” says Romer. Jessica, who began attending Orchard Gardens in 2008, as a fourth-grade student, explains, “The longer day gives me time to do homework, I have classes that I’d never had before, and it gives me more time to be with my friends.”

More Time for Teacher Development and Data Analysis

The longer day gives teachers additional time for both instruction and collaboration. Although the actual teacher work week has been extended by five hours, teachers only teach an additional four hours compared to years past; the remaining time is devoted to planning and teacher collaboration. During the 2010- 2011 school year, teachers began to meet weekly both in grade level and content teams. Content team meetings last 100 minutes and follow a highly structured protocol intended to focus teachers solely on data analysis and instructional strategies. “The data inquiry process is meant to be very teacher-driven,” says Romer. “Grade and content level teams are always allowed and encouraged to make their own decisions about instruction, but we want to establish the processes by which they respond to data so they can align strategies with what they know about their students.” Each week, teachers also meet in grade level teams for 50 minutes to discuss administrative and discipline issues. “We thought setting aside two separate times would help teachers focus only on the data and instruction during the 100-minute planning period,” says Romer.

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In addition to weekly collaboration meetings, Orchard Gardens also schedules 127 hours of professional development throughout the year—compared to only 30 hours at other Boston Public Schools. While Orchard Gardens has always had more professional development time compared to other Boston Public Schools, the time was often misspent. In 2011, the school made a number of changes in its delivery of professional development to better respond to teacher needs, including relying on its own teachers to lead sessions.

Looking Back and Ahead

Undoubtedly, transforming our nation’s lowest performing and most dysfunctional schools requires more than just additional time. In fact, layering additional time on top of significant management problems and instructional deficiencies can be futile or counterproductive. But when additional time is combined with other important reforms such as replacing ineffective leaders and teachers, building a more positive school culture, improving instruction, and integrating frequent and effective use of data, more time can have an important catalyzing and reinforcing impact on the transformation effort. In 2010, Orchard Gardens was able to effectively leverage expanded time to improve school culture, data analysis, and instruction in ways it could never have done within the confines of the traditional school day. At Orchard Gardens, increased learning time was a catalyst behind the school’s improvement model, which consists of four interactive components:

  1. Time: More time for rigorous academic instruction, engaging activities, and teacher collaboration
  2. People: Significant improvements in human capital by recruiting, hiring, and developing staff
  3. Data: Intensive use of data to drive improvements in instruction and respond to individual student learning needs
  4. School Culture: Dramatic changes to school-wide behavioral and academic expectations

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While the school has dramatically improved in just one year, Orchard Gardens is still far from attaining its ultimate goal: 90 percent proficient or above for all students in both ELA and math by the 2014-2015 school year. But with a longer school day, stronger leaders and teachers, and a more positive school culture, it is well on the way to becoming a true success story.

Continuous Improvement

The journey from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) model of our past to recognition by AdvancED as a School District has been an evolving process for the Office of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Richmond, VA.

The journey from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) model of our past to recognition by AdvancED as a School District has been an evolving process for the Office of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Richmond, VA. Having the distinction of being the first Catholic diocese to be recognized as a school district by AdvancED began six years ago when the former Assistant Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Maureen McCabe, initiated the dialogue with AdvancED. Pursuing an exciting new path in the quest for continued improvement and excellence for the 26 schools in the diocese (two high schools, three unit schools, and 21 elementary schools) was embraced by an enthusiastic committee who worked with her on developing a new instrument: Design for Growth. Paramount in the transition to the District model was the formation of a Quality Assurance Board to both guide the process and to maintain oversight for the continued growth of the diocesan schools into the 21st century. The Quality Assurance Board is composed of the Superintendent of Catholic Schools and school administrators and is chaired by a master teacher.

Editor’s Note: In the AdvancED District Accreditation process, the school system is responsible for ensuring that individual schools meet the Standards for Accreditation. Each school system is charged with developing its own quality assurance process to achieve this.

Quality Assurance

Complementing the process the system experiences through AdvancED District Accreditation, the mission of the Quality Assurance Board focuses on two major areas of guidance and oversight:

  • the Self-Study conducted by the schools every five years, and
  • the Yearly Reports submitted by the schools in the other years.

The Quality Assurance Board (QAB) monitors the accreditation process of the individual schools and serves as an ongoing resource for them. Each QAB member is assigned two to three schools and assists them in complying with the preparedness and reporting required by the school system. The role of the liaison demands that contact with the school be maintained throughout the year, ready to answer questions or clarify any issues that might arise. In order to assure no conflict of interest exists, and the integrity of the process is maintained, the liaison may not review the Annual Report nor serve on a Visiting Team for their assigned schools.

Self Study Instrument and Process

The Self-Study instrument, Design for Growth, consists of the current seven Accreditation Standards required by AdvancED and the supporting Indicators, which expand the Standards. In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Richmond developed two additional standards:

  • Standard A, “Continuous Development of a Christ-Centered Environment,” and
  • Standard B, “Effectiveness of Catholic Identity”

These standards were incorporated into the instrument as a reflection of the uniqueness of being a Catholic school system. They are supported by numerous indicators that contribute to compliance with the standard(s).

The schools assign faculty and staff to serve on committees for the standards. They, in turn, devote themselves to investigating and evaluating the level of compliance with the indicators and standard. These individual committees are overseen by a Steering Committee made up of the chairs from each of the Standard committees. When all of the committees have completed their work, the entire faculty and staff meets to achieve consensus on approving the document they have produced.

An essential component of the final Self-Study report is the list of goals that evolve from the self-evaluation process. The school is challenged to stretch themselves and to recognize the specific areas where growth is needed in order to support continuous improvement. The result is assurance that their students are being provided with the opportunities necessary to achieve excellence.

Visiting Team

At the completion of the Self-Study, a team composed of Quality Assurance Board members, conducts a Team Visit to the school. Prior to the visit, the team scrutinizes the Self-Study with attention being given to the appropriateness of the evidence used to support compliance with the standards and the indicators. Each member is assigned one or two standards that he/she will be responsible for thoroughly reviewing during the three-day visit.

Essential to this process is classroom visitation and observation. The team carefully monitors the level of instruction and the display of active learning by the students. Numerous interviews are conducted with a variety of stakeholder groups affiliated with the school. A number of surveys also will have been completed and published in the Self-Study document. The wide range of stakeholders surveyed includes students, parents, faculty, staff, PTO members and school advisory board members. The results of the surveys are scrutinized by the Quality Assurance Board members in order to identify any patterns that might emerge relevant to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the continuous improvement goals of the school.

Throughout the three day visit, the team collaborates on their findings and affirms the work that the school staff and faculty have accomplished with the self-evaluation. At the conclusion of the visit, the team submits a report that includes commendations and required actions. The commendations affirm the positive aspects that the school is accomplishing. The required actions are areas that the team concludes are in need of inclusion in the school’s continuous improvement process or enhancement to what might already be in place. Any required actions must then be included with the school’s own list of goals for each standard.

Five-year Strategic Plan

The next step for the school is to develop a five-year Strategic Plan, which maps out the timeline for accomplishing the goals in the Self-Study, as well as the required actions submitted by the Visiting Team. Each year, along with the Yearly Report, the school will send goal sheets for the upcoming year, one for each goal, to the Quality Assurance Board for review. The information required on the goal sheets includes the specific goal, the person(s) responsible for completing the goal, the steps taken to complete the goal, budget implications, timeframe, and the process to measure completion. In the event a goal cannot be accomplished in the assigned year, an accounting is required in the report for either moving it to another year or eliminating it entirely as being impossible to accomplish for legitimate reasons. The most common reason, in this situation, concerns the budget implications of the goal.

Yearly Report

The submitted goals are a part of the very comprehensive Yearly Report that is submitted by the end of October each year. Because the goal of Catholic education in the diocese is continuous improvement, the compliance and oversight of this goal is an integral requirement of the schools. The Yearly Report is an updated and simplified version of the Self-Study. The Office of Catholic Schools reformats the Self-Study, returning it to the school. In the Yearly Report each standard now has three columns added: “New”, “Deleted”, and “Goals”. If the school is still maintaining and doing the items listed as evidence for a standard, nothing is changed in the report. If they have added something to the evidence for the reporting year, it is included at the end of the evidence list with the date put in the “New” column. If there is any listed evidence that is no longer valid, the date of deletion is put in the “Deleted” column. Any of the goals assigned to the year are listed in the “Goals” column.

Because the goal of Catholic education in the diocese is continuous improvement, the compliance and oversight of this goal is an integral requirement of the schools.

The requirement for the submission of a Yearly Report, during the years between Self-Studies, results in the school continually evaluating itself. The Quality Assurance Board then reviews each of the Yearly Reports and conveys to the school any omissions, errors or need for clarifications. The school then returns the corrections to the Quality Assurance Board.

Commitment to Continuous Improvement

The completion of the Self-Studies and the Yearly Reports does not complete the work of the schools or the Quality Assurance Board. The commitment to continuous improvement is a dynamic process that compels the Diocese of Richmond to continually search for the most recent innovations to provide excellence in education. The Catholic District of Richmond is currently preparing for its second Self-Study and hosting a visiting team. In doing so, we are transitioning to the use of the newest AdvancED Standards/Indicators and the use of web-based school improvement tool to file all reports electronically. Responding to this new format and developing our unique requirements will be a challenge, but one that will continue the journey into 21st century education.

Leadership

Transformational schools and transformational leadership are terms easily and readily applied to educational institutions and leaders who are perceived, but not often verified, to have experienced or facilitated positive changes.

Transformational schools and transformational leadership are terms easily and readily applied to educational institutions and leaders who are perceived, but not often verified, to have experienced or facilitated positive changes. An improved school climate, increased student achievement, more involved stakeholders, more rigorous instruction, and/or fluid and transparent communications are expected to occur instantaneously and boldly once the label “underperforming” is attached to a school or leader. No matter the governing body, geographical region, or setting of an underperforming school, there is a common belief that the leader (singular) is solely responsible for changes to occur. This common belief is partly correct; however, transformation requires the leadership of more than one individual for pervasive and lasting change. Transformational leadership is not limited to the building principal or the school system superintendent; all educators in a building or school system must contribute to the evolution from an underperforming school or system to an effective school or system. To understand better transformational leadership, a quick trip back in time is needed.

Transformational Leadership Theory

Although extensive research conducted over four decades concludes that more research is needed to increase our understanding of leadership, a significant knowledge base has been established from which we can glean effective practices to influence and improve one’s leadership skills, especially in organizations that need improvement. Transformational leadership, a popular leadership theory, has research roots as early as 1978 when James McGregor Burns, considered the founder of modern leadership theory, defined a transformational leader as one who “looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower.” Although this model of leadership was developed for political leaders and without empirical evidence, it influenced other researchers to further conceptualize and make the model applicable to business and education. For example, Bass and Avolio (1994) and Leithwood (1994) developed the transformational leadership model for education, with a primary focus on school principals. Leithwood, Begley, and Cousins (1994), defined transformational leadership as leadership that “implies major changes in the form, nature, function and/or potential of some phenomenon; applied to leadership, it specifies general ends to be pursued although it is largely mute with respect to means.” Later, Bass (1998) continued to research this theory and determined that transformational leaders are judged by their impact on followers in the areas of trust, admiration, and respect.

Seven discrete characteristics of transformational leaders (or dimensions) were formulated by Leithwood (1994):

  1. building school vision and establishing goals,
  2. creating a productive school culture,
  3. providing intellectual stimulation,
  4. offering individualized support,
  5. modeling best practices and important organizational values
  6. demonstrating high-performance expectations, and
  7. developing structures to foster participation in school decisions.

These seven dimensions or characteristics for transformational leadership clearly align to the AdvancED Standards for Quality (see table below):

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Skills and Characteristics of Transformational Leaders and AdvancED Standards for Quality

So, what is the connection between Leithwood’s dimensions of transformational leadership and the AdvancED Standards for Quality? Generally regarded and respected as research and practitioner-based quality practices essential to achieve improved student performance and organizational effectiveness, the Standards are adaptable as transformational leadership behaviors or practices. After comparing the research on transformational leadership to AdvancED’s Standard statements, the extrapolation can be made that if a leader internalizes, exemplifies, and implements the Standards, a leader could be characterized as a transformational leader who achieves lasting results. Practical examples of how the AdvancED Standards promote transformational leadership, through a leadership perspective, will bring life to this notion.

Teaching and Assessing for Learning (Standard 3) states, “the school’s curriculum, instructional design, and assessment practices guide and ensure teacher effectiveness and student learning.” From a leadership lens, this Standard means the leader of a classroom, department, school or school system performs as the instructional leader to ensure high-quality teaching and improved student learning. Another example is apparent in the Standard that describes the importance of a school’s purpose and direction (Standard 1) and is supported by the dimension “building school vision and establishing school goals” (Leithwood, 1994). Almost all leadership literature and research state an effective and successful organization has a clear and purposeful direction that embodies the values and beliefs of the stakeholders. This adaptation continues to demonstrate how each Standard statement interpreted through the leadership lens and effectively applied, can transform a school or a school system. The logic is simple, consistent, and rational: if the AdvancED Standards are implemented with fidelity as a process for continuous improvement or sustained transformation, then the Standards are a process for leaders to become or refine their skills as transformational leaders. It is just a matter of perspective.

Transformational Leadership and Systems Thinking

In the introduction, it was stated that the transformation of an underperforming school or school system requires the leadership of more than one individual. Staying true to research, for transformation to occur in an underperforming school or school system, then leaders must act as system thinkers. True transformation happens not in silo-structured organizations, but in organizations that respect all of their elements, maintain their interconnectedness, and have a common purpose. Systems thinking serves as the conceptual framework for the AdvancED Standards for Quality, evident in the focus on continuous improvement and the interdependency of one Standard with another. Systems thinking is pervasive in the Standards, and is directly stated or strongly implied throughout, making it easy for leaders to follow, as exemplified in Standard 3.2, “Curriculum, instruction, and assessment are monitored and adjusted systematically in response to data from multiple assessments of student learning and an examination of professional practice.” Simply stated, a transformational leader must establish and ensure that the elements of the system (curriculum, instruction, and assessment) connect and align to the organization’s purpose. Furthermore, a report that examined the top 20 school systems in the world concluded that all parts of a school system must properly function in order to produce desired outcomes for sustainable improvement, (Mourshed, Chijike, and Barber, 2010). Fullan (2011, p. 51), stated, “all schools in a district must be treated as part of a single system” and “changing one school at a time is no longer an option for countries that want to compete internationally.” Perhaps Reeves (2009, p. 5) more elegantly promotes systems thinking for transformational leadership by stating, “…each star in a firmament holds an essential place, and without it, a constellation would be diminished.”

Simply stated, a transformational leader must establish and ensure that the elements of the system (curriculum, instruction, and assessment) connect and align to the organization’s purpose.

Leaders, regardless of their roles, want lasting results for the organizations they serve. They are expected to implement changes or reforms that have direct, immediate, and lasting impacts on student achievement — a task not easily accomplished without practicing systems thinking and implementing a process for continuous improvement. Everyone who serves in a leadership capacity in a school or school system fully realizes that regardless of the size, configuration, or challenges, positive change can occur for a short period of time. Transformational leaders however, make lasting, widespread improvement by following a process that ensures all parts of the school or system are connected and share a common purpose (systems thinking). The AdvancED Standards, based on systems thinking and educational research, are best practices for school improvement and transformational leaders. It is just a matter of perspective.

References:

AdvancED. (2011). Standards for Quality.

Bass, B. (1998). Transformational leadership: Industry, military, and educational impact. Mahwah, NJ: Eribaum Associates.

Bass, B, & Avolio, B. (eds.) (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage.

Fullan, M. (2011). Coaches as system leaders, Educational Leadership, 69, (2), 50-53.

Hargreaves, A., Fink, D. (2006). Sustainable leadership. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Leithwood, K, Begley, P. T, & Cousins, J.B. (1994). Developing expert leadership for future schools. London: Falmer.

Leithwood, K., & Riehl, C. (2003). What we know about successful school leadership. Philadelphia: Temple University Laboratory for Student Success.

Mourshed, M., Chijike, C., & Barber, M. (2010). How the world’s most improved school systems kept getting better. McKinsey Quarterly.

Reeves, D. (2009). Leading change in your school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Continuous Improvement

Culture is reflective of people, environment, beliefs, and actions, often on a very small scale. Collectively, these are the elements that define culture, “the way things are done around here.” Regardless of how similar students, teachers, and schools may be, each and every school has its own culture, because all people and the environments in which they live are different.

Culture is reflective of people, environment, beliefs, and actions, often on a very small scale. Collectively, these are the elements that define culture, “the way things are done around here.” Regardless of how similar students, teachers, and schools may be, each and every school has its own culture, because all people and the environments in which they live are different. Cultivating school culture means that everyone must embrace the diversity present within the school and work toward pulling together everyone and their different beliefs with the singular goal of providing an environment where students can succeed.

The first step in creating a culture is to develop the school’s vision and align school procedures, routines, and expectations with that vision. The vision is formed by identifying the school’s current state, determining what the school community wants the school to achieve, then ensuring that all actions that follow work in concert with that vision. This process requires the first hallmark: communication.

Hallmark 1: Communication

Communication is vital among and between all stakeholders in order to capture their perspectives. This can be accomplished through a number of methods. One of the most substantial is the Professional Learning Community (PLC), a forum for sharing professional opinions, strategies, networking, and building collegial trust. PLCs may be homogenous or eclectic and may be organized for specific tasks or purposes or may serve as general brainstorming venues. Other opportunities are plus/delta analyses, perception surveys, issue bins, open door policies, and focus groups. All of these help to facilitate the second hallmark: buy-in.

Hallmark 2: Buy-In

A school community includes people within and beyond the school walls. Everyone’s input is important, and typically, only when people feel their input is appreciated will they have buy-in. Students, teachers, parents, community members, and other stakeholders must be active participants in a school’s culture, because each of these is responsible for fulfilling the mission. Their input must be solicited, considered, and used in building a culture that promotes the common goals everyone shares. Feedback must be timely, acted upon, and communicated back to all stakeholders to demonstrate the validity and importance of their contributions. One important element where this input provides value is in constructing an action plan of how every school community member may help the community advance, and this is accomplished through the third hallmark: expectations.

Hallmark 3: Expectations

Not only should these community members’ ideas be invited, they, themselves, should be invited to become involved in the school as well. Each has something unique to contribute, even if that contribution is not obvious, and each person is valuable. To take advantage of that value, every person needs a role, and every person needs to know his/her role. Define each person’s and/or each group’s roles. Set measurable and realistic expectations and benchmarks. Outline how and when the attainment of those benchmarks will be determined. Designate individuals as the key support persons to intervene when benchmarks are not met, or when individuals or groups working toward benchmarks need assistance. Locate and utilize external resources like community partners (university faculty and students, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, etc.) who are willing to contribute expertise and resources that will help cultivate the culture you are working to build. None of this, however, can be fulfilled without the fourth hallmark: leadership.

Hallmark 4: Leadership

A respected and dependable leadership team is central to a school’s success. The team members must earn the trust of students, teachers, and parents by demonstrating not only competence in how they work, but also caring about what they do. They also must earn the trust and respect of external stakeholders to assure the stakeholders that they are contributing to a culture led by individuals who embody their values and who will use their resources, whatever those may be, wisely. Leaders must set the example—for knowledge, for work to be done, for attitudes to exhibit. Leaders also must demonstrate a passion for learning and for making decisions based on what is best for all students. They must articulate this consistently in every interaction, meeting, correspondence, event, etc. Additionally, they must assess and monitor to ensure expectations are being met and provide support for everyone including redirection, which will be needed at times.

Hallmark 5: Commitment

These hallmarks are enveloped by perhaps the fifth and most expected hallmark: commitment. A lack of or breakdown in commitment by any individual or group stains the effort, and all others must work to compensate for the greater good.

Tips to improve school culture
Use these suggestions to help cultivate your school’s culture, regardless of where you may be in the process.
  • Seek both input and feedback on school issues, challenges, and concerns, and maintain candid, clear, and constructive dialogs.
  • Allow everyone a voice, and listen to what they say.  Validate their input and respect diverse points of view.
  • Keep the focus on students in every way.  Remind everyone that they are “our kids” and that this is “our school.”  Individually, we are good, collectively, we are great!
  • Rationalize and justify decisions in order for all to understand reasoning.
  • Assess, analyze, implement, and tweak. Improvement is continuous and circular, without really having a defined beginning or end.
  • Ensure ongoing support for every individual and every need.
  • Encourage and hold everyone accountable.
  • Celebrate successes then set future goals.

One cannot change the past; one can only hope to influence the future. The students you see each day will decide what the future is. Show them the type of world they could have. You could wait until tomorrow to change your school’s culture, but why? Start today.

Educational Change

What is transformation? How does one create a culture that embraces the challenge to transform when status quo feels very comfortable? How will we know if we have transformed?

The charge to “transform the educational delivery system to better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students” has been the quest of the Kettle Moraine School District since I began serving as superintendent in this high achieving, blue-ribbon school system over five years ago. What is transformation? How does one create a culture that embraces the challenge to transform when status quo feels very comfortable? How will we know if we have transformed?

On a May evening in 2005, somewhat out of the blue, a motion was unanimously passed giving administration the responsibility to transform. While the Board’s perspective was focused on financial challenges that now face almost every school system in our nation, in the motion administration saw the opportunity to rethink everything we do in order to “better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students.” After verifying Board support that transformation was wanted, we identified Scenario Planning as a process that builds organizational intelligence and capacity, especially in times of uncertainty. Enlisting the support of McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning), our school system began the work of building collective understanding and capacity in staff and community members for the need to transform.

Through an application process and interviews, we assembled a diverse group of 25 people representing all ages and backgrounds, non-educators, students, and staff who agreed to serve on our Transformation Task Force. They made commitments to engage in a highly interactive and time consuming process of identifying critical uncertainties, selecting key drivers of change, developing a rich understanding of future trends, writing plausible stories of uncertain futures, and identifying key themes that emerged across all stories. This work took 17 months and laid a solid foundation for moving forward. The results were repeatedly shared with community members, board, and staff and continue to serve as a reference. They have changed the mental models of our organization.

Transformation is an evolution in meeting the needs of students. Personalized learning provides evidence of transformation and defines the objective that was lacking in the term 'transform.'

In 2011 we convened a larger group of community members to revisit that work, measure success and bring clarity to the future direction of the school system. The report was affirmed, and the focus emerged that transformation is not one concept, an object or end-point to be grasped. Transformation is an evolution in meeting the needs of students. Personalized learning provides evidence of transformation and defines the objective that was lacking in the term “transform.” As a school system we do not embrace change for change sake, but we do embrace change with purpose. Only if we are able to “better and more efficiently meet the needs of students” do we consider our work a success.

Not surprisingly, our work of personalization reflects in many ways the expectations of society. As technology plays an increasingly indispensable role in society, we have come to expect, even demand personalization in the way we live our lives. We want personalization in our choices of eating, recreation, media, music, social contacts, news, and the list continues. As we listen to parents, students and staff, personalization is what is desired in our classrooms and school buildings also.

What is Personalized Learning?

Personalized learning can mean something different, depending on who you ask. A definition offered by the Council of Chief State School Officers, an organization of the chief education leaders from every state, comes close to describing what Kettle Moraine believes the next generation of learning will look like. It states: “personalized learning that occurs anytime, anywhere, and results in world-class knowledge and skills for all students.

It is measured through performance-based assessments, and it engages a student’s own voice while providing a comprehensive system of supports.” In a manner similar to the innovation that drives technology products, the next generation of education delivery is looking to improve and upgrade what we have to offer. A cell phone from four years ago may meet basic communication needs, however, today’s next generation smart phones are personalized to better and more efficiently meet the needs of the consumer. So also, we recognize that our current system of education is serving the needs of students in the manner it was designed. However, Kettle Moraine pursues the next generation of education delivery in order to meet the growing expectations of our students and parents to personalize the learning and prepare students for a very demanding future.

Numerous areas of education delivery reflect Kettle Moraine’s commitment to develop personalized learning environments. Examples are found in the two charter schools that now operate in our school system. This fall, we opened the doors of KM Global and KM Perform providing personalized learning designs that meet the needs of specific styles of learners in grades 9-12. Each has a unique charter and a distinct method for providing instruction opportunity for demonstration of student learning. KM Global and KM Perform are meeting the needs of a unique population of students.

Building on our learning from our charter high schools and on action research from our elementary staff, the planning of a multi-age personalized learning elementary charter school is underway. We learn from each other without an expectation that there is one right answer. We know that our charters do not meet the needs of all students nor do they replace the important role of our legacy schools. Charters compliment our system’s legacy offerings by providing personalized learning for students who have a distinct focus on how they want to learn and what life skills they want to develop.

By building upon successes and sharing challenges, school systems are able to take best practices from all environments and create efficiencies in the discovery of what is most effective for increasing student achievement.

On a smaller scale, we deliver personalized learning opportunities in various classrooms across the school system, as we work in partnership with other systems in southeastern Wisconsin. As part of a regional Innovation Zone, we help represent Wisconsin as one of seven states involved in Next Generation Learning (formerly NxGL), national-level work focused on personalizing learning. Through an application and accountability process, Kettle Moraine supports an ever growing cadre of staff, with teaching responsibilities that range from Kindergarten to AP Biology, engaged in action research to personalize the learning experiences of their students. Their work is shared virtually with colleagues from other participating school systems, and they engage in regular symposiums where they collaboratively learn from each other. By building upon successes and sharing challenges, school systems are able to take best practices from all environments and create efficiencies in the discovery of what is most effective for increasing student achievement.

Kettle Moraine also employs strategies to personalize learning in classrooms throughout our school system. The use of workshop teaching in our Kindergarten through eighth grade ensures that students receive mini-lessons and instructional coaching in text that is aligned with their level of learning. This supports students’ confidence in their ability to learn as they experience success while being challenged to grow to the next level. It also provides for stronger student engagement through student choice. Another system-wide example is the use of balanced assessment to personalize learning. By providing students with regular feedback on their performance, students are able to target their individual learning needs. As students demonstrate their understanding, teachers are able to tailor learning experiences. This contributes to more efficient and effective instruction and use of time, personalized to the abilities of the individual learner.

Community Vision

As we investigate and implement various approaches to personalized learning, we are becoming increasingly aware of demands that define limitations and considerations for future growth. From both a facilities and a technology perspective, the infrastructure of our school system must support personalized learning environments if we are to be successful. This has prompted a review of our school system infrastructure needs and a community visioning process regarding infrastructure scheduled for May 2012. Building on the understanding that public schools belong to the public, our school system regularly engages our parents and community members to help define our future. By listening carefully to their needs and expectations we embrace our vision of Learning without Boundaries in order to better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students.

Educational Change

In order to start to adequately understand a phenomenon and affect a phenomenon, the development of a theoretical framework is necessary.  Frameworks help us understand how abstract ideas interact with one another and make things that are difficult to describe more rational and more easily analyzed. 

In order to start to adequately understand a phenomenon and affect a phenomenon, the development of a theoretical framework is necessary.  E.P. Thompson wrote; “Reality is too complex to fully capture in abstractions.  Every study selects particular aspects of the world to emphasize, necessarily leaving the rest in a shadowy background.  In other words, we must choose what is generally called theoretical frameworks to guide our analysis” pg. 461(Thompson 2001).  Frameworks help us understand how abstract ideas interact with one another and make things that are difficult to describe more rational and more easily analyzed.  In the attempt to understand and intentionally develop schools into healthy learning environments, we will use the framework that I describe in the book Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division (TSC) (Muhammad 2009).

School Culture Players

TSC arranges the participants in a typical school culture into four primary categories:  Believers, Tweeners, Survivors, and Fundamentalists.  These educators have differing objectives and their differing objectives affect their behavior in unique ways.  When not properly cultivated, these diverse agendas can lead to staff division and school dysfunction.

  • Believers are educators who are predisposed to the ideas and programs that support the egalitarian idealism of education.  They are willing, and in fact seek, the best professional models to support the universal achievement of their students.
  • Tweeners are educators who are new to school culture.  These educators are given a probationary period of two-to-five years to pick sides in the school tug-of-war.  This group is critical to school improvement because, if high-risk schools do not retain qualified staff members, school reform becomes nearly impossible because long-term initiatives become impossible and there is no organizational memory.
  • Survivors are educators with one purpose, survival.  This group represents a small portion of educators who are simply “burned out” and so overwhelmed by the demands of the profession that they suffer from depression and merely survive from day to day.  This group is much smaller than the other three and there is a general consensus that this group needs more help than can be readily accessed in most schools or districts.
  • Fundamentalists are educators who are comfortable with status quo and they organize and work against any viable form of change.  Their goal is to be left alone. They have many tools that they use to thwart reform initiatives, and without the proper leadership, they are generally successful.  The fundamentalist’s personal needs and goals are more important than the needs of the students and the organization as a whole.

The interaction of these complex groups of individuals make school reform difficult at best and only disciplined and informed leadership is qualified to untangle this web and focus the school professionals on the singular goal of total student success.

Believers and Fundamentalists

The school reform research of Douglas Reeves, Mike Schomker, and Richard DuFour all agree that high performing schools have clear goals and high expectations for all students.  In other words, they have a healthy culture.  What is not clear is how did those healthy cultures develop and evolve?  The TSC framework identifies two political groups called the Believers and the Fundamentalists jockeying for the control of the collective norms and expectations.

An analysis of the behavior of Believers and Fundamentalists reveal a real difference in philosophy and objective, and these differences drive their behavior. Jim Collins in his breakthrough work called Good to Great, identified why great companies and organizations consistently outperformed average or low-performing companies and organizations (Collins 2001). He describes the habits of great organizations in three processes:

  • Disciplined People
  • Disciplined Thought
  • Disciplined Action

When dealing with the issue of disciplined people Collins writes, “We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy.  We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats — and then they figured out where to drive it.  The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset.  The right people are” (pg.  12).

Collins concurs with the aforementioned educational researcher; people and their commitment, focus, attitudes and behaviors have to be aligned with the organizational objectives or progress is nearly impossible.  I do not subscribe to the notion that there is a “right” person or “wrong” person.  People are not innately or inherently “right” or ”wrong,” but I do believe that there is a difference between productive and unproductive organizational behavior, and thus is the case between the Believers and Fundamentalists.

Believers accept the fact that their role is to help the organization achieve its objective, success for every student.  Their focus on the objective guides their behavior, so feedback that is contrary to their intended goal does not spark a defensive response.  They are willing to be prepared instead of being in control.  Simply stated, the organizational goal supersedes their individual goals.  They are on the bus, in the right seats and ready to lend their gifts and talents to confront obstacles and achieve collective success.  A Believer is a true team player; a “we” first as opposed to a “me” first professional.  If every educator behaved this way, all of the great research-based structures and techniques would be implemented with fidelity, and we would see the achievement results that we crave as a society.

Fundamentalists have come to believe that their personal agenda is more important than the collective agenda.  Protecting their personal and political issues becomes more important than the needs of the students that they are entrusted to serve.  They play political games and lobby other members of the organization to buttress their power base, and any change or proposed behavior that is in conflict with their personal needs or desires becomes the object of their destruction.  A Fundamentalist is a “me” first and “we” second employee.  Their behavior would be what Collins describes as the behavior of the “wrong people on the bus.”  I do not advocate targeting people personally; it is more effective to attack the behavior and transform that behavior into better and more productive behavior.

Schools are teams of educators with the goal of educating every child

John Wooden, the late and legendary basketball coach of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), who coached more U.S. college basketball teams to national championships than any other coach in history, was asked about what it took to be a good team player.  His response was to “consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights” (Orr 2009).  Schools are teams of educators with the goal of educating every child; selfishness and personal agendas are harmful to accomplishing that collective goal of educating every child.  Unfortunately, many schools have allowed adults, who consider their personal agenda more important than the collective agenda, to hijack the focus, energy, and commitment of the most innocent members or our society, our children.  Fundamentalism and healthy cultures cannot coexist.

Leadership and Reversing Fundamentalist Behavior

School professionals who focus more on individual issues and pet peeves in lieu of focusing on the organizational objective of deep levels of learning for children are crippling schools everywhere.  No one is in a better position to reverse this unproductive behavior than site administrators; principals and assistant principals.  Site leaders have direct contact with teachers, students, parents, and central administrators.  When leadership is strong and responsive at the school level, fundamentalism and its impact decrease.  There are four behaviors in general that inspire educators to respond like Believers and avoid behaving like Fundamentalists.  These behaviors include transparent communication, building trust, providing professional training and support, and creating fair and consistent systems of accountability.  Fundamentalism is destructive, but when visionary and supportive leadership are the norm, schools tend to produce focused and ethical professionals, and students are the ultimate beneficiaries.

Works Cited

Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don’t. New York, Harper Business

Muhammad, A. (2009). Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division. Bloomington, IN, Solution Tree Press.

Orr, J. (2009). Our Top Ten Favorite John Wooden Quotes. Christian Science Monitor. Boston, MA.

Thompson, E. P. (2001). The Essential E.P. Thompson. New York, NY, The New Press.

Educational Change

Transforming Schools

Transforming School Culture

By Joseph Roy and David Piperato

According to the authors, the biggest challenge confronting school leaders is actually transforming the culture of their schools. This article explores how changing school culture and developing a collaborative culture, requires educational leaders to understand the core values and beliefs that provide both direction and stability.

 

CEO Message

Today’s system of education is time-based, where the measures of success are what knowledge students possess within stated timeframes as determined by large-scale assessments that promote uniformity and standardization. What really constitutes success, and how can and should we recognize success in learning?

Today’s system of education is time-based, where the measures of success are what knowledge students possess within stated timeframes as determined by large-scale assessments that promote uniformity and standardization. What really constitutes success, and how can and should we recognize success in learning?

Delivering content through whatever means (e.g. traditional, charter or on-line) and assessing what the student knows works for some but not all kids. The reality is we are shortchanging even the kids who are successful with the single dimensional platform of learning and assessments. Comprehensive schools in the future will need to provide a curriculum commensurate with the knowledge and digital era but deliver it through a diversity of experiences and platforms. Requirements for graduation will not only include curricula expectations but also successful experiences in a range of learning platforms.

In constructing a modern education system, we must first clearly and coherently define what success looks like. There are many attributes of success that promulgate the education and business arenas including proficiency in the basic skills, college and career readiness, 21st century skills and higher order thinking skills. A modern system of education must ensure personalization of learning; a broader, deeper system of assessment; and a fundamental shift on why, what, who, when and how we measure student learning.

The perspectives on Measuring Student Success in this issue of AdvancED Source are rich and broad. Peter Hofman, Vice President for Public Policy and External Relations, and Dr. Stuart Kahl, Co-Founder, of Measured Progress begin this issue with the opportunities and challenges they see presented through Performance Assessment in their article, The Promise of Performance Assessment … and the Challenges. Dr. Pamela Cantor, Founder, President and CEO of Turnaround for Children, Inc., discusses how we must confront the barriers to learning and fortify our learning environments before we can measure student success in her article, Confronting Barriers to Learning to Help All Children Succeed. In Reinventing the Report Card, Dr. Kyle Peck explores Digital Badges and how they can replace the obsolete tools used in education today. Dr. Peck is Professor of Education, Principal Investigator for the NASA Aerospace Education Services Project and Co-Director of the Center for Online Innovation in Learning at Penn State University.

Student and game design consultant, Erik Martin, offers a gripping perspective on how we must re-assess how we assess the success of students in his piece, How World of Warcraft Saved Me and My Education. Dr. David Steiner, the Klara and Larry Silverstein Dean of the Hunter College School of Education and Founding Director of the City University of New York Institute for Education Policy at Roosevelt House, argues that we must take more seriously our expectations for learning in his article, It’s not Complicated — But it’s Seriously Difficult. Fred Bramante, President of the National Center for Competency-Based Learning and former Chairman of the New Hampshire State Board of Education, in his piece, “You Say You Want a Revolution,” makes a case for competency-based learning as a new model for education.

Brian Srikanchana, Founder and CEO of WorkReadyGrad.com, shares his perspectives on how a students’ skills and experiences should become a personal portfolio with both quantitative and qualitative measurements of educational accomplishments in Technology Bringing Professionals and Students Together. In Mission as a Measurement of Success, Sister M. Paul McCaughey, Superintendent of the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Chicago, explores how even a broad mission can be used to define and measure student success. AdvancED’s own Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Ludy van Broekhuizen explores how the attributes of a successful entry-level employee compel us to re-define learner success in, Defining Learner Success in the Digital Age.

The expertise and perspectives of all our authors will help broaden our thinking and enrich our work toward Measuring Student Success in the future. We appreciate them deepening our knowledge about what is more important — the measurement or the learning.

Continuous Improvement
Accountability
Continuous Improvement
Educational Change
Leadership
Learning Environments
Measuring Success
Teaching & Learning
Technology
Teaching & Learning

The Source will release a special edition issue in the summer of 2015 recognizing the Council of Chief State School Officers’ 2015 State Teachers of the Year.

This special edition issue will include various viewpoints and voices of the State Teacher of the Year recipients so readers can integrate those lessons into effective use within their educational communities. Specifically, we are looking for pieces that address one or more of the following:

  • what, or who, inspired you to become a teacher;
  • what lessons you learned from your former teachers and/or current colleagues;
  • what you think makes you an effective teacher;
  • what makes the subject you teach important and how do you translate that to students;
  • what resources could improve learning within and outside of schools;
  • what advice to you have for teachers and school administrators;
  • what do you see for the future of teaching – what will (or has to) change?

 

The Source publishes articles on educational strategies and practices supporting educational quality. Articles should contain useful information and techniques for practitioners serving students Pre-K through grade 12. Articles based on original research also are welcome.

Articles are now being accepted for this special edition issue. Submissions should be between 800-1200 words and submitted electronically in Microsoft Word® using the online submission form (below) by May 25, 2015. View The Source editorial guidelines below. For additional information, please contact Mariama Jenkins.

Submission Deadline: May 25, 2015
CEO Message

More and more educators are embracing the concept of learner-centric, but do we really know what it means? Do we have a common definition that can guide our work and ensure that genuine implementation of learner-centric educational environments is understood and shared by all?

More and more educators are embracing the concept of learner-centric, but do we really know what it means? Do we have a common definition that can guide our work and ensure that genuine implementation of learner-centric educational environments is understood and shared by all?

I would suggest that we are still defining “learner-centric,” both by our words and our deeds. Efforts to allow students more input into what they learn and how they learn have been documented and shared. However, a true learner-centric environment is one in which learning is no longer based on time but rather on the learner. When time becomes a variable and learning is the constant; when we move from standardization to customization, our educational system will be learner-centric.

In the future, students and institutions should have the opportunity to construct their curriculum so that all students enjoy a customized and personalized educational experience that ensures readiness and preparedness for their futures. Schools and school systems will broaden how student success is measured and how learners demonstrate success will differ from student to student.

This AdvancED Source issue on Creating Learner-Centric Environments begins with Barbara Bray, Creative Learning Officer/Co-Founder of Personalize Learning, LLC, and Kathleen McClaskey, CEO/Co-Founder of Personalize Learning, LLC, who explore the stages of implementing a flexible learning environment. They share how personalized learning subsequently changes the role of both the teacher and the student in Building Personalized Learning Environments. In Creating Learning Environments that Work for Kids, Hillary Dack, doctoral student in Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia; and Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, describe a truly flexible classroom in which students are at the center.

AdvancED’s senior researcher Dr. Matt Dawson shares the results of the classroom observation tool used in over 26,000 classrooms to assess effective learning environments in his article, Analyzing Results from AdvancED’s Classroom Observation Tool. Educational veteran Arnold Langberg shares his experiences with and the critical components for creating and sustaining learner centric schools in The Creation of One Learner Centric Learning Environment. Our next author, Dr. Debra Howe, Superintendent of Tri-Creek School Corporation, in Engaged…Equipped…Empowered, explains how project-based learning is at the heart of engagement and builds not only students’ knowledge, but their skills for success, too.

In SE2R Can Revolutionize How We Assess Learning, author and consultant Mark Barnes describes and demonstrates a system of evaluation and reporting that engages students and creates mastery learning. Father and son team Terry Doyle, Professor of Reading at Ferris State University, and Brendon Doyle, research assistant at Ferris State University, outline the five areas that can improve learning readiness in A New Paradigm for Student Learners — a good read for teachers, parents and students. Dr. Tim Hudson, in Student-centered Learning Powered by Technology, describes how technology can support both student independence and teacher decision-making.

The broad perspectives of our authors reinforce that we may not yet have a shared definition of learner-centric, but they all offer great examples of how we can begin to put into action important elements of such a system. We appreciate them expanding our view of the opportunities presented when we are Creating Learner-Centric Environments.

Learning Environments

I have been involved in the creation of learner-centric public high schools throughout my professional career, in Colorado and in New York. Described below is the beginning of one such school in a Colorado school system in 1975. The school continues to this day, although I have been gone from it since 1986.

I have been involved in the creation of learner-centric public high schools throughout my professional career, in Colorado and in New York. Described below is the beginning of one such school in a Colorado school system in 1975. The school continues to this day, although I have been gone from it since 1986.

Building a Culture of Trust

The “system” was defined for me in a memo that I discovered in the desk that I had been given. There were just three items that were declared to be non-negotiable: we must abide by the school system’s employee contract, we must cost no more per pupil than the other high schools and we must meet the school system’s existing graduation requirements. That was it. No small print!

The contract demand was easy. We had over 300 applicants from around the country for six teaching positions, and a committee of nine parents, nine students, a teacher from our feeder school and myself, spent four days interviewing the 24 candidates who were invited to come at their own expense.

We agreed that hiring would be by consensus, and we finally finished at 2:00 a.m., but the process was wonderful. The highlight was when one of the students, whose normal speech included “chick” and “dude,” politely asked one of the parents, a physicist with a cultured British accent, whether he was uncomfortable, as she was, with the fact that they often disagreed with each other. It paved the way for the eventual consensus!

As you read carefully through these first paragraphs, be aware that the school had not yet officially opened. What we had been doing helped to create an environment of trust, and trust is at the heart of self-directed learning. Students were authentic participants in the choosing of the entire staff, myself included. We all were teachers, and we all were learners.

To respond to the budget demand, we did a careful analysis of the school system’s budget book. We made the case that, although we didn’t want to participate in interscholastic athletics and some of the other conventional school extra-curricular activities, we were entitled to a comparable per-pupil allotment for activities that were appropriate to our own design, primarily educational travel. We were given an additional $10,000 which enabled us to rent nine-passenger vans that we used for trips across the United States and into various parts of Mexico.

"We decided that the graduation requirements of our school system were not demanding enough...we had an all-day retreat to brainstorm what we would propose as our own."

We decided that the graduation requirements of our school system were not demanding enough. Over the course of that first semester we had students, parents and staff members study other possibilities, and in December we had an all-day retreat to brainstorm what we would propose as our own. The school board was pleasantly surprised to find that we were going to expect more of our graduates than any of the conventional high schools.

Three factors had given us a head start in creating our personalized learning environment. The students all chose to attend this public school, so did all of the teachers, and the original enrollment of 100 grew within the first month to 150, the maximum that had been approved by the school board. Even with our small size we wanted to avoid the feelings of anonymity that plague large conventional high schools, so we created an advisory system wherein every teacher would serve as a mentor and advocate for 16 students.

Advisory groups functioned as families within the school society. When one of the original teachers suggested that we should have a “disorientation,” a series of challenges to help students (and teachers) free themselves from dependency on the “system-centric” schooling, it was through the advisory groups that we were able to accomplish a risky adventure with people who were still strangers to each other. Each group spent one week in the wilderness and another week in the inner city, learning how to work together and learning how to use the real world as their “classroom.”

One young woman told her group that her asthma would prevent her from going on the wilderness trip, but the others offered to help carry her pack and provide whatever other support she might need because she belonged to their family. On the city trip, one student spent the day helping an elderly black couple with household chores. That evening, as each person reflected upon what he/she had learned, this young man said, “I learned that I will never use the N-word again!”

Redefining Curriculum

The disorientation was an introduction to our curriculum process:  experience followed by reflection. In addition to the evening discussions, the students were expected to write a detailed reflection upon their learning at the end of each week. These were shared with their advisor and became the first elements of a student’s portfolio of self-evaluation. The advisors would help their advisees learn how to be more specific than, “It was fun; I learned a lot,” which would be a typical first attempt.

The students, having been in “school” for 24 hours for 10 days, were then given a couple of days off, during which time the teachers created a schedule for the remainder of the semester. Some students chose to participate in that activity and, of course, they were welcome. The first schedule included time for weekly advisory group meetings and time for individual advising. After that priority was established, ideas for classes came from three sources: from the advisors, based upon what they learned about the students during the disorientation, from the teachers’ areas of expertise and enthusiasm, and from outcomes desired by the system.

I have avoided the usual curriculum language, including “requirements,” because we discovered that it narrowed our vision and generated a one-size-fits-all mentality. The proposal that we presented to the school system, as a result of the December retreat, divided the graduation “expectations,” rather than requirements, into three domains:  personal, social and academic. A few of the expectations necessitated demonstrating competence, including literacy and numeracy. A second set of expectations were areas for developing habits of life-long learning such as knowledge of inner resources, community service, health and physical education. A third set were designed to ensure that every student was exposed to laboratory science and the scientific method, to music and the arts, and to at least one other language and culture in addition to his or her own.

The school as an organization changed and grew just as the participants did, with the creation of a Walkabout curriculum structure emerging by the fifth year. This has provided clarity for communication within the school and between the school and prospective students and their parents, while sustaining the values of self-direction and trust upon which the school was founded. We added a series of culminating Walkabout experiences which we called “Passages” – demonstrations that the skills being acquired in school could be applied in the real world.

One example with which I was personally involved was when my daughter spent four months, starting in the summer and extending into her senior year, studying dance in Chicago and New York. She had been told locally that she was good, but she wanted to see if she also would be recognized in the more demanding big city studios. She wrote a proposal that involved Career Exploration, Practical Skills (living within a budget) and Adventure (including people in each city to whom she could turn for assistance if necessary.) A committee that included her advisor, her parents, at least one other teacher, another student and a community expert read her proposal; suggested modifications; and served as a support group for her. Upon her proposal; suggested modifications; and served as a support group for her. Upon her completion of the Passage experience, she made an oral presentation to her committee as well as a written one to be included in her portfolio.

An Authentic and Personal Method of Evaluation

There are two important reasons why we eschewed the conventional system of grades and credits. We considered all three domains, personal, social and academic, to be of equal importance, but while it may be possible to determine a letter or number grade for some of the academic expectations, it made no sense to try to do so for “knowledge of inner resources” or most of the other items in the personal and social domain. Giving grades in just one domain, however, would suggest that the others didn’t “count” as much, and eventually they would be ignored.

The main other reason we chose not to have letter grades was to help the students become capable of realistic self-evaluation. We believe that is a necessary outcome of true self-directed learning. As I described above, at the end of the disorientation the student would write a self-evaluation, and this continued to be the basis for our alternative to conventional grading. At the conclusion of any course, trip, apprenticeship or other learning experience, the student would write a detailed reflection of the learning that took place and then share it with the leader of the activity. This document was a personal narrative that was annotated afterward to reflect the graduation expectations that the student had met, and then it was shared with the leader of the activity, who would write a response to the student’s self-evaluation. These were collected by the advisor into the student’s portfolio. The evaluation process itself became part of the learning process.

Twice a year, each student was expected to write a broader self-evaluation, and this would be the source material for a student/parent/advisor conference. When it became time to consider graduation, as mutually determined by the student and advisor, the student would distill the elements from the three- or four-year portfolio into a single document. My daughter’s totalled 40 pages. It included the student’s reflection on his/her total school experience as well as examples of work at different stages of his/her development. It also included support letters from her advisor and other teachers and community members with whom she had worked.

From the opening days of creating a trusting environment that was respectful of all participants, to the student self-generated final transcript, to the individual graduation ceremonies as well as one for all the graduates, everything we did reflected love, trust and respect for all by all.

Continuous Improvement

Norris School District, located roughly 12 miles south of Lincoln, Nebraska, serves over 2100 students in a rural setting.  The Elementary (PK-4), Middle (5-8) and High (9-12) schools are co-located within a 270-acre campus.  Student enrollment has been steadily rising as the community shifts from a more agricultural base to a more suburban base with a strong agricultural tradition. 

Overview

Norris School District, located roughly 12 miles south of Lincoln, Nebraska, serves over 2100 students in a rural setting.  The Elementary (PK-4), Middle (5-8) and High (9-12) schools are co-located within a 270-acre campus.  Student enrollment has been steadily rising as the community shifts from a more agricultural base to a more suburban base with a strong agricultural tradition.  Compared to the statewide average, Norris School District has lower numbers of students who are eligible for free/reduced price lunches or are of limited English proficiency.  Less than 10 percent of the students in the school system receive special education services.  Over 90 percent of Norris High School graduates attend some form of post-secondary training or education.

While individual buildings within the school system have been accredited by AdvancED for many years, the system decided to transition to the AdvancED School System Accreditation model, with their first official system-wide accreditation review occurring in September of 2013.  According to district superintendent Dr. John Skretta, Norris School District shifted from individual school accreditation to accrediting all its schools as one system in order to:

  • focus on refining and streamlining processes and actions
  • better connect educators across the system to ensure greater coherence in curriculum and instruction
  • empower staff across the system to lead improvement efforts

Officials noted that while there were strong building principals and high levels of teacher leadership in individual schools, the system-wide accreditation process better advances a single refined, productive system.” One in which “the tremendously wonderful and innovative ideas developed in different buildings or by different teams is replicated across the system,” according to Dr. Skretta.

Process

According to Dr. Skretta, Norris School District staff members were very involved in preparing for the External Review Team from AdvancED.  “We used all of the tools for self-review from AdvancED that we could,” reported Dr. Skretta, “including stakeholder feedback surveys for staff, students and parents across the entire system.” 

In addition to the stakeholder assessments, staff at Norris School District completed the AdvancED Self Assessment, rating their school system against the AdvancED Indicators using rubrics supplied by AdvancED.   On their initial pass at the Self Assessment, staff at Norris School District were very confident that they were performing well in relation to the AdvancED Standards for Quality School Systems.  Staff reported rating their school system at 3’s and 4’s on everything.  After some conversations with others outside the system who had gone through the process before, “we realized that we were not as consistently highly functional (Level 3) or exemplary (Level 4) in many of the categories as we thought we were.  We had to really reflect on our initial responses and ask ourselves, ‘are we truly integrated as a system in things like our professional development, our efforts for curriculum alignment, and the use of instructional strategies?’” shared Dr. Skretta. 

By going through the self assessment process, before the formal External Review, Norris School District staff were already learning more about the difficulties of trying to develop and maintain a cohesive plan across the entire school system.  Dr. Skretta continues:

“We’re always looking at data.  We are using assessment results.  We continually collect and analyze data, but we’re not sure that the application of data is happening instructionally, because we don’t have a common language.  By the same token, not all staff members get the same training, because new staff members keep coming in, and we don’t have a formalized teacher induction program.  We have a one-day orientation, which is one thing we’re going to change.  All of that came out of the Self Assessment right up front…realistically, everything we needed to know was, in one fashion or another, embedded in the Self Assessment.”

After completing the Self Assessment, Norris School District was prepared for the External Review Team.  This preparation, which included going through the self assessment process and gathering data from students, staff and parents, helped administrators clarify their goals for the school system and outline what they were doing to meet those goals.  School system leaders shared that the process itself creates a means by which the school system is compelled to tell its story of school improvement and personal and professional growth designed to promote student achievement in a framework that is provided by AdvancED.  “The accreditation process forces organizational coherence and the ability to articulate that story in alignment with, or through the lens of AdvancED.  I think that’s really beneficial,” said Dr. Skretta.

At the same time, the commitment to self-assess and prepare for an External Review can create obstacles for those choosing the path of accreditation.  That is, while it is beneficial, it can be burdensome, and some school systems that would otherwise be good candidates for accreditation don’t participate, because they believe they don’t have the internal capacity to deal with it.  “You’ve got to coordinate a lot of things internally…the logistics of an accreditation review are considerable.  It really is a huge effort on the part of everyone involved,” said Dr. Skretta.

Part of the effort in relation to planning comes from coordinating face to face interviews between staff, students, board members and parents with members of the External Review Team.  However, school system leaders agree that the insights that the Team gleaned from the interview participants were beneficial.  “People were very candid with the External Review Team and pointed out areas that were points of pride but also were willing to identify areas that were less effective and provide suggestions for how to improve,” shared one administrator.

Another large part of the External Review Process focuses on the use of the Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool™ (eleot™) to observe a majority (if possible) of the classrooms in the school system.  The eleot provides a snapshot of actual practice within classrooms across the system with a focus on teacher practices that support student-centered learning.   Dr. Skretta felt the use of the eleot was a very different and beneficial part of the process.  “I believe this tool is more beneficial than if I tried to pull together a focus group of teacher leaders and ask them about the same criteria eleot observers are looking for.  When you have an external team of very seasoned educators going into a large number of classrooms looking through the lens of the eleot criteria, you walk away with some interesting and valuable findings.  The eleot classroom observations are a really key part of accreditation reviews now.”

Impact

Shortly after the External Review was completed, Norris School District received their written report breaking down the results of their review.  For Dr. Skretta and staff, having the report acknowledge Powerful Practices was really important – “It’s a wonderful means of reaffirming for schools what they are doing right.  It recognizes how hard you’re working and where you’re making a positive impact when you get those powerful practices as a feedback component of the External Review,” shared one administrator.   “We felt like the people on the review team took the review seriously, made a credible investment of their time, and leveraged their own expertise to create a great report for us,” shared Dr. Skretta.  “The report will provide great guidance to us in our school improvement efforts.”

Similarly, the report clearly laid out places for improvement as part of “Required Actions” for the school system.  For Dr. Skretta and his staff, while it was sometimes hard to hear negative feedback, the congruence between what the External Review Team highlighted as areas of improvement and the evidence used by the review team to justify the need for improvement in those areas made it easier to accept.  “The four Required Actions the team outlined,” said Dr. Skretta, “were not a surprise.  Not one of them directed us to do something that our teacher leaders and key stakeholders for instruction, curriculum and school improvement would question.”  Teachers found the results of the review credible and valuable and are pushing system leadership to provide more consistency, clarity and coherence around school improvement.

As a result of feedback from the final accreditation report, as well as the exit report provided at the end of the External Review, Norris School District initiated several responses to the Required Actions.  First, the school board engaged with the Nebraska Association of Schools Boards to facilitate a formal strategic planning process, which had never been done in the school system.  Secondly, the system created a plan to take a more focused look at professional development, which includes a formal study of current practices to streamline and systematize professional development opportunities throughout the school system.  Third, the system is creating a uniform teacher induction program for new teachers and teachers that are new to the system to ensure that there is the same baseline level of knowledge about key areas of instruction.

In addition to the above actions, the school system began to update their processes and procedures to ensure better coherence across the system.  Initiatives included developing a common language for instruction and formalizing baseline expectations around teacher professional learning plans as part of the teacher evaluation process.  This was in response to feedback from the External Review report that noted that “different teachers at different levels are getting different degrees of valuable feedback, from almost no feedback to really specific feedback, from one-to-one where a teacher communicates only with an administrator to meetings where a teacher communicates with a whole faculty student group.”  School system leaders agreed that a more uniform feedback loop was needed for teachers’ professional learning plans.  As Dr. Skretta explained, “I don’t think we would have taken initiative in this area if we hadn’t had the system accreditation review.”

A tertiary outcome was that the system leadership team immersed themselves in the AdvancED framework for school improvement to really understand how the framework can guide school improvement efforts.  One result has been that members of the leadership team are required to volunteer to serve on an AdvancED External Review Team to both support the accreditation process but also to see how other school systems approach similar issues that Norris School District has faced.

Given the recent nature of the review, there has not been any documented evidence of improvement in the targeted areas. 

Closing

Overall, Dr, Skretta reports, the AdvancED External Review Process has been extremely positive and useful. 

“I think what AdvancED does is to provide a common language and a comprehensive framework for continuous improvement efforts, and it imbues that process with the relevance that is only derived when you have expert feedback being externally provided to your school district.  You have the opportunity to build collegial relationships with other accredited school systems, and the results can be pretty abundant in providing a lot of help to systems to better serve students.”

This case study was designed to provide insight into the AdvancED External Review Process for school systems.

Educational Change

In his now-classic book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge describes systems thinking as a “discipline for seeing wholes.” It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots. “Systems thinking,” Senge writes, “offers a language that begins by restructuring how we think.” (1990, p. 69).

In his now-classic book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge describes systems thinking as a “discipline for seeing wholes.” It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots. “Systems thinking,” Senge writes, “offers a language that begins by restructuring how we think.” (1990, p. 69).

Fullan (1991) recognized systems thinking’s importance in education by writing that too many education reformers promote piecemeal change that can result in unintended consequences, or no consequence, due to mitigating circumstances in other areas of an organization. Promoting systemic change in organizations is challenging. Reformers look for change strategies with leverage to promote improvements throughout a system, rather than in just one part of a system.

School reformers want the same thing: great teaching for every student every day. Researchers, policy makers, and educators agree that the single most important factor in ensuring high levels of learning for all students is the quality of instruction.

The most powerful strategy school systems have to impact the quality of instruction in classrooms is professional development that promotes the kind of systemic change that has a positive and permanent effect throughout an organization. This approach is embodied in the National Staff Development Council’s (NSDC) purpose statement: “Every educator engages in effective professional learning every day so every student achieves.”

This purpose is characterized in a vision for professional development that is very different from what most educators currently experience. Within every school, it is essential that school-wide professional learning be planned by the entire faculty or learning community. The community engages in an improvement process that embeds schoolwide professional learning that benefits all faculty and all students. The process begins with an examination of data on student performance. From this analysis, school improvement goals are set, student needs are prioritized, an adult learning agenda is established, and a timetable for learning and assessing is built. The learning agenda contributes to a school culture necessary to sustain continuous improvement as well as shared responsibility for schoolwide success. While the community learns, discusses, applies, and assesses the impact of new strategies on the schoolwide goals, more specific objectives are identified for grade levels and subject areas.

Within this vision for professional development, it is also essential that every teacher be a member of grade-level or subject-area learning team. As learning team members, teachers commit to sharing collective responsibility for the students in team members’ classes. Teams are provided several hours a week for participation in a carefully orchestrated cycle of continuous improvement.

A well-prepared and supported teacher leader or other assigned staff member facilitates the continuous improvement cycle. The cycle begins with a closer examination of data on their students’ performance. From there, team members determine student learning needs, as well as their own learning needs. Once the team addresses its learning needs, it is ready to collectively combine its new learning and previous experience to design lesson plans and assessments that promote student learning. Team members try out the lessons, observe to gather additional perspectives, give assessments, and if the majority of students master objectives, the lesson is reviewed, revised, and filed for future reference. Where results are less than anticipated, the team regroups, continues to study, and selects new approaches for re-teaching the main objectives. The cycle continues throughout the year as new data is evaluated, new objectives identified, and curriculum implemented.

This approach to professional development is powerful because of the expectation that every staff member participates. This builds collective responsibility for both educator and student learning. More traditional staff development is driven by individual needs and choices; as a result, it impacts selected teachers and their students. Within this vision, no teacher can opt out, and every teacher benefits. Within this framework it is more likely good practices spread from classroom to classroom and school to school.

Fritz (1989) proposes that structures are powerful forces in preserving the status quo and preventing systemic change. He suggests, however, that it is not impossible to free ourselves from the pull of traditional structures. It requires (1) a morally compelling vision; (2) ruthless assessment of reality; and (3) two to three of the most powerful strategies imaginable. NSDC’s vision for professional learning stems from its moral obligation to ensure great teaching for every child every day. We believe a school, a system, and a nation make this a reality for more children by ensuring every educator engages in effective professional development every day. Through our own ruthless assessment of reality, we see several things that prevent the attainment of this vision as well as opportunities for advancing it.

Professional development is often treated as an end, rather than a means to accomplish important goals. Too much of the professional development conversation focuses on credits, licenses, and salaries. States spend considerable effort figuring out what counts, rather than what matters. The person served by professional development is the participant. To serve its rightful purpose, professional development must be driven by what students need, and its importance measured against whether those needs are meant.

Limitations in the ways we measure the impact of professional development pose a second major problem. Most researchers seek to study professional development as an intervention or treatment imposed on an organization. This creates challenges for reformers who understand the importance of integrating professional development into the improvement process. Backwards mapping studies can provide evidence about the contribution of professional development in school transformation. If hard evidence on the impact of various professional development approaches is important, then new ways to demonstrate must be found as well.

A third problem revolves around resources and capacity. Many systems and schools will need guidance with scheduling. State requirements that specify time limits for courses, subject area, school days, and school years need to be reconsidered if the vision is to become a reality. Systems cannot assume that school leaders have the knowledge and skills to lead successful community and team-based learning. Thoughtful capacity building strategies are essential if professional learning is to produce its intended results. Central office must embrace new roles if the cycle of improvement is to be effectively implemented in all schools.

System and school leaders might consider these actions to advance this vision and promote systemic change:

  • Adopt a local professional development policy, one that embraces the vision outlined in this article. Take the lead from the Santee School System (CA) by adapting NSDC’s vision and/or definition into local policy.
  • Alter state or district requirements from school improvement plans to school improvement evaluation. As a result, department and school leaders can spend time reflecting on what worked, what they learned, and what they need to study next year in order to continue to improve results.
  • Provide support for schools committed to the vision. These schools can serve as demonstration sites as well as teaching tools for promoting systemic change. Their results will provide the additional leverage and support necessary to sustain any successful change effort.

Each year, parents approach school or district administrators for help in getting their children assigned to the “best teachers” or transferred to the “best schools.” As we strive to implement strategies that promote systemic change, we must do so with the goal that no matter where students are assigned, they have the benefit of the thinking, expertise, and dedication of all teachers in that grade level or subject area; that they are part of a school system that requires all teachers to participate in learning teams that are provided regular time to plan, study, and problem solve together; and that this collaboration ensures that great practices and high expectations spread across classrooms, grade levels, and schools. Through the commitment to systemic change we ensure that every student experiences great teaching every day.

References

Fritz, R. (1989). The Path of Least Resistance. New York: Fawcett Columbine.

Fullan, M. (1991). The New Meaning of Educational Change. New York: Teachers College Press.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Discipline of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday

Accountability

With the continued call for greater accountability and transparency sweeping across all levels of the education system, many school systems are struggling under the glare of public scrutiny. Boards continue to struggle with balancing the privacy needs of the board to conduct business with the right of the public/stakeholders to remain informed concerning their actions. 

With the continued call for greater accountability and transparency sweeping across all levels of the education system, many school systems are struggling under the glare of public scrutiny. Boards continue to struggle with balancing the privacy needs of the board to conduct business with the right of the public/stakeholders to remain informed concerning their actions. The call for greater accountability and the recent economic crisis have resulted in communities becoming more observant and demanding of their elected officials and boards. The ability of a school system to effectively meet AdvancED’s Standard 2: Governance and Leadership and Standard 6: Stakeholder Communication and Relationships are inextricably connected to a board’s ability to comply with the letter and spirit of the state and federal Sunshine Acts and Open Meetings Acts.

The right of the public to attend board meetings is a statutory creation not found in common law. These laws are usually called “Sunshine Acts” or “Open Meetings Acts” (hereafter “Acts”) and were adopted to promote accountability and transparency. The intent of these laws was to help prevent governing bodies from acting in secrecy and to reduce the chances of school systems being impacted by abuses of power, cronyism, nepotism and discrimination.

These Acts tend to cover any and all meetings attended by a quorum or more of the board members where they discuss, decide or review information. In order to prevent circumvention of these laws, they are usually given broad interpretation favorable to the public’s need for transparency. Still, many school systems struggle with the concept of what constitutes a meeting. Even informal gatherings among board members may be construed as a meeting and therefore come under the restrictions and requirements of the Acts. The courts will often look at the behavior of the board members, content discussion, setting, and future actions to determine if an informal meeting has been held to circumvent the spirit of the Acts. If a board holds an informal meeting to discuss and predetermine a vote, they are clearly not acting in line with the intent of the Acts. Even a public meeting may be in violation of the Acts if the place for the meeting does not allow reasonably sufficient access to the meeting by the general public. A board attempting to circumvent the spirit and intent of these laws would be in violation of AdvancED’s Accreditation Standards.

In order to properly conduct the business of the school system, there is a clear and compelling need for boards to be able to conduct certain business outside the purview of the general public. In recognition of this need, legislatures throughout the county have defined very specific matters that should be considered in executive session. The most common issues that are allowed to be discussed in executive session are individual personnel matters, matters involving litigation or likely to be litigated, land acquisitions, and student matters covered under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or other state and federal statutes. Most courts require strict compliance with the restrictions and reporting requirements of conducting meetings in executive session. These areas of discussion are extremely limited, and often require public disclosure of the discussion topic to the fullest extent possible. Also, many states place upon boards additional requirements concerning the use of executive session including, but not limited to, the reporting of minutes or filing of an affidavit verifying the information discussed in the executive session. As part of the need for the transparent operation of government, almost all states require that votes must be taken in the publicly held portion of the meeting even if the subject matter was discussed in executive session.

However, the inappropriate use of executive session, or failure by a board to adhere to strict compliance with the requirements most states place upon government agencies or boards seeking to avail themselves of this valuable tool, results in a breakdown of the system. Boards across this country continue to struggle with the use of executive session. Although under most statutes, boards are not required to divulge much of the information discussed in executive session, many boards would be better served by being as transparent as possible with their stakeholders concerning their use of executive session and the matters discussed therein.

When boards stray from the parameters of the restrictions and requirements of the narrow exceptions to the Acts and abuse the privilege of executive session, communities become disenfranchised by their board and the relationship becomes strained. To avoid this consequence, boards should strictly comply with all reporting requirements for executive session and communicate with their stakeholders as much information as may be prudently disclosed in accordance with the various state and federal laws. Boards that have disenfranchised their stakeholders frequently use executive session as a way to circumvent the Acts. Executive session may provide boards with a sense of protection from public scrutiny, but its improper use will only widen the divide between the board and its stakeholders.

Boards that violate the Sunshine Acts or Open Meetings Act are most likely failing to meet AdvancED’s Standards 2 and 6. For all boards struggling to find a balance between the need for private consideration of matters and the public’s right to a transparent and accountable governing body, the following recommendations may help insure that the AdvancED Standards are being met: 1.) Obtain the advice and guidance of an attorney or other expert to insure compliance with the Sunshine or Open Meetings Acts; 2.) Demand strict compliance with the requirements of the Acts from Board members; 3.) Use executive session prudently and adhere to all pre and post reporting requirements; 4.) Remember the Acts will be given a liberal interpretation to insure the rights of the public, so make sure the public has sufficient access and opportunity to observe and comment on the actions of the Board; 5.) Unless allowed by statute, do not take votes in executive session; and 6.) Provide as much context as allowed when taking votes in public concerning matters discussed in executive session.

The public’s growing demand for transparency and accountability from our governing bodies will continue to pose a difficult balancing act. As Boards learn to cope with the demands of a transparent society, properly functioning boards will embrace transparency as a tool to meet the growing need for systemic accountability. A transparent board will garner the trust of a community. By establishing a transparent relationship with the community, the Board will have laid the foundation to meet in executive session without causing the community to react out of distrust and suspicion, but out of understanding and respect.

References

Russo, Charles J. (2009), Reutter’s The Law of Public Education, Seventh Edition, Thomson Reuter/ Foundation Press, NY, NY.

Dietz, L.H., Jacobs, A., Leming, T., Shampo, J., & Surette, E. (2009), American Jurisprudence, Administrative Law, III. Meetings and Records; Disclosure to Public, ThomsonReuters/West.

Bourdeau, J., Dvorske, J.J., Larsen, S., Link, R.J., Muskus, T., Oakes, K., Parker, L., Pellegrino, C., Surette, E.C., Williams, E., Zakolski, L., (2009), Corpus Juris Secundum, Public Administrative Law and Procedure, II. Administrative Agencies, Officers and Agents, D. Organization, Mode of Action, 2. Meetings; Sunshine Laws, ThomsonReuters/West.

CEO Message

Our first issue of the new AdvancED Source publication was met with much positive feedback, and we are pleased to deliver this second issue as the new school year begins. Our continued goal is to deliver content on education quality and educational issues from the viewpoint of the practitioner.

Our first issue of the new AdvancED Source publication was met with much positive feedback, and we are pleased to deliver this second issue as the new school year begins. Our continued goal is to deliver content on education quality and educational issues from the viewpoint of the practitioner.                   

In this issue of the AdvancED Source, we have chosen the theme of Systems Thinking. One of the most significant unintended changes of the accountability movement is the transition to a systems perspective in how we lead and manage networks of schools from the local school system to the state department of education to the federal government, as well as private or non-public school networks. Engaging in a systems perspective is not the same as centralization. Healthy systems align and connect all the parts and actions associated with the system. Leadership, decision making, work, and purposeful actions are distributed throughout the system in an aligned, coherent manner. In a centralized approach, control is the objective with limited distribution of leadership and decision making.

Our best classrooms, schools, and school systems demonstrate a systems approach to their intended work on a daily and annual basis. Effective classroom instruction takes place when the teacher creates, nurtures, and ensures that all the activities and actions in the classroom are aligned and connected to support student learning success. The best schools or school systems ensure that the organizational and instructional components are interconnected so that the school or school system provides the optimum conditions for teachers and students to succeed. In all cases, the capacity of the system (whether it be a classroom, school or school system) to enact internal quality controls that monitor the performance of the system are essential to ensure that the system engages in a continuous process of improvement.

Dr. Rick DuFour opens this issue with a piece entitled, “Professional Learning Communities: The Key to Improved Teaching and Learning,” in which he explores the interdependent relationships that can truly make a difference in student learning.

Practitioner Barbara Cleary examines a more systemic approach to the learning process in her piece, “Process and Tools Support Learning at all Levels,” and Robert Eaker and Janel Keating suggest the key questions professional learning communities must ask themselves to move towards real improvement in their article, “A New Way of Thinking: Schools as Professional Learning Communities.”

National Staff Development Council Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh shares her perspectives on how a change in an institution’s approach to professional development can impact the quality of instruction. Look for her article, “Systemic Change in Education Begins with a New Vision for Professional Development.”

Also in this issue, AdvancED’s General Counsel provides insights into how school districts can ensure their compliance with the Opening Meetings Act and the Sunshine Act in his "Legal Brief: Balancing Accountability and Transparency on the Board Level."

Building and maintaining healthy systems is essential to providing and supporting the conditions for teachers and students to be successful in the teaching and learning process. I want to thank each of our expert contributors to this issue of the AdvancED Source as they have provided all of us with knowledge and guidance on how to ensure our ultimate goal is achieved — student success. 

Teaching & Learning

As Douglas Reeves asserted in the spring 2009 issue of AdvancED Source, focusing on outcomes without examining the “how” of those outcomes is like addressing teen obesity by putting a scale in every school. The goal of reducing rates of obesity may be reached, but without any understanding of whether the outcome derives from good nutritional practices or from illnesses such as eating disorders. With no guidance about how to reduce patterns of obesity, anything goes, in a kind of end-justifies-means approach.

As Douglas Reeves asserted in the spring 2009 issue of AdvancED Source, focusing on outcomes without examining the “how” of those outcomes is like addressing teen obesity by putting a scale in every school. The goal of reducing rates of obesity may be reached, but without any understanding of whether the outcome derives from good nutritional practices or from illnesses such as eating disorders. With no guidance about how to reduce patterns of obesity, anything goes, in a kind of end-justifies-means approach.

Though high-stakes testing may seem to support this same approach (“Do anything to do well on this test”), in fact, it seems that teachers are examining the ways in which their classroom environments and strategies contribute to performance. Increasingly, teachers and administrators are indeed focusing on the “how’s” of learning performance, examining strategies that not only will improve performance on specific assessment instruments but will also contribute to the thinking and learning skills that underlie that performance. With this focus comes an understanding of learning as a system, rather than as only a snapshot revealed in a test. Of course, teachers have always been good at reflecting on the ways that they can help their students learn, so seeing these efforts as part of a larger pattern of learning — a system made up of learning processes — gives support to specific classroom strategies and validates them in the larger approach to learning.

What is known as the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) system, popularized by organizational management expert W. Edwards Deming, represents a way to see the learning process and to understand that learning is really about continuous improvement — a term that was popularized in the manufacturing industry but is increasingly applied to not only educational environments, but to healthcare and other service environments as well.

Simply put, the PDSA system involves the following steps:

  • Plan: Define the system to be improved and plan for that improvement. This involves thinking of ways that a problem or limitation can be addressed, or considering ways that success can become part of standard performance. It also includes collecting data on the current way of doing things, so that improvements can be measured and success demonstrated.
  • Do: Try out a theory of improvement. If a child believes that making flashcards will help to improve his or her performance on weekly spelling tests (after ruefully admitting that he or she has never earned more than a C on these tests), the theory should be tried out.
  • Study: Data collected after the new theory has been implemented can be compared or contrasted with the “before” data to indicate whether it is really working. A variety of charts and diagrams render this comparison visually accessible.
  • Act: This step involves not only putting a successful theory into practice, but thinking further about ways to improve the process. Again, this includes collecting data and studying its meaning.

For each of these steps, specific learning strategies or tools will advance that step. These tools not only bring improvements to a process (such as spelling performance), but also serve to help a student take responsibility for his or her own learning, evaluate progress, and reflect on outcomes. Many of these tools can be used not only in the PDSA cycle, but as standalone approaches to learning.

It is also fair to say that the tools that will be described here support a variety of learning styles and multiple intelligences. When a child must go to the front of the classroom to post an idea on a sticky note and share it with classmates, that process alone builds on the kinesthetic and social intelligences described by Howard Gardner, as well as helping the student focus on or create an idea that will be shared.

Among these tools are strategies derived from mind-mapping traditions as well as engineering practices and other outside-the-classroom sources. Let’s look at a few of them and notice the ways in which they support the larger system of learning to which we are all committed, as well as how they contribute to stronger performance on standards-based tests.

Brainstorming

that old standby for generating ideas — takes on a new life when it addresses ways to examine a problem or improve a process. In response to a topic or a question — “How can we improve our class’ understanding of long division?” — students can offer suggestions, one at a time, without judgment or evaluation by others. The process encourages creativity, teamwork, and reflection, and if the responses are given serious consideration, it encourages students to be concerned about each other’s learning as well as their own.

Affinity diagrams

have a natural tie to the brainstorming process, since they offer opportunities for students to write down their ideas — again, one at a time, but this time on sticky notes — about a given topic. When they are finished writing, they are invited to bring their ideas to the front of the classroom and post them. As students put ideas up, they are also asked to group them with others’ suggestions that are related (have an affinity to) theirs. To respond to a question about what we need to know about Ohio, students may write ideas related to geography, products, population, natural resources, rivers and lakes, and countless other areas for future exploration. Looking at their own ideas posted for everyone to see gives a sense of empowerment, since every idea is considered. In classroom discussions or Q-&-A sessions, this may not be the case, since those with the loudest voices or quickest responses are often the ones whose ideas are accepted.

Flow charts

offer a way of visually organizing steps in a process. Each step in the flow chart is part of a process, contributing to a system. A flow chart — derived as it is from the world of engineering and process control — has specific symbols to indicate start and finish for a process, for example, or to designate points at which decisions must be made. Creating flow charts involves breaking down a process to its constituent parts, an activity that stimulates analytical thinking. If one were to create a flow chart of the process of long division, the “start” might begin with “Look at left-most number in dividend,” followed by a question to designate a decision point: “Can it be divided by divisor?”, progressing to dividing divisor into number, writing the number above the number that has been divided, etc. If a student is too young to be reading, or has challenges with the reading process, as a learning difference might imply, the parts of the flowchart could be communicated with pictures, rather than words.

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Check sheets

help to keep track of data related to a process. For any student, but perhaps especially one with learning differences, this might make the critical difference between remembering a task or forgetting about it entirely. A check sheet is simply a short list of items that one wants to keep track of. It may be tasks to be completed (“Feed the goldfish,” “Brush my teeth,” etc.), or performance on specific skills (a list of math errors, for example, by concept: (“Fractions,” “Story problems,” etc.). Check sheets are infinitely useful in gathering data that will be used in the improvement process, or in disaggregating data to clarify it. In the PDSA cycle, check sheets help to define the system as it is, so that improvements can be made. If a student is facing challenges on writing tasks, it will be useful to break down the problems that his or her writing manifests, and then to address them one at a time rather than simply attacking the entire concept of “writing.”

Pareto analysis

can go hand-in-hand with check sheets to support the learning process. Using the writing example, a student’s check sheet of specific challenges (e.g., spelling, sentence structure, word choice, punctuation) can be transferred to a Pareto chart. This chart is a variation of the bar chart, where the items are arranged from the most frequently occurring to the least. If Sarah knows that most of her problems are related to punctuation, the Understanding will help her to address an area that is responsible for most of her errors, and thereby to correct the biggest challenge she seems to have.

Other problem-solving tools — scatter diagrams, lotus diagrams, force field analysis, and others — contribute to learning improvement for all students. But because the tools translate sometimes-abstract ideas about performance into graphic information about that performance, they are uniquely suited to the student with learning differences or one on an IEP as well.

If, as John Quincy Adams asserted in establishing the Smithsonian, “To furnish the means of acquiring knowledge is…the greatest benefit that can be conferred upon mankind,” then providing these tools to the individual learner once more reminds us of the lofty and critical role that a teacher plays in students’ education.

References

Adams, John Quincy. (1846) Report on the Establishment of the Smithsonian Institution.

Cleary, Barbara A. and Sally Duncan. (1997) Tools and Techniques to Inspire Classroom Learning. Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press, p. 3.

Gardner, Howard. (1993) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (10th edition). New York: Basic Books, pp. 3-11.

Neave, Henry R. (1990) The Deming Dimension. Knoxville, TN: SPC Press, pp. 139 ff.

Reeves, Douglas, Ph.D. (Spring 2009) “Principles and Policies for a New Era.” AdvancED Source, p. 3.

Learning Environments

There is some good news about public education! We know more than we’ve ever known about successful school improvement. In fact, rarely in American history has there been such wide-spread agreement among researchers and practitioners alike regarding how to significantly improve schools. Increasingly, educators across North America are working to re-culture schools into high-performing professional learning communities.

There is some good news about public education! We know more than we’ve ever known about successful school improvement. In fact, rarely in American history has there been such wide-spread agreement among researchers and practitioners alike regarding how to significantly improve schools. Increasingly, educators across North America are working to re-culture schools into high-performing professional learning communities.

What Are Professional Learning Communities?

At the most basic level, a professional learning community is a concept — a way of thinking about schooling — whether it is at the district, school, team or classroom level — preferably at every level. While schools that function as professional learning communities do not look exactly alike, they do exhibit certain common characteristics. Dufour, Eaker and Many (2006) describe these schools as having the following components deeply embedded in their day-to-day culture.

A Focus on Learning

Schools that function as professional learning communities operate on the assumption that the fundamental purpose of schools is to ensure high levels of learning for all students. When a school adopts learning for all students as its core mission — the very reason it exists — virtually every aspect of the school is affected, both structurally and culturally. In a school that functions as a professional learning community, the emphasis is on embedding the learning mission into the day-to-day work of the entire school. This is done by focusing intensely on four fundamental questions.

  • If we believe the fundamental purpose of schools is learning, just what is it we expect all students to learn?
  • If we believe the fundamental purpose of schools is learning and we are clear about what it is we expect students to learn, how will be know if they have learned it?
  • If we believe the fundamental purpose of schools is learning and we are clear about what it is we expect them to learn and we have a system in place to monitor the learning of each student, how will we, as a school, respond when students experience difficulty with their learning?
  • If we believe the fundamental purpose of schools is learning, and we are clear about what we expect students to learn, and we have a system in place to monitor the learning of each student, how will the school extend and enrich the learning of students when they learn the essential outcomes?

Ensuring high levels of learning for all students does create pressure on everyone in every role, but in a professional learning community there is the recognition that this is our job — what we signed on to do!

High Performing Collaborative Teams

A professional learning community can best be described as a collaborative culture; a culture in which collaborative teams work to ensure all their students learn. Importantly, professional learning communities go beyond merely “inviting” or “encouraging” teachers to collaborate. They embed a collaborative culture within the day-to-day life of schools by organizing teachers into collaborative teams.

Most importantly, professional learning communities focus on what the teams do. For example, teams are expected to clarify essential outcomes; develop and utilize the results of common, formative assessments; collaboratively analyze student learning (particularly the results of formative common assessments); and reflect on their instructional practices in order to improve the learning levels of their students.

Collective Inquiry: Seeking Out Best Practice

There are major differences between collaboration in traditional schools and the work of collaborative teams in a professional learning community. Teachers in traditional schools collaborate largely by “averaging opinions.” Collaborative teams in a professional learning community always approach problems or issues by first “seeking shared knowledge” — studying the “best that is known” about the particular topic being addressed. In this respect, teams are merely mirroring the behavior of other professionals where the expectation is that behavior should reflect the latest and best knowledge base at any given time.

How do teams seek out and find “best practice?” Most often, best practices are found within the collaborative team itself. Best practice may be found on another team or at another school. Best practices are often found in journals, professional organizations or on the internet. In a professional learning community teams of teachers become “students” of best practice.

A Culture of Experimentation and Continuous Improvement

In a professional learning community it is not enough to merely learn about “best practices.” There is an emphasis of action, on doing — closing the gap between what is known about best practice and what faculty and staff actually do day in and day out. Ultimately, a professional learning community is a culture of experimentation — of “doing.” By constantly seeking new and better ways of doing things, by trying them out and collaboratively analyzing the effectiveness of their efforts, the staff of a professional learning community moves beyond the status quo to create a culture of continuous improvement.

A Focus on Results

Often, the first question that is asked in traditional schools when a new initiative or idea is undertaken is, “How do you like it?” Obviously, feelings are important and should be solicited, but in a professional learning community the primary focus is on results — “How has this effort affected student learning?”

In a professional learning community teams of teachers are continually analyzing student learning. They reflect on the effectiveness of their own professional practice. They seek to gain deeper understanding regarding ways to improve their effectiveness. Most important, they set meaningful improvement goals. In fact, the key to understanding the power of professional learning communities is to understand the power of collaborative teams taking collective responsibility for results.

A New Way of Thinking About Principals

To effectively lead schools in new ways, principals must passionately focus on the right things. Principals of professional learning communities are expected to make a seismic shift from being instructional leaders to becoming learning leaders. This role is fulfilled, primarily, by asking the right questions, spending time on the things that will have the greatest impact on student learning and enhancing the effectiveness of collaborative teams.

The Principal’s Role in Enhancing the Effectiveness of Collaborative Teams

The importance of principals continually working to enhance the effectiveness of collaborative teams is based on a number of important assumptions. Most basic is the assumption that how well teams perform depends, to a great degree, on the quality of leadership — both of the principal and within teams. If the leadership capacity of district leaders and principals is a critical correlate of effective schools, it only follows, then, that the leadership behavior of team leaders is crucial also. In more traditional schools, department chairs or team leaders are seen as having rather modest responsibilities and the position is usually filled with someone who is “willing to do it” or in some cases the position rotates from one person to another regardless of performance. Rarely, is the role of chair or team leader discussed, much less defined. In a professional learning community position descriptions are collaboratively developed and clearly defined.

Equally important is the assumption that the relationship between team leaders and principals must also be clearly defined. Team leaders should be viewed by principals as the key “link” between administration and faculty. Principals are expected to use team leaders as their “learning leadership team” — just as the “principal learning team” is viewed by the district leadership as the district-wide “learning leadership team.”

Perhaps most important, is the assumption that the work of the “principal learning teams” at the district level should precede and mirror the work of the “learning leadership” teams in each school and that this work should focus explicitly on the work that expected of individual collaborative teams. Practicing and rehearsing the work with principals as a group, followed by principals and team leaders practicing and rehearsing prior to asking teacher teams to engage in the work, increases the likelihood of success and greatly enhances the quality of the work of individual teams.

As if We Really Meant It

Ultimately, to become a professional learning community, we must “do the work” as though we really mean it — as though we want schools, classrooms and lessons to be good enough for our own child! There are no substitutes for deep understanding, commitment, hard work, passion and persistence. Re-culturing schools to function as professional learning communities is a difficult, complex and incremental journey. However, the goal of achieving higher levels of learning for all students is inherently worthwhile. If we don’t start now, when will we? And, if we don’t do it, who will?

Reference

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2006). Learning by doing. Bloomington, IN: Solution-Tree.

Teaching & Learning

Wonderful news has emerged for those seeking to improve student achievement. Two different comprehensive syntheses of research on the factors impacting student learning have come to the same conclusion: the most important variable in the achievement of students is the quality of instruction they receive on a daily basis (Marzano, 2003; Hattie, 2009). To ensure students learn at higher levels, simply improve teaching.

Wonderful news has emerged for those seeking to improve student achievement. Two different comprehensive syntheses of research on the factors impacting student learning have come to the same conclusion: the most important variable in the achievement of students is the quality of instruction they receive on a daily basis (Marzano, 2003; Hattie, 2009). To ensure students learn at higher levels, simply improve teaching.

The question remains, “How?” The challenge is particularly daunting in the traditional K-12 culture which regards each school as a series of independent kingdoms (classrooms) staffed by relatively autonomous subcontractors (teachers) who are responsible only for what happens inside their individual classrooms. In this culture of isolation, the individual teacher becomes the focus of improvement.

School districts typically create elaborate teacher supervision plans in the hope that superiors can evaluate subordinates into better performance. Teachers are provided financial incentives to pursue random graduate courses at varied colleges and universities or to attend a myriad of disconnected workshops. Districts have continued with these traditional strategies despite compelling evidence that they have little impact on the quality of teaching.

Furthermore, the assumption behind this approach – improving the effectiveness of an individual teacher will improve the organization – is patently false. The intense focus on the individual discounts the conditions and constraints of the systems within which they work. As W. Edwards Deming observed, put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.

Systems Thinking

A “systems approach” to school improvement represents the antithesis of a culture based on individual isolation and independence. Systems thinking concentrates on interdependent relationships, connections, and interactions of the component parts of a larger system. The focus is on creating powerful systems that promote the continuous improvement of the entire organization.

The Professional Learning Community at Work (PLC) model offers a systems approach to school improvement. Teachers are organized into grade level, course specific, or interdisciplinary collaborative teams in which educators work interdependently to achieve common goals for which members are mutually accountable. A process is put in place to ensure teams clarify the essential learnings for each course, grade level, and unit of instruction; establish consistent pacing; create frequent common assessments to monitor student learning, and agree on the criteria they will use to judge the quality of student work. Each team then uses the evidence of student learning to identify individual students who need additional time and support, to discover problematic areas of the curriculum that require the attention of the team, and to help each member become aware of his or her instructional strengths and weaknesses.

The collaboration and interdependence of these horizontal teams extends to vertical teams as well. If a fundamental goal of the third grade mathematics program is to prepare students for success in fourth grade mathematics, third grade teachers must work closely with fourth grade teachers if they are to achieve that goal.

A Systematic Approach to Intervention

Because the traditional approach to schooling has considered the individual classroom teacher the primary agent for ensuring student learning, what happens when students’ struggles have been left to the discretion of each teacher. It is widely understood (and accepted) that some teachers will allow students to turn in a late homework assignment: some will not. Some teachers will allow a student to re-take a test: some will not. Some teachers will come early and stay late to provide assistance to students; some will not and others cannot. Some teachers will insist that students continue working on a paper or project until it meets an acceptable standard: some will assign a failing grade and move on. Schools have played a form of educational lottery with the lives of their students because what happens when students struggle will depend on the idiosyncrasies of the teacher to whom they are assigned.

The PLC concept demands a systematic approach to intervention. It eschews the randomness of traditional practice and guarantees all students will be the beneficiaries of a coordinated, methodical, multi-layered, fluid plan of intervention–regardless of the teacher to whom they are assigned. This plan will:

  • Provide students with additional time and support for learning if the current level of time and support is not leading to their success,
  • Ensure timely assistance, with support provided as soon as there is evidence a student is experiencing difficulty, and
  • Require rather than invite students to utilize the extra time and support.
The District as a PLC

The PLC concept also extends beyond the individual school when district leaders become emphatic about certain conditions that must be evident in all schools. Those conditions should include:

  •  Each school must demonstrate a commitment to high levels of learning for all students.
  • Teachers must be organized into teams and given time to collaborate.
  • Teams must provide students with a guaranteed and viable curriculum for every course and grade level, must develop frequent and varied common assessments, and use the evidence of student learning to fuel the continuous improvement of both the team and each of its members.
  • The school must create a system of intervention that provide students with additional time and support when they experience difficulty in their learning.
  • The school must have a plan for extending and enriching the learning of students who are proficient, a plan that gives more students greater access to more challenging curriculum and the support to ensure their success in that curriculum.

Although district leaders are “tight” on these essential elements of an effective PLC, they are “loose” in allowing each school the autonomy to create its own strategies for creating these conditions. They create processes to enable schools to learn from and support one another. Traditional administrative meetings are transformed into an intense collaborative effort where a principal presents all available evidence regarding student learning in his or her school, discusses steps the school has taken to promote the various elements of the PLC concept, celebrates the progress that has been made, and calls attention to areas of concern. The other principals and central office staff then brainstorm solutions to problems and offer strategies that may have worked in other schools. Action research and ongoing learning are the norm. Leaders at all levels are expected to take an interest in and contribute to the success of every school.

But isn’t it about the Individual Teacher?

The PLC process does not diminish the significance of the individual teacher. If the classroom teacher remains the most important factor in student learning, the challenge facing schools is, “How can we persuade our teachers to embrace more effective instructional strategies?” The most powerful strategy of persuasion is presenting teachers with irrefutable evidence of consistently better results. As one research study concluded, “Nothing changes the mind like the hard cold world hitting it in the face with actual real-life data” (Patterson, et. al., p.51). The transparency of results from the frequent common assessments that serve as the lynchpin of the PLC process provides that ongoing evidence of effectiveness. When teachers see that students taught by a colleague consistently perform at higher levels on team-developed assessments, they become more receptive to changes in their instructional practice. Furthermore, the positive peer pressure of the collaborative team process fosters improvement. Most educators are moved to seek new practices rather than continually preventing their team from achieving its goals because of their poor results.

Conclusion

After synthesizing over 800 meta-analyses on the factors that impact student achievement, John Hattie concluded that the best way to improve schools was to organize teachers into collaborative teams that clarify what each student must learn and the indicators of learning the team will track, to gather evidence of that learning on an ongoing basis, and to analyze the results together so that they could learn which instructional strategies were working and which were not. In other words, he urged schools to function as Professional Learning Communities. Robert Marzano came to a similar conclusion when he described the PLC concept as “one of the most powerful initiatives for school improvement I have seen in the last decade.” The quality of the individual teacher remains paramount in student learning, and the PLC concept is our best strategy for creating the system that ensures more good teaching in more classrooms more of the time.

References

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement. New York: Routledge.

Marzano, R. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Patterson, K., Grenny,J. Maxfield, D., McMillan, R, & Switzler, A. (2008). Influencer: The power to change anything. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Continuous Improvement

Does accreditation make a difference? Does it have an impact on schools and help them change? Does it contribute to a school’s efforts to improve itself? The answer is yes!

Does accreditation make a difference? Does it have an impact on schools and help them change? Does it contribute to a school’s efforts to improve itself? The answer is yes!

AdvancED recently commissioned a team of outside researchers to study this issue. The results are contained in a report (re: Learning From Accreditation), which was presented at the March 2009 AdvancED Conference in Chicago.

The researchers examined Standards Assessment Reports and Quality Assurance Review data from 2,171 schools that completed accreditation in 2007 or 2008. Survey data were collected additionally from 678 schools that finished Quality Assurance Reviews between January 2007 and June 2008. Phone interviews and additional follow-up survey data were collected from 25 of these 678 schools. Finally, more detailed case study information was collected from four schools, whose stories of success were highlighted in the report.

In summary, the researchers found that accreditation influences school improvement by:

  • Prompting reflection on the school as a whole.
  • Creating the opportunity for the school to function as a professional learning community.
  • Generating unique data about the school, for use in school improvement.
  • Clarifying and focusing the school’s improvement efforts around specific, targeted, measurable objectives.
  • Encouraging “ownership” of the resulting school improvement plans.
It Starts With Self-Assessment

In the beginning stages of seeking accreditation, schools conduct a self-assessment and rate themselves on the seven AdvancED standards. The researchers looked closely at how the 2,171 schools rated themselves and discovered:

  • Schools rated themselves the highest on the standards of Governance and Leadership and Resources and Support Systems.
  • Schools rated themselves the lowest on Documenting and Using Results and Commitment to Continuous Improvement.

The researchers noted, however, an interesting face.  Upon completion of accreditation, when these same schools were asked in what standards they experienced the most change as a result of accreditation, the standards in which the schools originally rated themselves lowest were the standards in which they reported having changed the most. Accreditation, therefore, clearly helped these schools identify areas of growth, which resulted in improvement and action plans to address these areas.

It Includes “External Eyes”

Within two years of completing the Standards Assessment Report, the school is visited by an external team from AdvancED. The external team reviews the school’s self-assessment and the evidence provided by the school, and develops its own report. The researchers examined the Quality Assurance Review reports from 678 schools to determine how closely the schools’ assessment of themselves compared to that of the external review teams that visited them near the end of the accreditation process.

Across the board, the Quality Assurance Review averages on the seven standards were lower than the Standard Assessment Report averages. It was clear that Quality Assurance Review teams, comprised of persons outside the school, were able to evaluate evidence, note areas of improvement, and “see the forest” a little more clearly than those immersed in the day-to-day complexity of school life. This, however, worked in the other direction as well. In many singular cases, Quality Assurance Review teams commended schools and rated them more highly than the schools did themselves on particular standards. Nevertheless, the Quality Assurance Review reports, in practically all cases, were instrumental in the schools developing specific, measurable school improvement goals that they would pursue.

Summary

It was clear from the research report that accreditation makes a difference in helping schools improve. The external review is particularly helpful in allowing schools to see themselves through a “different set of eyes.” Through both the Standards Assessment Report and Quality Assurance Review processes a school is guided to focus on both its areas of strength and weakness, enabling the school to set clear, targeted, measurable improvement goals that become not just the basis for maintaining accreditation but that become in themselves a continuous improvement process.

Learning Environments

Keeping Systems Thinking in Perspective

How Systems Thinking Applies to Education

Frank Betts

Nearly a century of change has left schools playing catch-up, and it will take a whole-system approach to meet society’s evolving needs.

Becoming a Learning Community

Beth Buchler and Margaret Johnson

Life long learning has taken on greater meaning as public schools are involving more community members in their activities and adventures. Schools are opening their doors for longer hours and welcoming segments of the population who typically did not venture into our school buildings. This communication is creating new dynamics in education.

Systems Dynamics and K-12 Teachers

JW Forrester

Forrester’s article focuses on the dynamic, computer-modeling approaches that are being used in K-12 schools across America. He focuses his article on a project oriented approach known as learner-centered learning for K-12. When this technique is applied with system dynamics it becomes a very powerful tool that substantially corrects learning issues in the K-12 system.

CEO Message

Welcome to the first issue of our new AdvancED Source publication. Designed with you in mind, the AdvancED Source will focus on education quality and educational issues from the viewpoint of the practitioner. Issues will contain a combination of stories about educational strategies and practice as well as school and district successes written by practitioners and experts in our field.

Welcome to the first issue of our new AdvancED Source publication. Designed with you in mind, the AdvancED Source will focus on education quality and educational issues from the viewpoint of the practitioner. Issues will contain a combination of stories about educational strategies and practice as well as school and district successes written by practitioners and experts in our field.

In this issue of the AdvancED Source, we have chosen the theme of Educational Change in the 21st century. We have learned much about educational change during the past two decades. However, we must adapt and apply our understandings to enable us to create the conditions that support meaningful change that impacts student learning. Accredited institutions know that continuous improvement requires a school or district to constantly assess student achievement, the challenges and opportunities they are facing, and the environment around them as they seek to deliver educational quality. This means that schools and districts must be ready and willing to adapt.

The AdvancED Accreditation Process allows for that flexibility within a set of standards that are focused on institutional effectiveness and practices that impact student achievement. This process of continuous improvement, of continually re-assessing for the betterment of students, offers schools and districts the opportunity to be prepared for the future, whatever change it might bring.

We are pleased to share feature articles from recognized educational leaders Laura Lefkowits, Brian McNulty, James Popham and Douglas Reeves. Laura Lefkowits’ piece "Purposely Connected" explores the new ways students are wired and connected and whether schools are ready to embrace those. In his article entitled, "Actions of Effective Leaders," Brian McNulty presents the “knowing-doing gap” and five key steps that leaders must take for school or district improvement.

Long-time author James Popham shares his perspectives on inputs, outputs and accountability in the evaluation of schools in his article, "Hericlitus and the Appraisal of Schools." You’ll also find Dr. Douglass Reeves’ article, "Getting Accountability Right: Principles and Policies for a New Era"  in which he examines the role of accountability, present and future.

In the coming months, the new administration will re-engage policy makers, educators, and the business community in a purposeful deliberation focused on advancing the effectiveness of our accountability system. Accountability is here to stay. As such, the educational community must focus its efforts on maturing and improving our current system so that it supports the results we want and need for every child. What changes should and can we make so that students demonstrate the knowledge and skills that will lead to their success as productive adults in our global community? We must embrace change that matters in our classrooms so that students find greater success in their learning.

As you reflect on the articles shared in this publication, consider how you can help influence and create a culture of change in your school that promotes continuous improvement focused on student learning.

Technology

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became America’s first African-American president. The country celebrated the event as an achievement of the founding fathers' assertion that all men are created equal and as a promise of new breakthroughs to come. 

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became America’s first African-American president. The country celebrated the event as an achievement of the founding fathers' assertion that all men are created equal and as a promise of new breakthroughs to come. Commentators on that day spoke of other “firsts” as well – the first U.S. Senator to assume the presidency since Lyndon Johnson, the first time young children would be living in the White House since the Carter years, and the first time a mother-in-law would live with a presidential family since Harry Truman’s days.

But I think President Obama could be remembered for another first that is perhaps even more profound than having broken the racial ceiling on the highest office in the land.

Barack Obama is the first president ever to carry a Blackberry.

There are many things a new president must adjust to, many freedoms that must be relinquished. Obama will have to forgo the spontaneous pickup basketball games he loves so much when he travels and, of course, he has publicly promised to abandon his cigarette habit, at least while on the White House grounds. But give up his wireless connection to friends and the World Wide Web? No way! Our Gen X president simply refuses to walk through life unconnected, diminished and incapacitated! “I’m the president... figure it out!” he told his people. And they did.

Enter “Blackberry One.” Everybody knows its name. Nobody has its number.

Beware the Wired Student

Students in our schools, it seems, are much more dangerous. In its 2007 report, Creating & Connecting, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) revealed that 96 percent of students with online access spend nearly as much time using social networking technologies as watching television – nine hours and 10 hours respectively each week. Moreover, more than half of the respondents indicated that they use social networking tools to talk about education and collaborate on school projects; yet, associated interviews with district leaders revealed that most K-12 school systems have strict rules against nearly all forms of online social networking at school.

When students come to school they “power down” – literally, when they are told to turn off their wireless devices, and metaphorically when they disengage as they disconnect. In Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (2001), digital gamer Marc Prensky introduced the notion of the “digital native” into our lexicon. Today’s student, Prensky asserts, is “wired” and functions best when networked, prefers graphics before text, and multi-tasks. When we deprive these students of their networked devices, it is like depriving them of oxygen. They can’t breathe, they can’t function, and so they power down, conserving energy until they can find a more hospitable environment in which these neurons can fire, connect, and make meaning of the world around them. In most cases, this environment is anywhere but school.

The Ubiquity of Social Networking

Today’s students do not use their technological devices to passively access information – they use them to connect with others. Social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook are the fundamental building blocks of a teenager’s life today. Think princess telephones in the ‘60’s -on steroids.

Ask students about social networks, and they’ll tell you that wherever their geographic locale, they are a mere breath away from each other on Facebook. They regularly negotiate sales of everything from video games to car parts on eBay, prefer to share vacation memories and weekend photos on Flickr, and create their alter-egos on MySpace.

Of course students don’t have the Secret Service to protect them from potential abusers when they participate in virtual social networking and this is a concern to many school administrators as well as parents as reported in the NSBA study. However, social networkers have developed processes to keep themselves safe and to regulate their own communities. On Facebook, for example, you may only view another’s “profile” if you have been “friended” by that person. This promotes a level of privacy with which all users are comfortable.

Most sites also have mechanisms that allow community members to “flag” posted items that they believe are inappropriate or outside the terms of use. For example, on the free online classified advertising site, Craig’s List, users looking for a new home can select a list of houses for sale by owner or a separate list for sale by agent. If an unscrupulous agent lists a house in the “for-sale-byowner” section, an observant user can “flag” the item warning fellow users about the infraction. When an item receives a certain number of flags, it is pulled from the site.

Most “terms of use” statements do not specify each and every possible infraction warranting a “flag.” Rather, it is up to users themselves to set the standards and, over time, each virtual community develops its own set of tacit agreements and operating principles to guide its online behavior.

Writers such as Howard Rheingold and James Surowiecki have discussed the power inherent in online communities. Rheingold coined the term, “smart mobs,” and Surowiecki identified this phenomenon as the “wisdom of crowds.” One only has to look at the impact of the Internet on the fundraising abilities of recent presidential candidates to understand the strength inherent in a community of like-minded people joining together in a virtual world to support a shared goal.

Purposeful Communities

Researchers at my organization, the Denver-based Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), have identified “purposeful community” as a critical component of successful education systems. In K-12 education, this community includes students, parents, teachers, school staff members, central office administrators and support personnel, the school board, other social agencies, and businesses.

A purposeful community has the collective ability to develop and use all available assets to accomplish purposes and produce outcomes that matter to all community members. Members come together to accomplish outcomes that individuals could not accomplish on their own, such as increasing graduation rates or reducing absenteeism.

Purposeful communities use both tangible assets (such as media centers and textbooks) and intangible assets (such as parent involvement and community support) to achieve their purposes. They also have agreed-upon processes for working together, which include both articulated and tacit operating principles governing their interactions.

These processes ensure the viability of the community and increase the likelihood of meeting shared goals. Finally, purposeful communities exhibit a sense of collective efficacy; they really do believe that together they can make a difference. At McREL, we believe these communities can have a powerful effect on student achievement in our 21st century schools.

What if?

Perhaps we should take a lesson from our students. They are in fact organically forming purposeful communities in cyberspace every day. Rather than restricting the most highly engaging form of communication and community-making available to students, what if schools embraced this technology and made use of its natural educational advantages? True purposeful communities are composed of students, parents, teachers, and many others. Together, stakeholders’ contributions to school improvement strategies could grow exponentially and virally in the same way one adds friends on Facebook.

I have a dream. One day I get the president’s number. I find his Facebook page and write on his wall: Dear Mr. President. Thanks for being first.

This article is adapted from one that originally appeared in American School Board Journal (Lefkowits, L. 2008, July. A new face for schools. American School Board Journal, 18-19.)

Leadership

What I have outlined below are five specific actions that leaders must take if they want to make improvement in their schools and districts. Before identifying these five actions however I need to address one system-wide concern that that must be addressed first.

What I have outlined below are five specific actions that leaders must take if they want to make improvement in their schools and districts. Before identifying these five actions however I need to address one system-wide concern that that must be addressed first.

Of all of the potential drawbacks to effective leadership the single greatest challenge is a lack of follow through by educators. At this point in time the biggest problem in schools and districts is certainly not the lack of knowledge, but instead a lack of action throughout the system. Pfeffer and Sutton (2000), referred to this dilemma as the “knowing-doing gap.” They point out that in most organizations it is not a lack of knowledge that is the problem; it is that we don’t act on what we already know. This results in our starting many more good initiatives than we finish. The issue of the lack of follow through is especially true in schools and districts. It is no wonder that educators are skeptical and cynical about taking on the next “best thing.” How many good reform initiatives have been started with great fanfare only to end with a whimper?

William (2007) points out that the most important difference between the most effective and least effective classrooms is the teacher, but goes on to say that the most important variable appears to be what these teachers do in classrooms rather than what they know. More effective teachers act on what they know works. Less effective teachers know the same things, but don’t act to change their practices.

Unfortunately the “knowing-doing gap” is not limited to teachers, but also applies to administrators and other staff members. For administrators however the “knowing-doing gap” relates to the lack of monitoring for both the level of implementation, and the effectiveness of the intervention strategies. The difference between more effective and less effective principals is not their commitment to the reforms strategies, but rather their level of follow-through on the implementation. Effective principals monitor to ensure follow-through in the classroom on the practices (Duke, 2007, Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). The same holds true for superintendents and central office staff. More effective superintendents and central office staff were actively involved in the monitoring of the implementation of their reform strategies (Murphy and Hallinger. 1988, Waters, & Marzano, 2006).

So the first step of any change initiative must begin with the realization that without consistent, rigorous follow through, there will be limited, if any, progress. As Bossidy and Charan (2002) have stated “leadership without the discipline of execution is incomplete and ineffective” (p. 34).

Five Actions for Success

Having made the commitment to follow through on our implementation and learning, leaders then need to consistently take five actions for success. These include:

  • Use data well
  • Develop a limited number of focused goals
  • Focus on instructional practices
  • Implement deeply, and
  • Monitor and provide feedback and support

If none of these action steps look particularly novel, they shouldn’t. Each of these actions has been identified in the research for some time now. While not new or novel, however, we now have more detailed information from the research about each of these areas and how to think about them.

Action 1 -- Use data well

A recent edition of Educational Leadership (2008) had as its title “Data: now what?” The title alone captures the conundrum of many educators. We now have lots of data that we aren’t quite sure what to do with. For our purposes here I’m recommending that we use grade-level, building-level, and district-level data to establish performance targets for each grade level, building, and for then overall for the district. Once performance targets have been set and professional development provided, it also will be necessary to collect and analyze ongoing data to monitor both the depth of implementation of the strategies (how often are the strategies being used, by how many teachers), and the impact on student learning (ongoing formative assessment information.) Both of these become critical data points in the process. The ongoing use of data by effective schools is now well documented (Reeves, 2007).

Action 2 -- Focused goal setting

Let me say up front that the outcome here is not another plan, nor is this a compliance activity. We already have too many plans, to many strategies, and too many initiatives to ever carry out any of them effectively. The purpose here is to gain consensus and focus everyone’s attention on a limited number of focused goals and strategies. Focus, focus, focus. This may mean letting go, or postponing the implementation of other priorities. If we truly expect people to implement well, it is critical that we focus our attention and learning on a limited number of goals and strategies. Fullan (2008) warns us against “initiativitis” and “repetitive change syndrome.”, or “the tendency to launch an endless stream of disconnected initiatives that no one could possibly manage” (p.1). Reeves (2006) describes the same problem as “initiative fatigue.” He states that “the Law of Initiative Fatigue will impose its inexorable will, and enthusiasm gives way to organizational overload, which is precipitously followed by burnout” (p.108). The ultimate test here is if we all focus on just a few things, deeply implement them, and analyze and learn together where it is and is not working, we can make demonstrable progress in reasonable time. However our history has been to move on before we have ever done any of these things well. The first test of your planning process is “Can everyone in the district identify what the focused improvement goals and strategies are?”

Action 3 -- Focus on developing shared instructional practices

A cornerstone of continuous improvement in schools is based in developing a shared language, understanding, and use of effective instruction practices. The first step of this process is gaining clarity on what we mean by “high quality instruction” or “high leverage strategies.” This can be accomplished in several ways. The first is to use your data to identify your most effective teachers (who have been successful for at least three years) and to document the teaching practices being used by these teachers. These observations should be gathered and synthesized by building leadership teams and then compiled at the district level. The second way is to go to the research and select practices from the research (see Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001)). Fullan (2008) recommends that these practices have the status of being “non negotiable.” In Norfolk VA, a district that has made consistent improvement for close to ten years, they are clear about both their goals and strategies. For example, in the area of instruction they focused on what they call their “big three power strategies:” compare and contrast, justify answers, and content vocabulary. (O’Konek 2008).

Goal 4 -- Implement deeply

Doug Reeves (2006) talks about the “myth of linearity” to describe what we think happens with implementation. That is the belief that the more we implement the better the outcomes. He goes on to document the fact that we don’t get the outcomes promised in the research until you have very high levels of the implementation across the school (at the 90% levels). This research has tremendous implications for how we think about implementation. For most of us, our experience has been that we implement sporadically at best. Honestly, it would be difficult for most of us to identify any initiatives that were fully implemented across the entire staff of the school, with consistency and fidelity to the practices. However this must be our goal. If we have identified the right goals and strategies, the real challenge lies in implementing the strategies deeply. This is also why we need to collect on-going data on the depth of implementation (i.e. How many teachers are using the strategies, with fidelity, in an ongoing way?) Although we have committed to full implementation before, we have often lacked the political will that it takes to implement fully.

Action 5 -- Monitor, provide feedback, and support

More often than not this is the single most important variable that is overlooked in our improved efforts. This action step requires two things, measuring the degree of implementation, and the impact of the practices on student performance. The first step is to define what the practices look like when they are being implemented well. This description can be in the form of a rubric, checklist, or protocol. The key here is to gain consensus on “what it looks like when it is being implemented well.” Once you have defined the indicators that you’re looking for, you will need to outline a monitoring and reporting schedule. That is, how often will you look for the practices in the classroom and how to report this data back to staff. This set of practices becomes a feedback loop to staff on the overall implementation of the strategies. The second step involves assessing student progress as a result of the implementation of the strategies. These should be collaboratively developed, common formative assessment measures. Questions such as “what are the learning goals to be assessed, how to assess these, how to score them” all are critical work for grade-level, department level, or course teams. The other important component here is learning. Where are the practices being implemented well? Why are they being successful here? Where are the practices not being implemented well, and why? This is what Reeves (2006) refers to as the “degree of inquiry” exhibited by schools and districts. The higher the level of inquiry exhibited by a school or district, the higher performance of school or districts.

What I have briefly described here is a systemic approach for school and district improvement. When integrated these action steps create a new way of thinking about accountability. This form of accountability begins with our holding each other personally accountable for following through on our commitments. Only when we have developed internal accountability to each other can we expect other forms of accountability to matter. The goal would be to have schools and districts that deeply explore their successes and challenges, where data is used to help everyone learn together which practices are most successful, and where everyone shares in the success of every child.

References

Bossidy, L., & Charan, R., (2002). Execution: the discipline of getting things done. Crown Business, NY NY.

Duke, D. (2007), Turning Schools Around: What Are We Learning About the Process, and Those Who Do It. Ed Week V. 26,#24, p. 35-37

Educational Leadership. (2008). Data: Now what? Association for supervision and curriculum development. Alexandria VA. Vol. 66, No. 4

Fullan, M., (2008). What’s worth fighting for in the principalship? New York: Teacher College Press.

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Marzano, R.J., Waters, J.T., & McNulty, B.A. (2005). What works in school leadership: research to results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Murphy and Hallinger (1988) in Elmore, R. (2004) School Reform From the Inside Out: Policy, Practice, and Performance. Cambridge MA: Harvard Education Press

O’Konek, L., (2008). Norfolk public school district, Norfolk VA.

Pfeffer J., & Sutton, R., (2000). The knowing-doing gap: how smart companies turn knowledge into action. Boston MA: Harvard Business School Press

Reeves, D. (2007). Ahead of the curve: the power of assessment to transform teaching and learning. Bloomington IN: Solution Tree

Reeves, D. B., (2006). The Learning leader: how to focus: improvement for better results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Waters, T. J., & Marzano, R. J. (2006) School District Leadership That Works: A Working Paper. McREL.org

Wiliam, D. (2007). Content then Process: Teacher Learning Communities in the Service of Formative Assessment, In D. Reeves (Ed.), Ahead of the Curve: The power of assessment to transform teaching and learning. But Bloomington IN: Solution Tree

Measuring Success

Hericlitus, a Greek philosopher (ca. 535-475 BCE), believed change was central to what transpires in the universe. An expression often attributed to Hericlitus, although there is no record of his having written or uttered it, is that “everything is in a state of flux.” More than 2500 years ago, this Greek thinker clearly grasped the constancy of change.

Hericlitus, a Greek philosopher (ca. 535-475 BCE), believed change was central to what transpires in the universe. An expression often attributed to Hericlitus, although there is no record of his having written or uttered it, is that “everything is in a state of flux.” More than 2500 years ago, this Greek thinker clearly grasped the constancy of change.

The ways we determine the quality of our schools, and particularly the approaches employed by those who accredit schools, have certainly been in a state of flux during the past century. When I began my teaching career back in the early 1950s, schools were accredited very differently than the way they are today. In this brief analysis, I’ll indicate what the chief change has been in the way we evaluate our schools. Thereafter, I will identify another change that must be made in our school-accreditation strategies if we want them to be defensible.

A Preoccupation with Input Variables

My first serious brush with the accreditation of schools did not take place during my years as a beginning teacher in Oregon. Actually, my own high school didn’t go through an accreditation process while I was there, so I never seriously thought about what was involved in the appraisal of schools. However, once I enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana University, I experienced an instant collision with school accreditation. A professor in one of my very first courses assigned a term project in which his students were to evaluate a real or fictitious school using the appraisal model then employed by the North Central Association (NCA). Our professor supplied us with materials currently used during NCA accreditations, and my fellow students and I were to develop a school-accreditation report based on the evaluative criteria then employed by NCA.

I had never done anything of this sort before. Indeed, I never even knew there was a formal accreditation process used to evaluate schools. It was all new and, I admit, somewhat intimidating. But as I became immersed in the NCA accreditation materials, I quickly discerned that NCA’s accreditations were based almost completely on input variables. Those input variables included such factors as the number of books in a school’s library, the number of instructional hours in a school’s academic year, and the number of degrees and/or staff-development courses completed by a school’s teachers. There was no attention paid—none—to what a school’s students had learned, and this struck me as strange. But who was I, a rookie graduate student, to quarrel with the strategy of what I soon learned was a widely respected school-accreditation association. NCA was, after all, a “North Central Association,” and Indiana was, geographically, a north-central state. I assumed NCA’s preoccupation with input variables was a legitimate way to tackle the evaluation of schools. As I said, I was a rookie.

The appraisal of schools during those years seemed to be predicated on a reasonable notion that if a school provided its students with the right kinds of inputs, it was likely for appropriate outputs to emerge. This sort of means-ends reasoning, of course, is far from absurd. Good inputs, in most realms, typically trigger good outputs. But because good inputs don’t always yield good outputs, changes began to take place in the way we appraised our schools.

A Shift to Output Variables

I suspect it was because of my early brush with the school-accreditation process that I have been attentive through the years to the ways accreditation associations have tried to separate school-wheat from school-chaff. What I’ve witnessed in the past half-century is a steady and decisive shift away from reliance on input variables and a clear move toward the evaluative use of output variables. Gingerly at first, and then with greater conviction, accreditation associations have begun asking schools to show what happens to students as a consequence of a school’s instruction. In short, schools have been asked to come up with evidence of students’ learning to show a school is doing a good instructional job.

Indeed, given the current preoccupation with output variables, it is accurate to characterize today’s school-accreditation process as definitely tilted in the direction of outputs and, more specifically, focused on outputs in the form of student’ test performances. I remember first encountering this shift toward output variables when schools began being accredited on the basis of a “school-improvement” evaluation model. In this approach to accreditation, a school’s staff first identified the kinds of improvements it hoped to bring about in students’ performances, then collected evidence regarding whether those intended outcomes had, in fact, been realized. This sort of school-improvement accreditation strategy clearly revolved around outputs, not inputs.

As I consider the most prominent approaches to the accreditation of schools these days, it seems apparent that the evaluative process now emphasizes what happens to students because of their instruction, and that the most common way to ascertain these effects is through the use of student assessment. This half-century accreditation shift—from looking at inputs to looking at outputs—is a whopping change or, in Hericlitean terms, a nontrivial flux phenomenon.

A Flaw in the Flux

The shift toward appraising schools on the basis of what their students learn instead of how those students have been taught reeks of good sense. Why gamble on whether good inputs yield appropriate outputs? Why not go directly to the outputs themselves? Nonetheless, a serious flaw lurks today in what otherwise represents a reasonable change in the way we evaluate our schools.

In most settings, the dominant form of output-evidence is the performance of students on governmentally imposed accountability tests. Other kinds of assessment data may be at hand, but by far the most important student achievement evidence used are students’ score on external accountability tests. In the U.S., those are the federally approved accountability tests used to satisfy the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). High scores on a state’s annual NCLB tests signify successful schooling; low scores on those tests indicate the opposite. But are these accountability tests providing accurate evaluative evidence?

Regrettably, almost all of today’s accountability tests are unable to accurately distinguish between effective and ineffective instruction. That’s right, when students score well on these tests, those scores are apt to be more influenced by the composition of a school’s student body than by the quality of instruction those students have received. The vast majority of our current accountability tests, then, are instructionally insensitive. That is, they are unable to accurately detect the effectiveness with which students have been taught.

Roughly half of today’s accountability tests are traditional standardized achievement tests whose measurement mission is to compare test-takers’ performances. These exams often contain too many items closely linked to students’ socioeconomic status (SES) or to those students’ inherited academic aptitudes. (Such items optimize the “score-spread” so necessary for comparative score-interpretation.) Schools serving more affluent students, therefore, will tend to look good on such tests irrespective of the effectiveness with which students were taught. Schools serving less affluent students will tend to perform poorly on such test, no matter how stellar the school’s instruction might be. The remaining accountability tests are “standards-based” exams that attempt to measure students’ mastery of far too many state-approved curricular aims and, therefore, can assess only a sample of these too-numerous state curricular targets. Because many teachers who guess wrong about what’s to be tested each year soon give up on the usefulness of such tests, once more the chief determinant of students’ performances is what students bring to school, not how well the students are taught once they arrive.

Because instructionally insensitive accountability tests provide misleading data for the accreditation of schools, even a well-conceived accreditation strategy focused on outputs is certain to stumble whenever the wrong tests are used.

What To Do?

Faced with the prospect of being evaluated with the wrong kinds of accountability tests, a school’s faculty can do three things. First, an attempt should be made to replace instructionally insensitive accountability tests with instructionally sensitive ones. In Wyoming, this has been done for the state’s NCLB tests. Second, a serious assessment-literacy program should be mounted so that educators, parents, other citizens, and students discover why it is that some accountability tests are instructionally sensitive and some aren’t. And, finally, attempts should be made to supplement the data supplied by the wrong kinds of accountability tests with evidence from more appropriate tests generated at the state, district, or school level. In other words, a local school’s staff should employ multiple measures to indicate students’ achievement. Moreover, by using parents or members of the business community to score students’ responses to many of these tests, schools can provide a more credible picture of students’ actual achievements.

Hericlitus had it right. Change takes place constantly. With respect to the appraisal of schools, it is definitely time to change some of the previously made changes. 

Accountability

Educational policy critics now gather, with echoes of the funeral oration for Cease, not to praise the No Child Left Behind Act, but to bury it. That this legislation passed eight years ago with more Democratic than Republican votes is now only a little-remembered footnote.

Educational policy critics now gather, with echoes of the funeral oration for Cease, not to praise the No Child Left Behind Act, but to bury it. That this legislation passed eight years ago with more Democratic than Republican votes is now only a little-remembered footnote. The conventional wisdom is that the age of accountability will be, as the 21st century enters its second decade, an age of scarcity. Schools will do the best they can with limited resources, but on the whole, we certainly should not expect very much. The expectations of large scale reforms, with all students meeting standards by 2014, will be eclipsed by diminished but realistic assessments of the limitations of schools and the children that they serve. This line of reasoning concludes with the inevitable chorus of “I told you so,” by those who abhorred academic standards and the assessments that accompanied them. They pine for the halcyon days of local control, with the locality coveting independence ranging from a state board of education to an individual classroom. In either case, the result is not freedom from control, but merely the freedom to exercise a different sort of control. Thank goodness, they conclude, that we will no longer suffer from federal intrusions in the classroom.

I dissent from these views with the following three arguments. First, the mistakes and successes in educational accountability during the past decade offer not an argument against standards, assessment, and accountability, but rather insights into how to improve these essential instruments of public policy. Second, the new federal economic stimulus legislation that is being signed as this article goes to press expands rather than contracts the federal role in education. Third, there is an historic opportunity to embrace a holistic view of accountability, encompassing not only measurements of student achievement, but also assessments of teachers, administrators, policymakers, and systems that claim to support education. Let us first consider the successes and failures of accountability in the past decade.

Success 1: Standards-Referenced Assessments

During the 2008 political campaigns, No Child Left Behind had few defenders from any political quarter. Liberals said that it was inadequately funded, conservatives said that it was overly intrusive, and a nearly universal chorus joined with refrains of “over testing” and “teaching to the test.” Standards themselves, though in use in all 50 states without any discernable link to the decline of Western civilization, are relentlessly maligned as the work of “Standaristas” (Ohanian, 1999). A full consideration of the evidence, however, includes both hits and misses, and we learn as much from the former as the latter.

The first and most important success of both the law and common practice of the past decade is the prevalence of standards-referenced assessments. In almost every accountability system I have studied since the beginning of the dawn of the standards movement, new accountability systems replaced norm-referenced tests that were disconnected from the classroom curriculum. Indeed, the nature of norm-referenced tests is not to reflect a specific curriculum, but rather to provide a wide range of difficulty so that students could be more accurately placed on the normal distribution, or the bell curve. Unlike a standards-referenced test, such as the ones we administer to teenage drivers and airline pilots, the norm-referenced tests were not designed to help us understand the effectiveness of teaching, curriculum, or leadership. Rather, they only provided the assurance, at great expense and purported accuracy, that close to half of our children were above average. While there are standards-referenced tests that are deeply flawed – they are too long, poorly matched to the curriculum, and insufficiently varied in format – they are dramatically better than their norm-referenced predecessors if our goal is to understand the impact of an educational system on student performance (Reeves, 2001).

In 1994, fewer than a dozen states had approved academic standards with assessments explicitly linked to those standards. A decade later, every state had achieved this, though in widely varying levels of quality and consistency. While opposition to national standards borders on the virulent, a growing number of voices, including some of those in the Obama Administration, are suggesting that in almost every school system in the land the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square of the two sides of a right triangle. This remarkable claim remains true even when political authorities object to any bureaucrat named Pythagoras inflicting his curriculum ideas on what should rightfully be a matter subjected to the vote of the duly elected school board. Academic standards and the tests associated with them, it turns out, are not the result of a New World Order cabal, but simply a rational and fair way to educate students.

The change in state tests to those based explicitly on openly available academic content standards has also had a salutary impact on classroom assessment. A growing movement toward assessment literacy (Ainsworth & Viegut, 2006; Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis & Chappuis, 2004 ; Stiggins, 2000) led to classroom assessments that were linked explicitly to common academic standards rather than the personal preferences of teachers and textbook authors.

Success 2: Teacher and Leadership Impact on Achievement

The research literature provides a growing number of sustained and consistent cases of improved student performance, particularly among poor, minority, and second language students. Chenoweth (2007) is only the latest in a string of studies that documents success in the most challenging of environments, joining Haycock, 2001; Reeves, 2004a, 2004b, 2009, and others. This research is only possible because researchers had access to comprehensive accountability data, with assessments that were based on the state standards. Most importantly, the research shows not only that higher achievement is possible, but also links specific decisions of teachers, administrators, and policy makers to those gains. Darling-Hammond (2000) and Sanders & Rivers (1996) provide compelling evidence of the central role of teaching quality on student achievement. That a disproportionate number of poor and minority students continue to perform poorly compared to their economically advantaged majority colleagues is a function of our persistent maldistribution of teaching quality (Yun and Moreno, 2006), not the inability of these students to succeed.

Success 3: Holistic Accountability

Defying the stereotype of feckless school administrators gaming federal and state requirements in order to accomplish as little as possible, school leaders and teachers in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, and California embraced not only the test-based accountability system required by federal law, but also created other indicators that provided public accountability for senior administrators, board members, teachers, and even parents (Reeves, 2002). These systems have provided a treasure trove of insights not only for researchers, but for practitioners. In fact, the virtuous cycle of direct observation of student performance using locally available data, along with systematic analysis of the adult decisions associated with changes in student performance, is far more likely to influence teacher decision-making than the abstractions of research presented in the typical undergraduate and graduate education courses (Reeves, 2008).

Failure 1: Proficiency Fantasies

When the entity held accountable for a standard of performance is the same entity that sets the standard, then a redefinition of success is inevitable. Just as my AARP magazine proclaims that “sixty is the new thirty,” some states appear to have declared that “woeful is the new proficient.” While notable exceptions, such as Virginia, have increased their requirements for student proficiency, many others have lowered the bar. The sanctions associated with schools labeled as in need of improvement can be onerous, and thus states have every incentive to engage in the fantasy that the path to proficiency lies not in effective teaching and leadership, but in redefining what “proficient” means. The same states have standards for hygiene in restaurants, safety in the workplace, and speed limits on the highways not because these standards are universally observed, but because the public interest is better served with higher than lower standards. Imagine the outcry if a state public health department were to seek to inflate the official ratings of the restaurants that they inspected by declaring that mice and cockroaches were acceptable residents in a “proficient” kitchen. However offensive and absurd this suggestion may seem, that is precisely what would happen if federal legislation were to provide multi-million dollars sanctions against states who were unable to bring all restaurants to meet prevailing health standards and then gave the states themselves the ability to define what “proficient” hygiene in the kitchen really means.

Failure 2: Reverse Robin Hood Effects

In a recent trip to Cuba, I noticed that the Worker’s Paradise of one of the last Communist regimes on earth had strayed a bit from the revolutionary promises of taking from the rich to give to the poor. With physicians, engineers, and professors paid somewhat less, by state degree, than those who roll cigars and dramatically less than those who work in the tourist industry and thus have access to hard currency, the economic incentives are clear. Don’t be a sap who saves lives, builds infrastructure, or prepares the next generation of leaders, but make more with a busload of vapid tourists in a day than you might make in a season of your assigned occupation. Thus are services and brainpower systematically diverted from the poor to the rich. In the U.S. education system, we do the same thing with the sanctions surrounding underperforming schools. We know that these schools need more than anything, expert teaching and leadership. The current system of perverse incentives delivers the opposite. When a school has been restructured under federal guidelines, it is not unusual for the staff to include a disproportionate number (in one case I have observed, 100%) new teachers, led by a first year principal. While a few systems have provided economic incentives for teachers and leaders to take on such a challenge, the most common personnel allocation system can best be described as guaranteed institutionalized failure. The most experienced and capable teachers and leaders are not malicious, but neither are they self-destructive. Accepting a posting to a failing school risks their financial security, professional reputation, and perhaps their personal safety. Every rational incentive is against their helping students who need them the most. These teachers and school leaders have families and mortgages and college bills, and their most likely career decisions will lead them farther and farther away from schools with the greatest need, leaving these schools to be staffed by their least experienced colleagues.

Failure 3: Elevation of Effects Over Causes

Imagine that the new Surgeon General of the United States announced a program to combat teenage obesity. His plan, announced with great fanfare and supported with multi-billion dollar funding, would be to install a scale in every classroom in America. The scales would be very sophisticated – lots of electronic displays and automated analysis, but the information that they would provide includes only the weight gains and losses of the students. When students lose weight, the programs would be declared a success, but neither schools nor students would know if the weight losses were caused by programs of diet and exercise or the result of drug abuse and eating disorders. No matter how sophisticated the scales, this myopic focus on effects – the measurement of weight loss – rather than causes would not help students improve their health, even if it did encourage them to lose weight. In the context of education, our ability and willingness to measure effects (reading and math scores) far outstrips our ability and willingness to measure causes (the specific actions of teachers, administrators, and policymakers that are associated with student achievement). When federal rewards and sanctions are associated with effects rather than causes, we should not find this surprising.

The New Federal Role in Education

The federal economic stimulus package, signed into law by President Obama on February 17, 2009, includes more federal spending for education in a single year than has been previously available over the course of two presidential terms. The central question facing the federal government now is whether this investment will be focused on programs or practices. Programs – the proprietary products of vendors – are by definition dependent upon a continuous stream of funding. Technology licenses must be renewed, equipment be updated, subscriptions must be continued, and the frequently changing faculty and leadership of schools must be retrained. As a result, programs are inherently not sustainable, and thus the history of education reform is littered with programs that were associated more with enthusiastic announcements, inspirational rhetoric, and imperious mandates than long-term sustainability. Practices, by contrast, represent the cultural practices of teachers and leaders – “the way we do things around here” that are sustainable not because of outside resources but because of internal commitment.

The new federal role in education must focus on practices rather than programs. The acid test question of sustainability is, “If there is no money and no mandate, will this practice continue?” If it is associated with externally procured programs, the answer is invariably negative. If it is associated with internal capacity – intellectual property owned, controlled, and perpetuated by educators and school leaders – then sustainability is possible.

New Opportunities in Accountability – The Implementation Audit

What do we need to do in order to get accountability right? Three modest suggestions might be appropriate for consideration by Congress, the Department of Education, state policy makers, and district level leaders. First, allocate one percent of expenditures for an “implementation audit,” a rigorous process in which we ask the simple question, “Are the funds we invested used as we intended?” This question is different from inquiries such as, “Were the teachers trained? Or “Were the boxes delivered?” or “Were the computers connected?” The essential questions have to do with the degree of implementation, and the answer is invariably on a continuum of at least four levels, from exceptional to adequate to progressing to unacceptable. The other essential question has to do with the relationship of implementation to student achievement. Millions of dollars have been invested in programs that were not implemented – even our most cursory examinations reveal unopened boxes of materials that were “delivered” but never used, and unending workshops that were delivered with great fanfare but never implemented. More millions of dollars have been invested in programs that were implemented, but which were not associated with improved student achievement. It is the continuing triumph of belief over evidence, a victory that must be challenged in a new era of educational accountability.

In sum, school leaders need not wait for a directive from Washington, D.C. to improve accountability. They can embrace a comprehensive vision, consider causes as well as effects, and create incentives that are consistent with the intent of policy makers. We can learn from our successes and failures, preserving the best of standards-based education and avoiding the worst parts of effects-based accountability. The children we serve deserve no less.

References

Ainsworth, Larry & Viegut, Donald. Common formative assessments: How to connect standards-based instruction and assessment. Corwin Press, 2006.

Chenoweth, Karin. It’s being done: Academic success in unexpected schools. Harvard Education Press, 2007.

Darling-Hammond, Linda. Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 8(1), 1-50, 2000.

Haycock, Kati. Dispelling the myth revisited. The Education Trust, 2001.

Ohanian, Susan. One size fits few: The folly of educational standards. Heinemann, 1999.

Reeves, Douglas. If you hate standards, learn to love the bell curve. Education Week, 48, June 6, 2001.

Reeves, Douglas. Holistic accountability: Serving students, schools, and community. Corwin Press, 2002.

Reeves, Douglas. Accountability for learning: How teachers and school leaders can take charge. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2004a.

Reeves, Douglas. (2004b). Accountability  in action: A blueprint for learning organizations (2nd ed). Advanced Learning Press, 2004b.

Reeves, Douglas. Reframing teacher leadership to improve your school. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008.

Reeves, Douglas. Level-Five Networks: Making Significant Change in Complex Organizations. In A. Hargreaves & M. Fullan (Eds)., Change Wars. Solution Tree, 2009.

Sanders, William & Rivers, June. Cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement. University of Tennessee Value-Added Research and Assessment Center, 1996.

Stiggins, Rick. Student-involved classroom assessment (3rd ed.). Prentice Hall, 2000.

Stiggins, Rick, Arter. Judith, Chappuis, Jan, & Chappuis, Stephen. Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right, using it well. Assessment Training Institute, 2004.

Yun, John & Moreno, José.“College Access, K-12 Concentrated Disadvantage, and the Next 25 Years of Education Research.” Educational Researcher, 35(1), 12-19, January-February, 2006.

Educational Change

Online Articles on Educational Change

A Survey of Educational Change Models. ERIC Digest.

James B. Ellsworth

A collection of change model frameworks, solidly grounded in empirical studies and practical applications. A small group of studies from disciplines outside educational change (in some cases outside education) also contribute to key concepts.

Educational Change? What the Research Says

Pete Reilly

What are the hidden forces that are slowing educational reform and how can we unlock the doors that are guarded so diligently by educational gatekeepers? It should come as no surprise that one of the most influential factors influencing teacher/gatekeeper decisions about innovations are the competence/credibility of the change agent.

Toward Systemic Educational Change - Questions from a Complex Systems Perspective

Jay Lemke & Working Group 3 Collaborators

This Report both highlights the prospects for a complex systems approach to educational change and invites wider participation in the next stages of formulating a research and action agenda. The aim of that agenda is twofold: (1) to find the best ways to bring these new tools for thinking to the largest numbers of students in every area of the curriculum, and (2) to apply the insights of complex systems analysis to one of the most complex systems of all: our contemporary system of education.

Why Educational Change is Hard: Practical Theory

Chris Lehmann

This posting examines why educational change is taking place so slowly and the risks (low and high) of not changing our schools.

CEO Message

As schools and school systems seek ways to continuously improve, they often focus on data systems, aligned curriculum, interventions, and staff professional development. How often, however, do we consider how culture plays a part in helping schools and school systems increase student achievement and organizational effectiveness?

As schools and school systems seek ways to continuously improve, they often focus on data systems, aligned curriculum, interventions, and staff professional development. How often, however, do we consider how culture plays a part in helping schools and school systems increase student achievement and organizational effectiveness?

This issue of the AdvancED® Source is focused on Culture. In a day and age where we attempt to measure school quality by results of student achievement, we overlook what makes a school unique and successful over time – culture. When it comes to curriculum, instructional practices, co-curricular activities, and organizational structure our schools look more alike than dissimilar. However, when we look inside a school and examine its culture, we find the uniqueness and the strength that differentiates an effective and quality school from an average school.

Leadership, including the governing authority of the school, set the tone and conditions that define the culture of an institution. Strong and effective leaders influence the instructional climate for teachers and students. Setting high expectations for all (adults and students) with an unrelenting attitude towards success and continuous improvement are the foundation upon which a strong culture can manifest and endure. In this issue of the AdvancED Source, successful leaders in our field, based on their rich and diverse experiences, share their perspectives on the importance of a healthy school culture.

AdvancED Source begins with a piece from Dr. Jay Cummings, Dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University, “Cultural and Academic Excellence as Antecedents to Teacher Quality and Continuous School Improvement.” Dr. Cummings explores how culturally responsive teaching incorporates the everyday concerns of students into the curriculum, helping students prepare themselves for meaningful roles in their community.

Patrick Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, offers practical steps for schools and school systems in his piece, "Nurturing Positive Relationships with Parents." Yvonne Caamal Canul, explores cultural competency preparedness with a look at the past, present, and future of culture in organizations in her piece, "A Culturally Competent Citizenry for the 21st Century."

In their article, "Building Strong School Cultures through Intensified Leadership," authors Sharon Kruse and Karen Seashore Louis challenge administrators to consider how they can broaden the leadership team in their institutions for greater success. Educator and author Sandra Harris shares a teacher-centric approach to building relationships that show value to others in her piece, "BRAVO Educators Improve Student Learning."

The article entitled "Leaders Creating a Culture for all Students to Learn at a High Level" includes recent research on the leadership actions that can influence improved student achievement. Dr. Eddie Krenson rounds out this issue with a look at how AdvancED is embracing and elevating the importance of the culture of a school in our partnership with other accrediting agencies. His piece is entitled, "AdvancED Accreditation Embraces Cultural Relevancy."

Truly the tone we set each and every day as educators, through our words and deeds, influences the experiences of each student. How will you create a culture that excites learning and nurtures success?

I want to thank each of our expert contributors to this issue of the AdvancED Source as they have challenged us all to think deeply and creatively about the culture we establish in the lives of the students we serve.

Continuous Improvement

Borrowing from the admonition attributed to Socratic wisdom which implores us to “Know Thyself”, it becomes essential to the teaching and learning process for both the delivers and the receivers of knowledge and skills to embrace self knowledge. This admonition can be utilized to accommodate the concept of culture and the knowledge thereof as a critical ingredient in successful and effective pedagogical approaches to the diversity that exists in classrooms and schools.

Borrowing from the admonition attributed to Socratic wisdom which implores us to “Know Thyself”, it becomes essential to the teaching and learning process for both the delivers and the receivers of knowledge and skills to embrace self knowledge. This admonition can be utilized to accommodate the concept of culture and the knowledge thereof as a critical ingredient in successful and effective pedagogical approaches to the diversity that exists in classrooms and schools. While this diversity can be manifested in many forms such as religion, race, age, gender, and social economic status, the premise for this treatise is that cultural diversity can be addressed in significant ways through the careful and skillful application of culturally responsive pedagogy.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

While there is general agreement in the profession that all children can learn the more appropriate premise might be stated as follows: All children can learn when taught properly and effectively. This premise serves as the launching pad for detailing the importance of culturally responsive teaching. Padrón, Waxman, and Rivera (2002) utilized the earlier work of a practitioner-scholar to provide a framework for this area of inquiry. “Culturally responsive teaching emphasizes the everyday concerns of students, such as critical family and community issues, and tries to incorporate these concerns into the curriculum. It helps students prepare themselves for meaningful social roles in their community and larger society by emphasizing both social and academic responsibility. It addresses the promotion of racial, ethnic and linguistic equality as well as the appreciation of diversity (Boyer, 1993).

What are the positive lessons to be learned from this discourse? Authors such as Gay (1990), Edmonds (1981), Ellison (1995), Hillard (1995) and Sizemore (1984) have encouraged the profession to embrace diverse student populations by mastering the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the children where they are and to take them where they need to be in the interest of societal values that undergird academic and cultural excellence.

If continuous school improvement is an expectation for quality, equity, and legitimacy in working with students, then a valid determinant of its presence might be revealed by examining cultural and academic excellence. Let us pause at this juncture to define cultural and academic excellence as the means by which one might explore their connections through the structural and psychological prisms of continuous school improvement.

Working Definitions For Practice

Therefore a working definition of culture would expand beyond the identification of customs, traditions, artifacts and thought patterns to include beliefs and values imposed on children by internal and external environments. These phenomenal impositions often fuel a dual set of expectations that are at odds with excellent teaching and successful learning. It can have the effect of lowering expectations for the students and the teacher based on preconceived realities fortified by misinformation, disinformation, and mostly lack of information. When cultural diversity is seen as strength and a teachable moment in the classroom and school environments, the imposed mindsets can be overcome. However, one can only overcome these barriers to effective teaching and learning by realizing and addressing their presence in the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that invade far too many school-based relationships.

The most satisfying approaches to embracing the value of culture as a component of the critical make-up of students, teachers, administrators, schools, classroom, communities and cities occur when teaching and learning are of paramount concern. The culture of the teaching and learning environment must foster a climate of inquiry that views diversity in its many forms as a strength, to be built on for understanding, application, and critical problem solving.

Tread With Caution

An oppositional perspective has emerged in the conversation about cultural diversity that signals an alarm to educators and policymakers who see the strengths in children and people of color. Broussard et. al (2006) discussed the impact of color blindness and its contributions to the diminution of cultural diversity and the advent of culturally responsive pedagogy. A useful language metaphor emerged as the mathematical concepts of addition and division were used to underscore the need to address individual affiliations before the collective of all students.

  • How do cultural understandings enhance learning?
  • What are organizing and teaching adaptations that validate cultural diversity and enhance student engagement time?
  • What’s in the name: culture, ethnicity, race, diversity, color-blindness?

In developing the skills and knowledge to use culturally responsive teaching to embed the norms and experiences of students in the content being taught, it becomes necessary for effective interactions to discard all notions of cultural deficit thinking. Oftentimes cultural deficit thinking is a covert expression of a lower expectation held toward a certain group of children in a classroom or school associated with language, race, ethnicity, dress and poverty. Those who deploy culturally responsive pedagogy identify strengths of children from diverse backgrounds in the classroom and practice bridging the instruction or activity toward strengths that foster engagement. Farber (1967, pg. 22) provides a provocative perspective when he quoted the late James Farmer as follows: “America would only become color blind if we gave up our color. The white man, who presumably has no color, would have to give up only his prejudices. We (African Americans) would have to give up our identities.”

This harsh reality has hampered the discussions historically and led to the so-called cultural wars that brought about more distance than harmony because of a serious conversation void on this sensitive area.

Challenges for Service Delivery

In conclusion, the concept of culture is described under several definitions in the literature related to teacher quality and efficacy as well as student academic achievement. For additional information, definitions and insights in preparation for the very important conversations that might be facilitated by this article, strong consideration of the listing that follows is encouraged:

  • Cultural Pluralism
  • Multiculturalism
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Cultural Congruency
  • Cultural Discontinuity
  • Cultural of Poverty
  • Acculturation
  • Enculturation

When the main ingredients of the conversations about culture and diversity are distilled, educators will be left with the possibilities and potentialities of positive human relationships, emboldened by interactions in the context of classrooms and schools that have the will and capacity to connect academic and culture excellence significantly. At this very important juncture, teacher quality, continuous school improvement, and cultural diversity are reconciled in the interest of academic achievement, effective classrooms, and successful schools. An appropriate summary of the educational challenges herein have been captured in the ponderables attributed to a Jewish Rabbi and an African American Journalist.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? (self)

But if I am only for myself, what am I? (relationships)

If not now, when? (action)

If not us, who? (educators challenge)”

References

Padrón Y.N, Waxman H.C, and Rivera C. (2002). Issues in Education Hispanic Students. Educating At-Risk Students. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Boyer, James. (1993). Culturally sensitive instruction: An essential component of education for diversity. Catalyst for Change, 22(3). 5 – 8.

Gay, Geneva. (1990) Achieving Educational Equity through curriculum desegregation. Phi Delta Kappan (72)1.

Edmonds, Ronald. (1981). The characteristics of effective schools; Research and implementation. Paper presented to the National Conference on Education Issues, New York.

Ellison, Ralph. (1995). The Invisible Man. Second International Edition, New York: Random House.

Hillard, Asa. (1995). The maroon within us: selected essays on African American Socialization. Baltimore: Black Classic Press.

Sizemore, Barbara et.al. (1984). Saving the African American Child. Washington, D.C: National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Broussard, S, Bailey, D., Cummings, J., Johnson, J., and Levi, K. (2006). Cultural and Educational Excellence Revisited: Knowing, Doing, Being and Becoming as Through Saving the African American Child Matters, Portland, OR: Inkwater Press.

Farber, Charles. (1967). White Reflections on Power. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company.

Accountability

At Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the boarding school featured in the Harry Potter series, “teachers reign supreme and parents stay away, safely on the other side of the solid brick wall at Platform 9¾... no e-mail, no Internet, only owls to carry the rare letter back and forth,” notes Carolyn Hines, director of communications at Aspen Country Day School in Aspen, Colorado. “To many educators (and children) today, this would seem the perfect universe.”

At Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the boarding school featured in the Harry Potter series, “teachers reign supreme and parents stay away, safely on the other side of the solid brick wall at Platform 9¾... no e-mail, no Internet, only owls to carry the rare letter back and forth,” notes Carolyn Hines, director of communications at Aspen Country Day School in Aspen, Colorado. “To many educators (and children) today, this would seem the perfect universe.”

Indeed, teachers, many of whom chose the profession because they enjoy working with children, are sometimes disheartened to learn how much they must work with parents in order to support their students. The “2005 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher” corroborates this: The survey found that 68 percent of public school teachers were satisfied working with students, but only 25 percent were satisfied working with parents.

Our business is educating children, but parents are a vital part of the equation. Educators who form partnerships with parents are among the most successful in their work with children. Why? Because when parents and teachers work together, children receive consistent messages about the value of an education, and they feel supported and encouraged in their pursuits.

Forming partnerships with parents requires effort on the behalf of the school. Here are eight tips schools should follow to nurture positive relationships with parents.

  • Establish strong communications with parents from the beginning. Communicating with parents helps ease their anxieties and validates their decision to enroll their children in your school. A monthly or quarterly letter from the school head or principal creates a personal connection to the school for families. It also enables the school leader to reinforce the value that the school is adding to students’ lives.
  • Model parental involvement. Creating a parent ambassadors program, where each current parent ambassador is the contact for five new parents in the same class, can also help new parents feel more comfortable in the community. Ambassadors are excellent examples of engaged parents, modeling involvement for new families. A special event for new parents in the spring or summer before the school year begins also provides an opportunity to forge new partnerships and impart valuable information about the way the school works and how families can be involved.
  • Encourage the faculty to see the parent, and not just the student, as a customer. In “the good old days,” meeting the needs of one’s primary charge (the student) meant that the needs of the parents were met. Now, parents as well as students are consumers of educational services. While many educators bemoan the fact that education has become a commodity, it can be helpful to think of constituents as customers with whom you can build strong, professional relationships. And those relationships require nurturing! Patience, skill in problem-solving at the most direct level, powers of observation, and the ability to defuse anger and anxiety are all part of the professional repertoire now required and valued in teachers.
  • Outline mutual expectations. Developing a “contract” for parents and school personnel can articulate behavior expectations and establish the baseline for professional and courteous exchanges between parents and staff
  • Educate parents to deal with dissatisfaction directly. The first avenue of recourse should always be the person with whom they disagree (parent to teacher or coach). If the conflict cannot be resolved, it is then appropriate to move up the ladder of authority as necessary (next stop is typically division head, athletic director, etc.).
  • Develop a strong parent association. The association or committee can host occasional “town meetings” with parents, faculty, and school leaders to share ideas. Scheduling meetings of the parent association at times when parents are likely to be at the school already—such as on back to school night or before a recital—can increase participation.
  • Host small group meetings to solicit feedback. Involve a cross-section of new parents and returning parents in meetings with the principal or school head. The leader can ask the group questions such as: “What are we doing well?” “Where do we need to improve?” The “testimonials” will build loyalty and enthusiasm among the newest members of the family. Some schools regularly survey their whole parent body to ask specific questions about satisfaction and expectations. These surveys can be springboards for improvement.
  • Attend to the needs of parents whose children are graduating from the school. Produce a letter or a brochure that outlines the predictable anxieties both parents and children will feel as they move from one comfortable setting (your school) to another, often an initially more forbidding setting by virtue of newness. Host a meeting or event for these families (parents and students) describing how to manage the transition. Have recent graduates who survived the transition speak at these events. You will be able to highlight the areas where your school excels and gather information about areas that could be improved.

Developing a partnership with parents involves a multi-faceted approach, but continual nourishment of relationships with parents will reap great rewards. At the end of the day, children prosper when all the important adults in their lives line up on the same sideline, encouraging them on and keeping them from crossing the boundaries. The trick is in getting all the players to agree on the direction of the goal and to work together to get there.

Accountability

In 1959, noted anthropologist Edward Hall authored a book entitled, The Silent Language. It was a part of every Peace Corps Volunteer’s “book locker” as they headed out to do good work in the farthest reaches of the world. The Silent Language provided the reader with a way to understand the explicit and implicit cultural conditions of the people with whom these youthful Americans would soon interact.

In 1959, noted anthropologist Edward Hall authored a book entitled, The Silent Language. It was a part of every Peace Corps Volunteer’s “book locker” as they headed out to do good work in the farthest reaches of the world. The Silent Language provided the reader with a way to understand the explicit and implicit cultural conditions of the people with whom these youthful Americans would soon interact. Hall defined culture as, “a set of norms, values, and standards of behavior that make the actions of the individual intelligible to the group.” (Hall, 1959) He further sub-divided the human experience into ten unique but universal isolates of human endeavor. But even with this rather scientific and perhaps sterile way of approaching a very complex and often misinterpreted set of assumptions, Hall maintained one important maxim throughout – everyone has culture and every environment has its own cultural context.

The Global Enterprise

Dr. Yong Zhao, internationally known futurist, has discovered the “death of distance.” He proposes that we live in a world that is no longer bounded by the last street of our neighborhood. We can move physically from one country to another in less than a day. Intellectually, we can move within seconds. Our neighborhood is global. As educators, now more than ever, we need to focus our efforts on preparing our students for the world they will live in. Preparing them to “code switch” effectively between cultures is vital to their success and in reducing the distance between themselves and potentially important affiliations, What about your own experiences with “code switching” between cultural environments? What did you notice about the ease, or lack thereof, with which you could move between worlds.

One of the key elements in developing students who are ready to take on a 21st century world is cultural competency preparedness. Getting a job “around the corner” or “in the next town” is nostalgia of the past. Economic viability is dependent upon our future work force’s effective engagement with people from every corner of the world. Take a look at Karl Fisch’s amazing clip “Did You Know?/Shift Happens 4.0” at https://thefischbowl.blogspot.com if you have any doubt about the relevance of the global enterprise.

Culture is Universal

For years cultural diversity issues have been approached with a static set of racial, ethnic, and/or socio-economic characteristics that can be learned and studied like an algebraic equation. We’ve “managed” diversity, “trained” people on diversity, celebrated “diversity” days – all as if diversity was something outside the scope of human normalcy or belonging to only a single census category. Given the assumption that we are indeed quite different from each other and considering Hall’s premise that everyone has culture, what then makes one group diverse from another? What are “the actions of the individual” that would or would not be “intelligible to the group?” What should educators be thinking about as we prepare our students for the world they will live in and not the one we inherited? What can we do to help bridge the cultural divide? Accepting Hall’s premise invites a thinker to reflection in place of tired, us/them boundary definitions. It suggests that the first step toward cultural competency may be exploring one’s own norms, values and standards with an eye toward asking what makes them “intelligible to the group.” Reflection questions positioned throughout this article are examples of these entry-points to understanding culture in its multi-faceted complexity through the lens of one’s own experience.

Hall proposes that there are three levels of human behavior: technical, formal, and informal. The technical level of culture is tangible, what is written, policies, procedures, explicit rules of engagement. The formal level is slightly more implicit, usually verbal and understood by those who share the norms. Informal levels are sometimes outside our own cultural consciousness – tone of voice, pause time between words, space, time, gesture. It is the transmission of social convention from one generation to another. When setting a table, on which side of the plate does the knife go? Edge in or edge out? How do we know this? We learned it at the informal level of cultural transmission.

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.

— Mohandas Gandhi

Understanding how people communicate is one of the most important elements in furthering cultural understanding. Hall noted an important distinction between communication patterns — low context cultures vs. high context cultures. In low context cultures, people use extensive vocabulary to express their thoughts because they have very little shared history and therefore need words to explain their context. Conversely, in high context cultures, the shared history and “context” replace the need for a wide variety of words – the topics of verbal interaction are contained within the known world of familiarity. Do you think you live in a high context culture or a low context culture? Dr. Aquiles Iglesias from Temple University coined “topic centered” (linear) vs. “topic-associative” (spiral) as another interesting discourse pattern in cultural communication. Each has its own unique rhythm and sequence for sharing the narrative. Are you topic-centered or topic-associative?

Cultural Norming

So how do we make our actions intelligible to the group? Aside from discourse patterns, what are the cultural norming dimensions we should consider when interacting with people from considerably different cultural contexts? Dutch psychologist, Geert Hofstede, has proposed five universal dimensions of cultural norming that address fundamental cultural orientations to life. As you consider each of Hofstede’s norming dimensions, ask yourself on which point along the cultural continuum your orientation might be expressed:

  • Power Distance – The distance between levels of a social hierarchy that can be traversed by the individual with relative comfort and permission. Low power distance is comfortable questioning authority and functioning in multiple social environments. High power distance adheres to strict social stratification.
  • Individualism vs. Collectivism – The extent to which members of the culture define themselves apart from their group memberships. Individualistic cultures, expect people to develop and display their individual personalities and to choose their own affiliations. People in collectivistic cultures, are defined and act mostly as a member of a long-term group - family, religious congregation, age cohort, town, or profession, among others.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance – The extent to which people are uncomfortable with situations they perceive as unstructured, unclear, or unpredictable – situations they try to avoid by maintaining strict codes of behavior and the belief in absolute truths. Locus of control is with SELF in high uncertainty avoidance cultures.
  • Masculinity vs. Femininity – The extent to which a culture measures the value placed on traditionally male or female behaviors.
  • Time Orientation – This dimension describes a society’s “time horizon,” or the importance attached to the future versus the past and present. Long term oriented societies, value actions and attitudes that affect the future: persistence/perseverance, thrift, and shame. Short term oriented societies, value actions and attitudes that are affected by the past or the present, such as, face-saving, respect for tradition, and reciprocating greetings, favors, and gifts.
Moving Forward

About 20 years ago, Dr. Peggy McIntosh from the State University of New York, wrote a white paper on “cultural revisioning.” It was seminal work, but unfortunately got little traction in the multicultural discussions of the time. She proposed five points along a continuum of cultural interaction from ethno-centricism (phase 1) to cultural symbiosis (phase 5). In Cultural Symbiosis, McIntosh speaks to a world where racial/ethnic identity is nearly inconsequential to the commonality of the bio-basic human experience - where one’s context of familiarity IS the entire world. Where moving between cultural perspectives is natural and seamless.

So what is the secret to becoming a more culturally competent individual? How can we help our students move along the cultural continuum and help create a world in which there is a more symbiotic connection among the peoples of the world? What factors are fundamental to this new engagement?

According to Dr. Sonia Nieto (Affirming Diversity, 1992 & 2001), in order to become culturally competent teachers, we must expand the familiarity of our own context. Expanding social and professional affiliations to engage with others unlike ourselves – including traveling to places that stretch our cultural “comfort zone,” learning about people from different socio-economic environments, and suspending judgment. In addition, you might want to reflect upon these questions about your own participation in moving towards cultural symbiosis:

  • Acknowledge that everyone has culture and everywhere has a cultural context
  • Explore your own cultural values, beliefs, norms and standards of behavior
  • How does your own perspective about culture impact your behavior?
  • In what ways will you promote “symbiotic” cultural awareness?
  • How will you expand the familiarity of your own context?
  • Does your cultural perspective impact the decisions you make about student learning?
  • Does your cultural perspective impact decisions you make about changing your organization?Perpetuating it?
  • Look for the commonality of human experience within the context of cultur§ 
  • Accept “non-like” cultures for their intrinsic value to the richness of human thought and life
  • Understand the inextricable relationship between language and culture

It’s an exciting time to be an educator! We’re at the crossroads of a new world order and our actions will determine the path we forge for ourselves and for those after us. Will we live in isolated communities, fearful of intrusion by others? Or, will we program ourselves on a refreshed journey where boundaries are nothing more than markers along our way towards healthy interdependence? Your answer and actions to this fundamental question about how you address the human experience will determine the extent to which we can become familiar with an ever-expanding cultural context.

References

Hall, Edward. (1959) The Silent Language.

Iglesias, Aquiles. (1988) Narrative Patterns in a speech presented at Michigan State University.

Hofstede, Geert. (2001) Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations. Sage Publications.

Zhao, Yong. (2009) In a speech given at the AdvancED Latin American Leadership Conference. Atlanta.

McIntosh, Peggy. (1989) “Interactive Phases of Curricular and Personal Revisioning with Regard to Race.” SUNY Press.

Nieto, Sonia. (2009) Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education. First Edition.

Leadership

Principals know that creating a school culture that ensures positive outcomes for students is not easily done. They also understand that creating a strong school culture requires an “all hands on deck” approach to meeting the needs of the school community—culture cannot be created or changed by any one person. 

Principals know that creating a school culture that ensures positive outcomes for students is not easily done. They also understand that creating a strong school culture requires an “all hands on deck” approach to meeting the needs of the school community—culture cannot be created or changed by any one person. Yet, bringing staff, teachers and parents together to do the work of the school is not easy. Doing this requires the skill of a strong leader and a highly competent manager. This suggests that leaders must be concerned both with organizational functions typically attributed to leadership – working on sustained system improvement and enticing and empowering staff to achieve top performances– as well as with organizational functions typically credited to management – working within the system and organizing regularized and predictable operations.

Creating strong cultures requires administrators to address daily operations and long term adaptive planning and vision simultaneously. As a consequence, principals must be prepared to manage and lead – often in the same meeting and with the same people. How? Smart leaders do this by including teachers, staff, parents and other community members in the work of school improvement.

What can we see when we look at a school where administrators are doing both, and who are, at the same time, engaging professional colleagues and others with a clear stake in school success? We see individuals and administrative teams that:

  • Focus on stimulating, energizing and coordinating professional activity within the school;
  • Span boundaries to include external stakeholders to build support and gather resources for student learning;
  • Create an environment of mutual responsibility and accountability for supporting students and creating change;
  • Build links between older practices and ways of thinking and the future;
  • Develop professional community and organizational learning with the specific intention of changing their school culture;
  • Sustain a vision of schooling that emphasizes dignity and changing lives;
  • Adopt an attitude of serving as well as doing; and
  • Remain focused on long-term strategic goals while attending to the daily tasks and activities that ensure smooth operations (Kruse & Louis, 2009).

This is a long list of tasks. Which of these are management, and which are leadership? Can one person or even a small team do all of these things every day? Clearly not, except in the most extraordinary cases. The only way that this agenda can be carried out is to intensify leadership so that responsibility for developing and maintaining a vital school culture is widely shared among all of the stakeholders. This means, of course, that more people need to be brought into the leadership arena -- which also means that the image of the school administrator as the “buck stops here kind of guy (or gal)” needs to radically shift. As the tasks of leadership and management become more blurred, opportunities to intensify leadership abound. If attending to the complexity of these issues is too much for one person—and we believe that it is—then school leaders must look to others to carry out these roles. In this way the culture becomes strengthened through the shared creation of what it means to be part of the school and how the work of the school gets done.

Intensification of leadership is our term to describe an approach to changing the cultural conditions that affect teaching and learning. We are not advocating the abandonment of instructional leadership: principals clearly need to understand and support what teachers do in classrooms in order to help create the conditions that allow them to be more effective. Intensification of leadership acknowledges the existing reality that there are already multiple leaders in any school, and offers a roadmap to integrate these influences into a more coherent and less contradictory message.

There is a fundamental problem, however: you cannot control your school’s culture. Most of the people—teachers, students, and parents— who collectively determine what the school’s culture is like have limited incentive to listen to you. Managing a school’s culture is not dependent on the authority that you have based on your position, but can only be affected by increasing your influence over behaviors, beliefs, relationships, and other complex dynamics present in the school that are often unpredictable.

A school’s culture is characterized by deeply rooted traditions, values, and beliefs, some of which are common across schools and some of which are unique and embedded in a particular school’s history and location. Culture informs the ways in which “things get done around here” and, just as importantly, frames how change efforts are perceived. Based in accumulated experiences, a school’s rules and regulations, polices and procedures, whether written or informal, are the lasting artifacts of old organizational lessons.

Improving culture is not an end in itself, but the means by which school leaders can address the goals of student progress and achievement.

Thus, improving culture is not an end in itself, but the means by which school leaders can address the goals of student progress and achievement. Three features of school cultures that have been tied to student learning are:

Professional community:

Professional community (PC) directs a spotlight on the relationships among adults within the school. By focusing on the structural and human resource conditions necessary for schools to become strongly connected around the goal of student learning, the framework suggests that strong school cultures are based on shared norms and values, reflective dialogue, public practice, and collaboration (Louis & Kruse, 1995). The essence of professional community is that all adults in a school are presented with the opportunity to work with others to grow and change – and that meaningful and sustained connections are necessary for that to occur. This occurs when teachers take collective responsibility for improving student learning. Collective responsibility, in which all members feel accountable for all students, is at the core of intensified leadership.

Organizational learning:

The concept of organizational learning (OL) suggests that continuous improvement through collective engagement with new ideas will generate enhanced classroom practices and a deeper understanding of how organizational improvement occurs. The idea is frequently coupled with that of professional community in programs that are designed to create more visible “professional learning communities” (Hord & Sommers, 2008; Stoll & Louis, 2007). However, not all group learning occurs in organized meetings, and we wish to emphasize the uncertainty of predicting which structures and experiences will produce the “aha moment” that helps to shift the culture from old to new values, beliefs and practices. Seemingly random contacts with novel ideas as well as structured efforts to examine data and plan new programs may both produce forward momentum. OL focuses on the ways in which new ideas are brought into the school organization, how they are considered and evaluated, and the ways in which school organizations retain and use the knowledge generated from them. Organizational learning generally occurs when groups acknowledge small failures and consider alternatives, and this occurs more often when more people take responsibility for problem finding and problem solving (Levitt & March, 1988). Culture is enhanced as more members of the school community learn new and better ways to address the needs of students and then work to share those understandings with others.

Trust:

Trust is the glue that holds social networks and relationships together. In schools trust is considered to be the result of several dispositions working in concert, among these are integrity (or honesty and openness), concern (also called benevolence or personal regard for others), competence, and reliability (or consistency). Trust has been linked with organizational effectiveness in business settings; in schools trust among teachers and between teachers and other groups is linked to higher student achievement (Tschannen-Moran, 2004). While principals cannot bear full responsibility for creating trusting cultures in their schools, their behavior sets a tone and a foundation for creating trusting relationships and professional community in other groups (Bryk & Schneider, 2002).

School culture is most powerful when the ideas that underscore each of the themes are viewed as strategic cultural actions. When viewed as strategic actions, building professional communities, creating opportunities for organizational learning, and developing trust are not things done once. Nor is the culture that emerges from these efforts something you can claim to have become and then ignore. Rather, it is an orientation toward school leadership. Intensification of leadership provides you the skill set to change your school culture and to achieve your goals for student success.

References

Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Hord, S., & Sommers, W. (2008). Leadership and professional learning communities: Possibilities, practice and performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Kruse, S. D. & Louis, K. S. (2009). Building strong school cultures: A guide to leading change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Levitt, B., & March, J. G. (1988). Organizational learning. Annual Review of Sociology, 14, 319-340.

Louis, K. S., & Kruse, S. D. (1995). Professionalism and community: Perspectives on reforming urban schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Stoll, L., & Louis, K. S. (2007). Professional learning communities: Divergence, depth and dilemmas. London/New York: Open University Press/McGraw Hill.

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2004). Trust matters: Leadership for successful schools. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Teaching & Learning

Nearly l.3 million students drop out of U.S. schools every year – this means 7,000 students every school day lose hope for a better life and give up on school and themselves. According to the August 2009 Issue Brief published by Alliance for Excellent Education, if schools in the United States graduated all of their students from the class of 2009 - the nation could have benefited by nearly $335 billion in additional income over the course of those students’ lifetimes! When students drop out of school, everyone loses. How do we transform this educational cycle of loss into one of gain?

Nearly l.3 million students drop out of U.S. schools every year – this means 7,000 students every school day lose hope for a better life and give up on school and themselves. According to the August 2009 Issue Brief published by Alliance for Excellent Education, if schools in the United States graduated all of their students from the class of 2009 - the nation could have benefitted by nearly $335 billion in additional income over the course of those students’ lifetimes! When students drop out of school, everyone loses. How do we transform this educational cycle of loss into one of gain?

Improving Student Learning through Building Relationships

Student learning occurs when many effective teaching strategies are implemented, but the foundation on which this learning takes place is built on creating a culture where trusting relationships among all stakeholders abound. Thiessen and Cook-Sather (2007) acknowledged that having even just one adult in the school who knows and cares for them is critical in preventing students from dropping out. To improve student learning, educators must recognize that relationships and caring are at the heart of teaching and learning (Nieto, 2010, Noddings, 1992; Valenzuela, 1999).

In today’s climate of standardization and high-stakes assessment, educators are often so constrained by rules, regulations, and testing that creating a culture with strong relationships with students, parents, and other stakeholders seems impossible. But the need for supporting students through positive relationships is more critical than ever as educators are challenged to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population of students. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that 50% of public school students will be a racial or ethnic minority by 2040. Added to this diversity is poverty. In 2008, the National Poverty Center reported that nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. live in poverty, and this number is increasing as the nation’s unemployment rate continues to grow. It is imperative that we remember that building caring relationships is critical in order to create a positive school culture that results in improved student performance. We must become BRAVO educators.

BRAVO educators are committed to Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others. In other words, we do not just talk about caring and supporting students to improve learning. Instead our actions demonstrate that we value them because we make time to get to know students and use our knowledge as educators to support their learning. When BRAVO educators commit to supporting student learning, they talk with students, listen to them, and connect with them in a variety of ways that emphasize the following three areas: upholding high standards for all, personalizing the learning environment, and demonstrating culturally responsive teaching.

BRAVO Educators Uphold High Standards for All

BRAVO educators uphold high standards when high expectations are verbalized for all students. We ask a student to continue working on a paper because we know he or she can do better. When a student needs help, we find time to meet, perhaps during lunch, to provide one-on-one help. We ensure that the curriculum is relevant, while still being rigorous. For example, if the struggling student is an athlete, we seek ways to connect the curriculum content to sports. Upholding high standards means that we empower students and give them opportunities to make choices. Instead of only being allowed to show competency by writing a 10-page report, students can choose between writing a report, giving an oral talk, creating a mural, or engaging in a debate. When BRAVO educators give students the opportunity to make choices, we acknowledge that we value their ability. In this way we communicate a high standard and contribute to trusting relationships while supporting students to achieve their potential.

BRAVO Educators Personalize the Learning Environment

When BRAVO educators personalize the learning environment, respect and caring for the individual needs of all students is demonstrated. This brings us to the complex notion of equal treatment versus equitable treatment. Equal implies that all students are treated alike. But, students have different needs; they learn at different rates and in different ways. To personalize the learning environment means that we respect the differences that students bring into the classroom and care enough to implement strategies that improve learning opportunities. Students should be treated the way each of us would like to be treated – equitably, not equally. BRAVO educators find ways to personalize the environment, such as adopting classroom rules that emphasize treating others with respect, involving students in designing class activities, and implementing a variety of instructional strategies that incorporate group work, music, art, and physical movement in addition to lecture and standard paper and pencil activities.

BRAVO Educators Demonstrate Culturally Responsive Teaching

Today’s student population is more diverse, yet in many ways, that population has also become more separate. Black and Latino students have become more segregated in impoverished school districts than at any time in the last 30 years. The segregation of White students is so pronounced that it occurs even within majority Black and Latino school districts. Consequently, as our world and the students in our schools become more diverse, they attend schools that are becoming less diverse. Understanding the importance of culturally responsive teaching, suggests that BRAVO educators must confront our own personal biases, as well as biases on the campus, and acknowledge and affirm the positive presence of cultural diversity.

BRAVO teachers confront personal biases by examining and identifying our own prejudices. Until we understand where we really stand on important issues like “respect for all” and “appreciating diversity” we cannot begin to understand how we must change in order to create a campus culture that values all students. When we recognize our own biases regarding cultural differences, we can begin to examine institutional biases that exist in clubs and activities on our school campuses. Reviewing school data for trends that suggest groups of students are being excluded from certain activities will identify areas that should be targeted for improvement. This examination of self and our institutions is not done to exacerbate feelings of guilt, but to encourage our own personal and professional growth.

Acknowledging and affirming the positive presence of cultural diversity is a necessity for BRAVO educators. We acknowledge our commitment to culturally responsive teaching when we ask reflective questions, such as:

  • What do I know about the cultural experiences that my students bring to school?
  • Do I observe student group behaviors that differ from expectations in school?
  • How do I integrate cultural diversity as a building block in my classroom to improve learning for all students?
  • How do my actions demonstrate my belief that difference is not deficit?

The school campus provides an excellent environment to understand the ignorance and hurtfulness of prejudice, bias, and bigotry. BRAVO educators contribute to this understanding when they build affirming relationships and provide opportunities for students of all cultural backgrounds to interact and make positive connections with others. As young people are supported in building valued relationships with others from diverse backgrounds, our common humanity is acknowledged and strengthened.

A recent study by Harris (2005, 2006, 2009) of 91 award-winning principals and superintendents identified effective leadership strategies that focused on three important beliefs for creating a positive learning culture:

  • We is more important than me,
  • People are more important than programs,
  • Student learning results in successful schools.

In other words, when educators work together as a team where caring relationships are valued to meet the needs of individual students, successful school cultures result. Margaret Wheatley (1999) wrote, “We live in a world where relationships are primary ... Nothing exists independent of its relationships” (p. 69). When BRAVO educators build relationships with actions that value others, student learning results. When students are learning, they stay in school and graduate. Thus, the educational cycle of loss becomes one of gain ... for everyone.

References

Nieto, S. (2010). Language, culture and teaching: Critical perspectives. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: U.S.-Mexican youth and the politics of caring. New York: State University of New York Press.

Thiessen, D. & Cook-Sather, A. (2007). International handbook of student experiences in elementary and secondary school. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Wheatley, M. (1999). Leadership and the new science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

Leadership

Improving student achievement as measured by standardized assessments is realized when the district and school leadership creates an organizational culture committed to all students learning at a high level. This means that all students—English language learners (ELL), special education students, students of poverty, as well as below grade level and above grade level performers—all are expected to achieve at a high level.

Improving student achievement as measured by standardized assessments is realized when the district and school leadership creates an organizational culture committed to all students learning at a high level. This means that all students—English language learners (ELL), special education students, students of poverty, as well as below grade level and above grade level performers—all are expected to achieve at a high level. The culture is reflected with evidence such as a philosophy of inclusion, rather than exclusion of students in advanced classes to provide expanded opportunities for rigorous learning. Another example would be that ELL students are taught on grade level curriculum and are scaffolded to success with evidence-based instruction instead of being taught on the level of their English acquisition, which may be years behind their grade level and retard their content learning.

Schools and districts show this commitment not only in their words but in their actions. In an interview and data study of 62 leaders of schools and districts in 10 states I found that leaders implemented second order change related to student learning. Second order change is deep, requiring substantial rethinking of problems and their solutions, unlike first order change that is more typical and incremental (Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). Across all of the leaders there were consistencies regardless of the grade level of students served, geographic location, or student demographics (Taylor, 2010). Leader action themes, which were consistent where student achievement improved, follow.

Make Decisions in the Best Interest of Student Learning

The first step in creating a learning focused culture is for decisions to be aligned with this commitment. There are districts, such as Seminole County Public Schools in Florida, where district budgeting initiates with studying student achievement data and from that data, budget priorities are made. This way, student achievement in each school drives the budget needs, rather than each department submitting budget requests that may or may not support improvements in learning.

At the school level, principals weigh each decision against the question “Is it in the best interest of students’ learning?” When this question guides decision making, it becomes the cultural norm—the way we do things. A non-example of this culture would be that faculty with longevity might have priority in decision making or certain parents are particularly influential. A positive example would be that the school is reorganized to facilitate learning for all students to leverage the expertise of teachers to support each other’s consistency with evidence-based instruction and a curriculum that is aligned horizontally and vertically. Perhaps the most skillful teachers teach the students who are the furthest below grade level in mathematics and reading.

Stimulate Intellectual Growth of Yourself and Others

Stimulating intellectual growth aligned with the target change is consistent with schools and districts where the culture is focused on all students learning at a high level. Leaders develop expertise in the target change—such as literacy, mathematics or data-based decision making—and lead the professional development of others as well as fully participate. They may lead study groups on grading, or book studies, or give mini-lessons on higher levels of thinking. Professional development becomes embedded in the daily work, is collaborative, and expected.

Strategize for Consistency

Strategizing for consistency within the district or school is essential to having a culture where all students learn at a high level. Systems are created so that leaders at both the school and district levels visit classrooms, provide feedback, and coach each other to be more effective. They have authentic conversations with subordinates about performance and are clear about expectations, such as using student data to make instructional decisions. “Show me your data. What instructional decisions you have made based on the data? What will you do now?” is a common query from elementary, middle, and high school leaders. They create systems (like weekly newsletters highlighting and celebrating results) to maintain the focus on what is most important.

Expect and Support Collaboration

Collaboration is a non-negotiable expectation. Structure is developed to support collaboration and time is set aside for professional learning communities (PLC), grade level teams, and departments. A team may be studying an important concept such as grading or the value of zeros, trying out new practices, and determining if improvement in learning is affected. At two high schools in the research, the mathematics departments implemented mastery learning allowing students to retake exams and receive full credit; this change resulted in more highly motivated students learning the mathematics concepts, knowledge, skills, and grades. These leaders hold the collaborative teams accountable for collaboration by attending the meetings, reviewing minutes, and increasing the accountability for collaboration each year until teams are setting goals at the beginning of the year and reporting results at the end of the year.

Expect Data-based Decision Making at the Teacher Level

For data to be used at the teacher level it must be timely, include monitoring data and student work. If teachers do not study student work and monitoring data, then the formal assessment results may be a surprise and certainly will arrive too late to change instruction. Schools and districts that are not making improvements in student achievement rarely have the expectation, support, or system for teachers to understand and use data-based decision making for instruction and differentiation of instruction on a regular basis.

Data meetings, including the administrators and teachers, have the purpose of supporting improvement of classroom instruction and differentiation for individual students. Paula St. Francis states in her data meetings, “Look to the right, look to the left and see if there is a colleague who you want to ask a question of that will help your students’ learning” (Taylor, 2010). Paula’s intention is for teachers whose students are making more improvements than others to provide assistance to those whose students are not quite as successful—based on up to date student data.

To facilitate use of data, schools and districts implemented data management systems that are easily accessible by teachers, administrators, and parents. Quickly, leaders can search for students to view their daily grades and attendance. Furthermore, families have real time access to their student’s performance. Data management systems, like the one described, make data-based decision making easy for all of the stakeholders in students’ learning.

Engage Families and Communities in the Learning Process

No one would disagree that parents who participate in the school have influence on a student’s achievement. Principals of schools improving achievement indicate that by engaging families in the learning process, in contrast to participation in events, changes in student achievement were made. Two of the high schools in challenging demographic settings focused on improving student attendance by personally communicating with families or going to the home to bring students to school if they were absent. Another school creates an achievement plan with the family and contacts them if their student misses a tutoring session so the student will be present the next session.

Engaging the families and community in the learning process goes even further to include curriculum and pedagogy. By teaching families the curriculum and the pedagogy, such as bilingual education, families understand their students’ experiences and can be helpful at home. Teachers often raise the reality that the education level of the family may not be sufficient to assist with homework and that they may not have proficiency in English. To address this issue South Cobb High School families are given questions to ask that relate to the student’s curriculum. They do not have to know the answers — just the questions to ask to maintain the learning beyond the school day. Teachers at Oakshire Elementary School provide English classes for families and community members.

Final Thoughts: Leaders Creating a Culture for All Students to Achieve at a High Level

Leaders who change the culture of the school by implementing the leader action themes have schools and districts with improving student achievement. These leaders implement most of the themes, not just a few. Together these actions create a system for improving learning and supporting the second order change needed to for all students to achieve at a high level.

References

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Taylor, R. T. (2010). Leading learning: Change student achievement today! Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Continuous Improvement

AdvancED is deeply committed to respecting the importance of culture relevancy in serving the accreditation and school improvement needs of Nonpublic Schools. Behind this commitment lies a belief that a diverse community of schools can contribute more effectively to the greater body of educational knowledge and research than groups of schools working in isolation. All schools, regardless of size, structure or mission have something to give to one another and it is the students in our schools who will ultimately stand as the greatest beneficiaries of our collaboration and cooperation.

AdvancED is deeply committed to respecting the importance of culture relevancy in serving the accreditation and school improvement needs of Nonpublic Schools. Behind this commitment lies a belief that a diverse community of schools can contribute more effectively to the greater body of educational knowledge and research than groups of schools working in isolation. All schools, regardless of size, structure or mission have something to give to one another and it is the students in our schools who will ultimately stand as the greatest beneficiaries of our collaboration and cooperation.

The challenge we face in embracing a diverse community of schools is to do so in a way that not only recognizes their uniqueness but celebrates it. The AdvancED vision for the accreditation for Nonpublic Schools is built upon the interplay of four essential elements that form the foundation of the accreditation experience. Those elements consist of comprehensive research-based standards, an integrated aligned systems-based process, the cultural competence of the team, and the procedural competence of the chair. These four elements, when implemented in unison, provide the greatest potential to move the accreditation experience to a truly transformational level.

Element One

AdvancED provides schools with comprehensive research-based standards for effective organizational and instructional practice applicable to all schools, regardless of the variation in mission, size or structure. AdvancED indicators provide schools with research-based evidence in meeting standards, but stop short of providing the institution with specific benchmarks that can and will vary from one school type to the next. AdvancED standards and indicators also are supported by identification of relevant practices and artifacts. While there are traditional practices and artifacts applicable to all schools, it is here that the mission specific evidence is brought fully into play. Schools should seek to bring together evidence that clearly and purposefully describe who they are and what they stand for, both academically and culturally.

Element Two

The next essential element in the accreditation for Nonpublic Schools is an integrated, aligned systems-based accreditation process that seamlessly connects the self study, the peer review visit and the peer review report, to the post visit follow-up, responding to the required actions provided by the team. AdvancED recognizes that schools are more than a collection of independent classrooms. We believe that schools are dynamic systems that are more effectively understood through the vision of a systems thinking lens. The AdvancED process not only looks for effects in the form of student achievement results or other statistical data, but for patterns and relationships existing within the system itself. An effective accreditation experience not only takes into account the nature of the issues being dealt with at the time of the visit, but also examines the viability and integrity of the internal systems and processes that govern the identification and resolution of issues into the future. This systems thinking approach is most clearly seen in the peer review team report. Commendations and required actions are no longer communicated to the school as disconnected, isolated, linear thoughts, but are organized and presented to the school systemically and also include the supportive evidence and rationale behind the observations. From beginning to end, the process guides the school into a more relevant systems vision of itself enhancing both its organizational effectiveness and its capacity to sustain itself into the future.

Element Three

The third element of effective accreditation involves the cultural competence of the team. Cultural competence is established by staffing the team with a critical mass of individuals who have understanding and experience with the cultural realities existing in any given school. Cultural competence can be mission specific as in the case of independent schools, special purpose schools or faith-based schools, such as Christian, Catholic, Islamic, Lutheran, etc. Cultural competence also is related to school type and school location such as K-12, elementary, middle, high school, post secondary, distance education, corporation, career technical, Department of Defense, boarding, day, single sex, or international schools in Latin America, Asia, Middle East and Europe. The observations and evidential insights provided through cultural competence of team members are experiential and intuitive. Written evidence provided to the team that is mission specific or culturally relevant, while valuable, is practically irrelevant in the hands of a culturally incompetent team. The cultural competence of the team is one of the most critical components needed to experience a transformational visit for the school.

Element Four

The fourth element essential for the effective accreditation of Nonpublic Schools is the procedural competence of the chair. In order to have the highest quality accreditation visit the team chair must be a process expert. The chair should have a deep appreciation of the total accreditation process from the self study to the peer review visit to the accreditation progress report. The chair must be a strong leader, an effective communicator and have complete command of even the most mundane logistical and organizational details from team travel and managing the visitation schedule to delivering the oral exit report. In order to achieve the highest level of team quality, the procedurally competent chair should demonstrate cultural competence as well.

With these four elements in mind, the goal of AdvancED is to provide Nonpublic Schools an aligned and integrated accreditation process built on research-based standards and indicators supported by culturally relevant, mission-specific evidence. Schools should experience a peer review visit led by a qualified chair and staffed by a culturally competent peer review team who both understand and appreciate the unique cultural context of the school. This philosophy also defines our working relationship with other accrediting agencies. In these relationships we work directly with accreditation partners to provide the highest quality accreditation experience possible where the values of both partners are fully and authentically integrated into one seamless accreditation experience. Co-accreditation relationships were traditionally defined by either blind recognition or split teams that invariably called for one or both partners to be effectively marginalized. This is replaced by the strengths-based model built on cooperation, integration, mutuality, and a sincere desire to leverage the knowledge and resources of both agencies on behalf of the receiving school. It is our belief that this approach will more effectively position Nonpublic Schools to experience the most relevant, inspiring, growth-producing and transformational accreditation experience possible.

Continuous Improvement

Culture

Eight Habits of the Heart for Educators

Clifton L. Taulbert

Building a great learning-teaching community is not a project but an ongoing process – one that must involve all heads, hands, and hearts! Working together happens best in an environment where people know each other and are committed to sustaining their relationships. Despite the daunting demands on today’s educators, Clifton Taulbert still advocates that they carve out the time required to know each other. This one act alone will make a tremendous difference in the look and feel of your day.

Diversity, Learning Style and Culture

Pat Burke Guild

Educators do not believe that all learners are the same, yet visits to schools throughout the world might convince us otherwise. Too often, educators continue to treat all learners alike while paying lip service to the principle of diversity.

Evidence on Effect of Culture-Based Teaching Called Thin

Mary Ann Zehr

Many educators of language-minority students say they teach more effectively when they align their instruction with their students’ culture. Some states have teacher-credentialing policies based on a similar assumption: California requires all teachers to be trained in understanding students’ culture, for example, and Florida mandates that all elementary school teachers receive training in cross-cultural communication. Yet few research studies have actually examined whether culture-based instruction affects the achievement of such students.

Teaching & Learning

Tomorrow’s teachers are today’s middle schoolers – 7th grade students today will be teaching the next generation in 2020. They are digital natives, and they will present a learning environment that is interactive and technology rich.

Tomorrow’s teachers are today’s middle schoolers – 7th grade students today will be teaching the next generation in 2020. They are digital natives, and they will present a learning environment that is interactive and technology rich.

This issue of AdvancED Source is focused on Teachers of the Future. While we can’t fully predict the demands on and expectations of teachers in the future, we can anticipate that the design and delivery of instruction may be very different, ultimately affecting the roles and responsibilities of teachers. Are we preparing the next generation of teachers for what tomorrow will bring; what the students of tomorrow will need to understand and achieve in order to be successful? Traditional teaching programs have been slow to change and yet, they must change in order to prepare teachers to educate a responsible and successful citizenry for tomorrow.

Today there is much interest and discussion regarding teacher effectiveness – how to measure, ensure, and support effective teaching in every classroom. What we must acknowledge is that effective teaching cannot be measured by a single test score. Determining the attributes and fair measurements of a teacher’s effectiveness must be focused on what we want in the future rather than what we have experienced in the past. The conversation must start with the exploration and vision of what we want and need teaching to be in the future. With a vision in hand we can then adequately and fairly create the proper systems to support and ensure effective teaching in every classroom.

AdvancED Source opens with an article from Gary Marx, president of the Center for Public Outreach. His piece, "Getting Students Ready for a Fast-Changing World," outlines trends that he believes will impact the future of student learning. Dr. Stuart Kahl, CEO of Measured Progress, examines how the changes in education will put greater demands on teachers’ ability to assess their students effectively in the future in his article, "What Teachers as Assessors Must Know and be Able to Do."

In "Using New Skills to Prepare Students," Stacey Donaldson shares her beliefs on the skills and expertise teachers will need to prepare the next generation of students for the demands of the future.

Explore an international perspective on the future of teaching with "Teaching in 2020." AdvancED Source surveyed educators from around the world on their perspectives about what will change for teachers in the next 10 to 15 years. Individual interviews further revealed what today’s educators believe will be the impact in areas such as online courses, teacher accountability, learning environments and more.

Robert Greenlead, Ph.D. and Sharyn Orvis share their findings on ensuring teachers and learning environments keep up with students in the 21st Centutry in, "Engaging Students for Sustained Learning." Eigh-grade science and social studies teacher, Jeff Battle, explains how to make learning more fun for students and teachers alike in, "Whole Brain Teaching: Learning the Way the Brain is Designed."

Dr. Tim Ham, superintendent of Madison School District in Phoenix, AZ, explores the technology needs of future generations and how teacher preparation must be modified to meet these needs in his article, "Training for Transformation: Teachers, Technology, and the Third Millennium."

I want to thank all the authors in this issue of AdvancED Source for looking into their proverbial crystal ball and exploring the future of teaching.

Educational Change

An interesting thing happened on the way to accomplishing our plan.
 

 

The world changed!

An interesting thing happened on the way to accomplishing our plan.

The world changed!

“Sustainability” is the word du jour. Unbelievably, some people still define “being sustainable” as “successfully defending the status quo.” To borrow alliteration from Thomas Jefferson, that is an idea that “never was and never will be” truly sustainable. The question is not, “When will things get back to normal?” Instead, the question is, “What will the new normal look like?”

In fact, sustainability depends on adaptability, flexibility, resilience, transparency, redundancy, and timing, coupled with a sense of where the world is heading and what we want to become. Without aspirations, circumstances will drive our future.

Staying in Touch.

If we hope to be successful in getting our students ready for a fast-changing world, we need to constantly be in touch with political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and demographic forces that impact our communities, our nations, and the planet. We are of this world, not separate from it.

On the other hand, when we build a wall to keep the world at bay, we isolate ourselves and quickly become obsolete. Couple that concern with another reality: We too often give our attention to everything but the non-stop need to shape our institution to meet the ever-changing needs of society. Unfortunately, when that happens in schools and colleges, some of our students may go down with the ship. Longer-term, the institution puts itself in peril as growing numbers of people take to the lifeboats and sail off toward other horizons, looking for the education their children need to stay ahead of the curve in a world that is in constant motion.

Staying in touch is not a new idea, and it isn’t a new program. It’s simply a way of thinking, and it’s basic to active learning, project-based education, real-world education, learning across disciplines, and learning through inquiry. Many of the same processes we use in environmental scanning and in planning, such as trend analysis, gap analysis, and scenario development, can also be used to make education vastly more interesting and connected to the real world.

Considering Implications of Trends.

One of our more recent books, Sixteen Trends…Their Profound Impact on Our Future, calls attention to an array of societal forces that impact all of us, wherever we are, whether we like it or not. They are sometimes the root causes of many of the issues and problems we face. Take a look at the following trends. Think about their implications for how we operate our schools and colleges, for what students need to know and be able to do to be prepared for life in a global knowledge/information age, and for future economic growth and development and quality of life in our communities.

  • Technology will increase the speed of communication and the pace of advancement or decline. Nick Negroponte at MIT told us long ago that we were moving from atoms to bits. Now, we’re on our way from macro to micro to nano to subatomic. Few things in recent history have been as astounding and earth-shaking as the convergence and miniaturization of technologies. Faced with these ubiquitous tools that put students in touch with each other and with the world, educators are thinking beyond stand-and-deliver to facilitating and orchestrating learning. A growing essential is to help students understand that we’re depending on them to develop new generations of technologies that will power our civil society and our economy in the future.
  • Release of human ingenuity will become a primary responsibility of education and society. It’s no secret that we are moving from plain old information acquisition toward knowledge creation and breakthrough thinking. The future will be driven by our creativity, imagination, and genius as we put ideas together across disciplines to create new knowledge. We know that we will not be able to ride our way into the future, we will need to invent our way into the future. Our challenge is to personalize, to understand interests, abilities, talents, and motivations, and to produce students who are both curious and persistent. Of course, our students also need to be able to function as part of a team.
  • Pressure will grow for society to prepare people for jobs and careers that may not currently exist. While employment in for-profit and nonprofit industries may not be the only reason for education, it’s one that gets the attention of everyone who is hoping for a productive and interesting life, including nearly all students. While career awareness and even preparation are important, career adaptability has become paramount. Legions of people, now in the workforce, will soon be working in jobs that don’t currently exist. Today’s students can expect to change careers several times, and many will invent their own jobs, careers, and industries. As educators, we need to understand that what we do or don’t do today will have profound implications for the future of both our civil society and our economy.
  • Majorities will become minorities, creating ongoing challenges for social cohesion. Fact: By 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau is telling us, only 46 percent of the total population of the country will be non-Hispanic white--36 percent of young people from birth to 19. We live in an age of massive migration, as people cross political boundaries and oceans seeking opportunity to provide for their families and use their talents. Of 100 people who live on the planet, only about five live in North America. As the faces of nations and communities change, we need to revisit consensus, look for common denominators, and redefine sometimes arcane identities that may no longer reflect reality. For educators, this trend also carries the challenge of raising all boats, not just a few.
  • As nations vie for understanding and respect in an interdependent world, international learning, including diplomatic skills, will become basic. When Greece sneezes, we all get a cold. Whether we like it or not, we are moving at warp speed from isolationist independence toward interdependence. What happens to one of us has an impact on all of us. Consider the rise of Asia and its implication for understanding languages and cultures; for our ability to build personal, business, political, and diplomatic relationships; and ultimately for our individual and collective futures. In fact, understanding the people, histories, and cultures of the world may be among our new basics. Consider these diplomatic skills: open minds, natural curiosity, patience, courtesy and good manners, a sense of tolerance, and the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Consider the need to understand economics, history, law, political science, government, civic responsibility, human rights, and social skills. Those who don’t have that kind of understanding may be among our new disadvantaged.

These few trends provide only a glimpse of societal forces that have profound implications for education. Others that should command our attention include: an economy based on social and intellectual capital, personalization, aging, generations, continuous improvement, planetary security (the environment), polarization, and the quest for personal meaning in our lives.

Creating a Future.

Turbulent times offer a unique opportunity to create a future, and focusing on the implications of these and other trends can help us get from where we are to where we need to be. In addition to strengthening our environmental scanning, pursuing active learning and project-based education, including futures studies; and conducting more brainstorming sessions and workshops, we might want to consider holding Community Conversations.

Those conversations can bring together dozens or hundreds of diverse people community-wide to consider implications of trends and then create a description of the education system we’ll need to get our students ready for life in a fast-changing world. At the very same time, they can describe the characteristics of a community that is capable of sustaining that type of future-focused education. A bottom line – school systems, colleges, and universities should be conveners and turn their institutions into the crossroads of their communities.

Making a Choice.

When people understand trends and issues, we say they are “in touch.” When they don’t understand trends and issues, we say they are “out of touch.” Let’s show the world that we are indeed in touch. One of the best ways to do just that is by moving ahead with the process of creating our own future. If we don’t, someone else will, and simply announce it to us, possibly even go around us, leaving us alone as the world rushes by.

John Quincy Adams, considered by some to be one our brightest U.S. Presidents, is reported to have said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” We have a distinct choice. We can simply defend what we have or we can create what we need to get our students ready for the future. Which will it be? Let’s see the hands.


Sixteen Trends…That Will Profoundly Impact Our Future

This list is drawn from the book, Sixteen Trends ... Their Profound Impact on Our Future. (Note: The symbol → indicates a clear, nearly unmitigated trend from one condition to the next, while ↔ indicates a trend that can be expected to develop or continue based on evidence and the reality that certain existing conditions are very likely unsustainable. In some cases, a tug is evident between current and future conditions.)

  1. For the first time in history, the old will outnumber the young.
    (Younger → Older) Worldwide: (Developed World: Younger → Older. Underdeveloped World: Older → Younger)
  2. Majorities will become minorities, creating ongoing challenges for social cohesion.Worldwide:  (Diversity = Division ↔ Diversity = Enrichment)
  3. Social and intellectual capital will become economic drivers, intensifying competition for well educated people.
    (Industrial Age → Global Knowledge/Information Age)
  4. Standards and high stakes tests will fuel a demand for personalization in an education system increasingly committed to lifelong human development. (Standardization → Personalization)
  5. The Millennial Generation will insist on solutions to accumulated problems and injustices, while an emerging Generation E will call for equilibrium. (GIs, Silents, Boomers, Xers → Millennials, Generation E)
  6. Continuous improvement and collaboration will replace quick fixes and defense of the status quo.
    (Quick Fixes/Status Quo → Continuous Improvement)
  7. Technology will increase the speed of communication and the pace of advancement or decline.
    (Atoms → Bits) (Micro → Macro → Nano → Subatomic)
  8.  Release of human ingenuity will become a primary responsibility of education and society.
    (Information Acquisition → Knowledge Creation and Breakthrough Thinking)
  9. Pressure will grow for society to prepare people for jobs and careers that may not currently exist.
    (Career Preparation ↔ Career Adaptability)
  10. Competition will increase to attract and keep qualified educators.
    (High Demand → Even Higher Demand)
  11. Scientific discoveries and societal realities will force widespread ethical choices.
    (Pragmatic/Expedient → Ethical)
  12. Common opportunities and threats will intensify a worldwide demand for planetary security.
    (Personal Security/Self Interest ↔ Planetary Security)
    (Common Threats ↔ Common Opportunities)
  13. Understanding will grow that sustained poverty is expensive, debilitating, and unsettling.
    (Sustained Poverty ↔ Opportunity and Hope)
  14. Polarization and narrowness will bend toward reasoned discussion, evidence, and consideration of varying points of view.
    (Narrowness ↔ Open Mindedness)
  15. As nations vie for understanding and respect in an interdependent world, international learning, including diplomatic skills, will become basic.
    (Sub-Trend: To earn respect in an interdependent world, nations will be expected to demonstrate their reliability and tolerance.) (Isolationist Independence ↔ Interdependence)
  16. Greater numbers of people will seek personal meaning in their lives in response to an intense, high tech, always on, fast-moving society.
    (Personal Accomplishment ↔ Personal Meaning)
Teaching & Learning

A variety of factors and initiatives seem to be converging to create a “perfect storm” of reform in education. Dissatisfaction with American students’ performance on international assessments, concerns about U.S. global competitiveness, the state of the economy, and evidence that many high school graduates are not “college or career ready” are all taking their toll. 

A variety of factors and initiatives seem to be converging to create a “perfect storm” of reform in education. Dissatisfaction with American students’ performance on international assessments, concerns about U.S. global competitiveness, the state of the economy, and evidence that many high school graduates are not “college or career ready” are all taking their toll. And as a result, Race to the Top initiatives, the Department of Education’s ESEA reauthorization blueprint, and plans of many states and state consortia all call for significant changes in curricula, instructional delivery, and the ways we monitor student achievement.

Education reform movements are nothing new. And there are some who would contend that past efforts have had little effect. Twenty-first century skill advocates point out that our current system of education was created to address the workplace needs of an emerging industrial nation—to turn out people who were armed with some basic, low-level skills and ready to take their place on an assembly line prepared to arrive on time, respect authority, and conform to established rules. They would assert that little about this system has changed since that time, despite the radical shift in the demands of the workplace.

New curricular emphases, programs, and instructional techniques have come and gone. But rather than seeing gargantuan improvements in student achievement, the small gains in large-scale assessment results have been far from adequate. If one accepts that interactions between students and teachers are the key to significant improvements in student achievement, then it becomes obvious where we should focus attention—on teaching and testing practices that have been shown to lead to real improvement.

Without shortchanging content, teachers in the future will be expected to better address a broad range of student skills, some cognitive (problem solving, critical thinking, communication) and some not (collaboration, self direction). They will be expected to place greater emphasis on project-based learning and assessment leading to multiple, scorable student products and performances. Done well, these activities can lead to greater depth of knowledge of content.

The learning environment will not be limited to a school building or classroom, but instead will make greater use of out-of-school resources. Computers and other technology tools will be relied on extensively in all aspects of teaching and learning. Thus, teachers will have to be comfortable with changing learning environments and proficient with new, high-tech tools and systems. (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009).

Assessment Literacy

With all these changes, however, there is still something critical that teachers will need, something they have been lacking for some time – a far higher level of assessment literacy. They need a great deal more grounding in the use of assessment than the limited exposure to testing concepts they receive in pre-service training. I’m not talking about more definitions of such things as stanines or percentile ranks, but rather a far deeper understanding of the roles many kinds of assessment play in the processes of teaching and learning. Consider this response, which a teacher today might offer to answer a question about testing and grading practices.

I do formative assessment. I give quizzes or tests almost every day. I create the tests online from an item bank, and my students take the tests online, too. That way I get results back immediately and can use them to adjust my instruction. The scores are automatically recorded in my electronic grade book, and I can see right away how well each student did, as well as how the class did as a whole.

My district gives two interim assessments each year. These are developed by our curriculum coordinator working with teachers, also using the item bank. These are general assessments we use to monitor growth and to identify students who are likely to have trouble passing the state test at the end of the year. We also use the diagnostic information they give us.

On the surface, these comments may seem quite reasonable. But they may well depict poor practice. For example, there is a significant disconnect between the teacher’s concept of formative assessment and the dramatically effective process of formative assessment supported by research. The latter is an ongoing process that occurs during instruction and involves (1) letting students know the learning targets and criteria for success, (2) gathering rich evidence of student learning by a variety of means (e.g., observation, questioning, quizzes), (3) providing descriptive feedback on gaps in student learning, (4) the teacher and student using the feedback to adjust instruction and learning activities, (5) student self assessment, and (6) activating other students as resources (Wiliam, 2007).

Back to our teacher’s response, timing (immediacy of results) is only one attribute of effective formative assessment. A score on a multiple-choice quiz hardly constitutes rich evidence or descriptive feedback leading to appropriate changes in instruction. In fact, the assignment of scores to many kinds of student work before the completion of an instructional unit is one of many grading practices that destroy students’ motivation to learn and thus inhibit learning (Schafer, 1993).

The district testing the teacher describes also seems reasonable on the surface. Early warning and growth monitoring are legitimate uses of interim testing. With respect to the latter, I wonder if the test items were selected for the two tests in such a way that comparisons of performance on the two measures are appropriate. It is doubtful that the two tests were statistically equated. Were raw mean scores compared? If percentage of proficient students was reported, were the cut scores for proficiency arbitrarily set at 70 percent on both tests? In either case, what if the second test was just easier than the first—would a higher score on the second one really be an accurate reflection of growth?

A school administrator once mentioned to me that the district was looking forward to implementing a data management system, so that results from multiple tests could be aggregated to help the teachers better understand their students’ capabilities. With respect to total tests or subtests, how would the content covered by different measures compare? Are the results reported on the same scales? If not, how can they be aggregated? Does it make sense to aggregate data gathered months apart? For monitoring growth with respect to a general area or specific standard, are the measures comparable, based on content and difficulty?

Whether using self-developed tests or off-the-shelf instruments from the publishers, these are the kinds of questions to which district educators need to know the answers. Those answers, known in fact by too few, determine the tests’ legitimate uses, as well as what legitimate conclusions can be drawn from the results.

There are several categories of assessments that are used in schools today, and several approaches that might be used within each. Very different from the process of formative assessment described earlier are summative assessments, which could include teacher-made classroom tests, interim assessments like the district tests the teacher described above, and high-stakes external tests, such as state accountability assessments. Summative assessments are “those assessments that are generally carried out at the end of an instructional unit or course of study for the purposes of giving grades or otherwise certifying student proficiency” (Shepard et al, 2005). Some of these tests might be general achievement tests covering the whole domain of mathematics at a grade, for example, or benchmark tests, perhaps covering material taught within the last two or three months.

There are tests made up of multiple-choice questions, tests made up of constructed-response questions, and tests made up of combinations of item types. (Generally, extended constructed-response questions are better for testing higher-order thinking skills or greater depth of knowledge.) There are fixed tests (the same tests taken by all students in a group) and computer-adaptive tests, which are tailored to each student’s ability level. General achievement measures, whether fixed or adaptive, are not designed to provide rich, diagnostic information. They can be used to monitor growth. Also, they are quite useful as a source of information to guide program improvements that will benefit the next group of students to pass through a tested grade – such as general areas of weakness within a discipline or identification of low-performing subgroups of students.

Conclusion

It is true that teachers of the future will need to deal with many changes in education – including new environments and new tools. But these changes won’t lessen the need for a much greater level of assessment literacy, here defined as the knowledge and skills teachers need to:

  • identify, select, or create assessments optimally designed for various purposes, such as: grading or certifying proficiency, diagnosing specific student needs (gaps in learning), and assessing higher order thinking; and
  • analyze, evaluate, and use the quantitative and qualitative evidence generated by external summative and interim assessments, classroom summative assessments, and instructionally embedded formative assessment practices to make appropriate decisions to improve programs and specific instruction to advance student learning.

Better equipped with assessment literacy, teachers will be in a much better position to weather the “perfect storm of reform” and maximize student learning.

References

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009) 21st century learning environments. White paper from series on support systems, http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/ route21/.

Schafer, W. (1993) Assessment literacy for teachers. Theory into Practice, 32(2), College of Education, The Ohio State University.

Shepard, L., Hammerness, K., Darling-Hammond, L., Rust, F. (2005) Assessment. In Darling-Hammond, L. and Bransford, J. (Eds.), Preparing Teachers for a Changing World, 275-326, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wiliam, D. (2007) Keeping learning on track: Classroom assessment and the regulation of learning. In Lester F. (Ed.), Second Handbook of Mathematics Teaching and Learning, 1053-1098, Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Teaching & Learning

Teachers of the future are today’s multifaceted teachers educating and preparing students to meet the demands of the post-secondary arena and job market. Notice I didn’t mention a test. Teachers of the future will focus less on testing and more on the teaching skills that place students on a trajectory to meet testing demands and beyond.

Teachers of the future are today’s multifaceted teachers educating and preparing students to meet the demands of the post-secondary arena and job market. Notice I didn’t mention a test. Teachers of the future will focus less on testing and more on the teaching skills that place students on a trajectory to meet testing demands and beyond. That’s where I’ll begin. I believe teachers of the future will have greater confidence and will become more advanced in their ability to teach beyond the test. Paper/pencil tests have their place in assessing a student’s level of understanding of concepts. Life is filled with tests, many of which will not be on paper but on one’s ability to apply various skills. Teamwork and communication skills come to mind. These are skills under assault by technology that encourages solitary activity (texting); hence, it is important to incorporate skills that provide equilibrium and reach all learners.

Teachers of the future will have to teach to the skills not the test. The fear of being held accountable for everything except what we can control in the classroom is a major aggravation and has forced many to “teach to the test.”

Not all teachers are guilty of this, but studies suggest that when teachers come face to face with failure in the classroom, they revert to teaching to their comfortable level (which may not be working) or teaching the way they were taught way back when.

Allowing students a major role in steering their learning through projects (project-based learning) or through opportunities to serve others by applying concepts learned in class (in-service learning) makes learning real for students. I have used these techniques since leaving the newsroom some 12 years ago. It was the easiest way for me to make learning language arts concepts realistic and less mundane. When I attached in-class reading and writing to real world broadcast journalism duties and skills, students were more engaged and open to learning. In addition, bringing in a local journalist or taking students to local newsrooms makes this a real world experience. Instead of just using a multiple choice test to assess student learning in this situation, provide students with some choices of assessments and even allow their input in brainstorming additional possibilities of how they could best show what they learned. Of course, objectives aligned with appropriate benchmarks and competencies are considered in creating the alternate assessment.

Teachers of the future must become more adept in their ability to use data to diagnose problems and prescribe interventions that assist students in going to the next level. The one benefit of testing data is it allows educators to see students’ strengths and weaknesses at different times in the year to curtail pitfalls that are inevitable if there is no diagnosis.

Because tests are a reality, test data must be viewed as a friend that allows teachers to improve testing outcomes by strategically addressing students’ needs. Teachers of the future will embrace testing data and be proficient in its use to improve learning outcomes.

Many classrooms are still void of updated technology. I can say this because the only technology I had in my classroom just a couple of years ago was what I brought myself. Any extra technology that I thought would add value to the classroom experience, I jumped on it. However, as a former broadcaster, in my mind the radio/cd player/tape recorder/microphone were archaic, especially after using it year in and year out, but when I compared it to teaching with just standard tools (book, notebook) the technology added another dimension to my instruction. It’s ludicrous to think we can compete with the cell phone and video games that pacify so many of our children and even some adults. Because our students have been in many cases over stimulated by various types of technology, equilibrium in the classroom can be manifested through the use of technology. Though many school districts are able to provide cutting edge technology in classes to help teachers embed a technical layer of enrichment in their lessons, there are still many other districts across this nation that don’t have the funds or are not using their funds in this area. Teachers of the future must be proactive. Such proactivity can be stepping outside the box/class to write grants for funding and reaching out to local businesses for support.

As a National Board Certification Teacher (NBCT), I believe wholeheartedly in the benefits certification affords the education profession. As an alternate route teacher, I discovered this certification process while pursuing my master’s degree during the early years of my career. When I discovered this process would help me to become the education expert I wanted to be, prepare students for the real world, and reward me financially, I was sold. Many teachers are intimidated by the process and are afraid of failure. I have always proclaimed the process is challenging but doable. As a candidate support person, I encourage teachers to go for it. It teaches one so much about his/her practice. This is information that confirms the positives and encourages application of missing ingredients that make for good teaching. As the federal government raises the bar and state education departments reach for the mark, educator evaluation systems look much like elements of National Board Certification. Any teacher who has gone through this process is bound to surpass the requirements of many evaluation systems.

Most importantly, I believe the teacher of the future will need to be communications and relationship specialists. They must specialize not just in communicating the information they teach but in building a level of trust in the classroom. Teachers come into contact with so many children who come to the classroom void of solid relationships in their personal lives. This means teachers must be ethical and in creating their classroom climates, include a means of encouraging ethical behavior in their students. The teacher of the future understands that this may not be part of the content area, but it’s a significant element in shaping productive students who will positively impact an imperfect workforce.

All in all, teachers of the future prepare students for the demands of the future. They don’t limit their instruction to meet the requirements of the day, but they look forward to challenge themselves and their students to address the challenges of tomorrow. 

Teaching & Learning

Respondents to the Teachers in 2020 survey represented places around the world including the U.S., Mexico, Central America, South America, China and the Middle East. Half of the respondents had 20 or more years of education experience.*

A decade can bring about significant change to individuals and to the world. How will a decade change education? None of us can be certain about what the future will bring, but recently a sampling of educators at AdvancED accredited institutions around the world participated in a survey* about teaching in the year 2020. The survey contained questions on different aspects of teaching in the future, including questions on teacher preparedness, technology, learning environment and online courses.

Throughout the survey results, not surprisingly, technology played a leading role. Survey respondents indicate that they believe that technology will be the catalyst for many changes in the next 10 years.

Over half of the survey respondents reported that their students have daily access to computers; those residing outside the United States reported 72 percent, while only 58 percent of U.S. respondents reported daily access. Conversely, no respondents in the U.S. reported infrequent use, but nearly 10 percent of respondents outside the U.S. reported infrequent use. Almost all respondents (95 percent) believe that students in 2020 will have daily access to computers.

Survey respondents had ideas about learning techniques and concepts, but the tendency was to see them in the light of new uses of technology: some thoughts were based on adjusting to technology, others were about how to use it to create better learning opportunities for students. Others still saw barriers to the use of too much technology such as protecting privacy, teaching ethics and plagiarism. Respondents expressed that teachers will need to build their own knowledge about these issues and instruct students in these areas. One respondent shared the great importance of not just using technology for the sake of using it, but asking – “how will this help students achieve?”

How often do students in your region/country currently have access to computers and other technology tools?

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Teacher Preparedness

Will teacher training change? Most survey respondents think so; 88 percent of respondents outside the U.S. expect some to significant change in the universities/teacher training programs to meet new expectations by 2020. While only 67 percent of their U. S. counterparts responded the same.

Those who took the Teachers in 2020 survey responded with several ideas of what should be included in teacher training for the future. Responses included a focus on technology, more online opportunities, an increase in experience in school settings, project-based learning, collaborative learning and a focus on assessment. Respondents think teachers of 2020 should be taught how to enhance learning with technology rather than just using it for administrative efficiencies. For example, teaching how to use technology to quickly and easily differentiate instruction.

“We need to get people to think out of the box. … We will need to teach students how to interact with the world. “We need to prepare teachers to help students reshape and rethink different approaches—getting away from content only,” shared Andrew Sherman, Director, Colegio Menor San Francisco de Quito in Cumbaya, Quito Ecuador.

By 2020, how much do you think universities/teacher training institutions will have changed their teaching/training programs to meet new expectations?

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Additionally, respondents felt it was important for teachers to be prepared to teach critical thinking and problem solving. With the easy access to information, some respondents see a new way of thinking coming: conceptual curriculum rather than fact-based.

“Students will have access to an unbelievable amount of information and herein lies what we need to be teaching: appropriate and critical use of information,” advised one survey respondent. “Students need to understand how information is used, why it is created, and to develop a refined ability to critically evaluate the information in order to build their own understanding.”

Intercultural education and the global community also were noted as important in preparing teachers to lead their students in global thinking. Respondents suggested giving teachers experience in different settings, including international.

Teacher Accountability

How will teachers be held more accountable? Respondents believe teachers will be held more accountable for student achievement by 2020. In fact, 75 percent of U.S.-based respondents believe teachers will be held accountable for state assessment results. Additionally, over 58 percent responded that they believe teachers will be held more accountable for the following:

  • Legislated/mandated requirements
  • College or career readiness
  • Common content standards/requirements

Their counterparts around the world believe teachers also will be held more accountable, with over 50 percent reporting greater responsibility for the following:

  • State assessment results
  • Graduation rates
  • Common content standards/requirements

Additionally, a substantial number of educators both in the U.S. and elsewhere believe teachers will be held more accountable for college enrollment (33 percent and 25 percent respectively), according to the survey responses.

“I do think that college readiness is part of an accountability picture that has to touch every teacher in high school,” said Eric Ban, Principal, Crown Point High School, in Crown Point, Indiana, U.S. Although not everyone agrees, “Hold teachers accountable for good quality teaching, teachers only get a student for one year of education. Accountability should fall to institutions,” commented Sherman.

Changes to the Job

What kind of changes will 2020 bring in the teacher’s job? It’s no surprise that respondents are united in the belief that there will be more technology. Teachers will be challenged to engage students within this new technological environment, facilitate their learning, and deliver content effectively, shared several respondents. Some respondents believe that technology will bring with it more wikis and blogs but less face-to-face interaction with students. Others feel confident that technology will be blended with traditional teaching methods.

Some respondents commented that the job itself won’t change much, while others believe that the focus from content to developing life skills (leadership, creativity and problem solving) will significantly change the nature of teachers’ jobs.

“I believe that the educational experience will continue to move toward the role of the teacher as a facilitator, still accountable for the student being exposed to and supported in their understanding of ‘basic standards’ as adopted by the school or district…” shared Dale Goodman, Advisor to the Board, Chengdu Meishi International School in China.

The shift seems to be for teachers to be less of a source of knowledge; technology can fill that role, “Teachers can’t be the source of knowledge. Teachers have to be the designer of good learning negotiations – and yes, sometimes those negotiations are directed by the teacher,” commented Ban.

Teacher teamwork also was common among responses with respondents expressing that this teamwork will be necessary to have accountability for students’ progress throughout the years.

Learning Environments

What kind of learning environments will 2020 bring? Survey respondents shared that they believe social media will make a difference in the work day of future teachers; however, responses ranged from “social media is merely a tool” to “teachers will be communicating mostly online with no daily ‘classes.’” Some believe using social media will make teachers’ days longer with increased communication, individualized instruction and more fluid instruction. “Students will be able to bring their teacher home after school for help and support,” stated one respondent.

Some respondents think that there will be less personal interaction with students, while other respondents felt that there would be more one-on-one contact, but less face-to-face contact with students. Some educators responding to the survey question this loss of interaction, as they believe it is an important part of socialization.

In the future, some believe that students will make more decisions about their education. A number of respondents reported that students will have more involvement in and be more responsible for the learning process and designing how the new classroom of 2020 will operate. They shared that students will use technology to demonstrate skills, collaborate with students around the world, and use simulations to solve problems. Respondents believe that teachers will present new opportunities for group-based learning and will incorporate open-ended projects into learning. “Students can now be anywhere in the world—classroom doesn’t have to be just the kids in your class…It will put different talent together; it’s a whole new way to bring people together and realize benefits,” said Sherman.

Online Courses

How will online courses be included in curriculum? Survey respondents reported mixed perspectives about self-managed/online courses, but most agree that their use and variety of topics will increase by 2020.

There was some difference of opinion as to what age was most appropriate for students to start using self-managed/online courses. The U.S. respondents seem more comfortable with younger children taking these courses. Nearly 50 percent of respondents outside the U.S. reported that ages 16-20 were appropriate for students to begin taking self-managed/online courses, while their U.S. counterparts reported a more even distribution across age ranges: 20 percent beginning at ages 6-10, 30 percent at ages 11-15 and 20 percent at ages 16-20. However, one-fifth of U.S. based educators believe it is never appropriate for students to take online/self-managed courses, while only seven percent of educators outside the U.S. believe students should never take these courses.

At what age do you think it’s appropriate for children to start taking self-managed/online courses?

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Most survey respondents think there will be more self-managed courses in 2020:

  • 48% think only a few more
  • 36% think significantly more
  • 15% think will be about the same

The majority of respondents think self-managed courses are here to stay, but there is some disagreement about the ideal percentage of coursework that should be self-managed:

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Although there is no real consensus on how self-managed courses should be used, many potential benefits to students were expected by respondents. The economic benefit to remote students, variety of coursework and a flexible learning schedule were mentioned. Some respondents felt that the idea of self-managed courses would help students gain discipline, a broader perspective and research skills, all of which would provide preparation for higher education. Respondents also expressed the hope that students would become more aware of learning goals, benefit from an individual learning pace and would be able to learn more about what interests them.

The most significant concerns expressed by respondents over self-managed courses were the isolation and lack of socialization for students in a world where collaboration and teamwork are expected.

There were many ideas about how increased self-managed courses might change the role of the teacher. According to survey comments, teachers will become facilitators and advisors. Teachers of the future will have to be attentive to remote students—people whom they’ve never met. They will be a checkpoint for student accountability and a resource to manage student advancement.

With more use of online learning, some respondents believe that the teacher will become more like a manager or facilitator. “A facilitator helps develop. [Teachers will] create an environment to facilitate the learning with the technology,” said Sherman.

What’s in store for teachers of the future? More technology, online courses, facilitation, greater accountability and the opportunity to ensure that students learn to negotiate the world like never before.

*Surveys were administered by random sample with a six percent response rate.

Teaching & Learning

The Third Millennium is characterized by a rapid explosion of technological developments. These advances create challenges for educators and the need to develop a deeper understanding and skill set to meet the needs of future learners. In order to meet these challenges we need to encourage educational approaches that emphasize and embrace technology use. As school districts continue to prepare students for a global world that leverages technology to accelerate business operations and gain a greater competitive edge, it becomes vital to ensure teachers are equipped to meet the technology learning demand.

The Third Millennium is characterized by a rapid explosion of technological developments. These advances create challenges for educators and the need to develop a deeper understanding and skill set to meet the needs of future learners. In order to meet these challenges we need to encourage educational approaches that emphasize and embrace technology use. As school districts continue to prepare students for a global world that leverages technology to accelerate business operations and gain a greater competitive edge, it becomes vital to ensure teachers are equipped to meet the technology learning demand. It is evident that students’ understanding of technology has out-paced that of their teachers, creating future challenges for global competition. The growth of the world output is crossing national boundaries, and the thoughtful preparation of current and future teachers is critical to ensure our students’ success in meeting the rigorous demands of an increasingly global marketplace.

Irresistible Force Meets Immovable Object: Technology and Curriculum Move at Different Speeds

In the research by Dr. Gilbert Valdez, “Technology is a change phenomenon that defies belief unless it is put into a context of other things in our lives. Oblinger and Verville (1999) share this comparison of computer power’s evolution as compared to the American automobile:

One reason that IT acts as a change agent is that the speed and magnitude of the alterations it catalyzes are so dramatic. Consider the automobile as an example of the transformative effects of technology. In 1985, the most expensive car made in the United States was a Cadillac. It cost $17,000, averaged 12 miles to the gallon, and weighed more than one ton. If the automobile industry had achieved the same technology trajectory as the computer industry, today a Cadillac would cost $12.63, weigh 14 pounds, get 5,900 miles to the gallon, and be three feet long! In fact, if you are driving a Ford Taurus today, you are 'piloting' a vehicle that contains more computing power than the first lunar landing module.” (Valdez 1999, 1).

Fulton (1998), in an essay titled A Framework for Considering Technology’s Effectiveness, notes that the teacher is a key variable in technology implementation and effectiveness. Also, that “technology’s impact on teachers and their practice should be considered as important as student effects, for students move on but teachers remain to influence many generations of students.”

Kozak (1992), in the article titled, Technology Education: Prospectus for Curriculum Change, indicated that a preparation program should be an adaptive and open system which is dynamic, differentiated, and a continued renewal process that leads to continuous learning. Technology will continue to change and the ability to adjust needs to be fluid and ongoing.

In fact, preparing teachers to adapt to a constantly changing landscape of technology is more important than preparing them to use a specific tool.

School budgets continue to be reduced at a time when technology preparation needs for students and teachers continue to increase. Districts find themselves in a difficult position of trying to prepare for the future and meet the global call. One district has become creative in providing a dynamic, differentiated, and continued renewal process that has led to a continuous learning cycle for their staff. Madison School District, located in Phoenix Arizona, developed a plan to meet those 21st century teaching and learning skills by increasing the technology competency of its teaching staff.

CATS, MICE, and CATNIP: Preparing Teachers for the Future

Madison School District instituted three unique integrated training programs to ensure the teaching staff was prepared to meet the global future. The district used the ‘earning’ of technology tools for the classroom as the incentive for attendance in blocks of technology classes. These three ideas unfolded as technology entered into the classroom:

  • CATS (Computer Assisted Teaching Strategies) encouraged teachers to choose from a smorgasbord of technology classes. This personalized menu was designed to be suited to individual teachers to meet the variety of student needs in their classrooms.
  • MICE (Madison Integrating Computer Educators) were composed of one teacher from each campus to explore ways to improve student achievement. This person became a resource anchor for the campus. However, there were so many needs they soon realized they could not accomplish them in the normal after school training. They overcame this challenge by dedicating one Saturday per month of undisrupted time to advancing their technology knowledge and skills.
  • CATNIP (Classroom Application of Technology – New Incentive Program) allowed teachers to take coursework at their own pace to earn technology equipment for their classrooms. In the first year of this project all 320 teachers enrolled in the first five training hours of CATNIP with “The Care and Feeding of Your Laptop” and in doing so they earned their own laptop computer.
The CATS’ Meow: A Proven Model for Success

The last five years have produced some impressive results. To date 80 percent of district teachers have voluntarily completed 45-plus hours of specific CATNIP courses, choosing form 150 different modules and training sessions. There are 300 teachers who have earned a SmartBoard in their classroom through the CATS program. Thirty-five percent of the teachers have enrolled in 60 hours of CATNIP, earning document cameras or response pads, while some have earned both by completing 90 hours.

Student achievement is at its highest level since the conception of the Arizona labeling system. All eight schools have made Adequate Yearly Progress. The MICE program has not only created leadership on each campus it has created leaders in the State of Arizona and throughout the nation. Over 12 teachers involved in the program have been state and national conference presenters. The program itself has been the recipient of the State Golden Bell Award and the National Magna Grand Prize Award.

A Trifecta for the Third Millennium: Conclusion

The Madison School District has found a way to be creative in building a flexible, dynamic, differentiated, and continued renewal process that leads to continuous learning for their staff. They have embraced the Fulton (1998) concept that the teacher is a key variable in technology implementation and effectiveness, and the impact on teachers is as important as student effects. It does not appear that additional funding is going to emerge in public education. What is certain is that things will continue to change and our teachers will need to adapt at an accelerated rate. If we are to be competitive as a society, our schools must help students prepare for the global marketplace. If we truly meet this challenge, the Third Millennium will not only be characterized by a rapid explosion of technological development, it will be identified as a time of educational transformation and success.

References

Fulton, Kathleen. (1998). A Framework for Considering Technology’s Effectiveness. http://www.doe.in.gov/olt/pdf/appresearchkful.pdf

Kozak, Michael R. (1992). Technology Education: Prospectus for Curriculum Change. Journal of Technology Education, Vol. 4. No. 1, (Fall), 65-69.

Valdez, Gilbert. (2004). Critical Issues: Technology Leadership: Enhancing Positive Educational Change. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1-20. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/educatrs/leadrshp/le700.htm

Teaching & Learning

Teachers of the Future

Teachers of the Future: The Future of Education

Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey, founder of the DaVinci Institute, sees a radical shift beginning in the world of education within two years. While many are debating vouchers, No Child Left Behind, teacher shortages, grading systems, teacher certification, parental involvement, truancy and dropouts, Frey is thinking out of the box..."Star Trek type" out of the box. Frey believes that in two years private funding will cause disruptive education systems to emerge. And, in five years, there will be dramatic changes in education.

Why Teachers Must Become Change Agents

Michael G. Fullan

Fullan believes that teacher education programs must help teaching candidates to link the moral purpose that influences them with the tools that will prepare them to engage in productive change. In this article, Fullan aims to explain why teaching at its core is a moral profession.

Renewing the Profession of Teaching: A Conversation with John Goodlad

Carol Tell

How can new teachers, future teachers, and teacher educators prepare for the educational demands of the 21st century? Renowned teacher educator John Goodlad describes the challenges and hopes for revitalizing the teaching profession.

What is the Future of Teaching?

Josh Catone

A recent study funded by the US Department of Education, found that on the whole, online learning environments actually led to higher tested performance than face-to-face learning environments. “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction,” concluded the report’s authors in their key findings. Catone believes that while the study certainly provides a vote of confidence for online learning, it’s important to note that it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that online learning is more effective as a medium than classroom learning.

CEO Message

One of the greatest challenges – and opportunities – that teachers, principals, administrators and superintendents face each and every day is preparing students for the future. How do we define student preparedness? For some, it’s being prepared to not only attend, but to graduate from a college or university and perhaps earn a graduate degree. For others, student preparedness is achieving success in a chosen trade or vocation. Still for others, it’s gaining life skills to adapt to change, solve problems, face challenges with resilience, and contribute to their community in a positive way.

One of the greatest challenges – and opportunities – that teachers, principals, administrators and superintendents face each and every day is preparing students for the future. How do we define student preparedness? For some, it’s being prepared to not only attend, but to graduate from a college or university and perhaps earn a graduate degree. For others, student preparedness is achieving success in a chosen trade or vocation. Still for others, it’s gaining life skills to adapt to change, solve problems, face challenges with resilience, and contribute to their community in a positive way.                    

We are at a critical crossroad in education today. Although the general public wants schools to improve they do not want them to change. Yet change is essential if we are to prepare students for success in a future that is vastly different than the past and will undoubtedly resemble very little of the present. We also know that success for every child does not look the same. At a time when the emphasis is ensuring that every child is college and career ready, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that there is a single pathway to success for all children. One size does not fit all. In fact, all sizes fit and we must provide multiple pathways to success so that every child can tap their potential based on their unique set of skills and dispositions. We are indeed at a crossroad, and we must look to the future rather than the past as we craft strategies and leverage resources to ensure that every child is prepared.

Regardless of a student’s vision of their own success, educational institutions must be ready to help them achieve it. At AdvancED, we believe that every student must be prepared for success in an ever-changing and diverse world. In this issue of AdvancED Source, we invited authors to explore what Student Preparedness looks like from various angles.

This issue opens with perspectives from Jenifer Fox, author and national teacher trainer. In her article, "Wellness as Preparation for College Success," she explores wellness indicators, rather than a test, that prepare students for future success. Jo Kirchner, President and CEO of Primrose Schools, shows how a balanced approach to physical, social-emotional, creative, and academic skills is a key for young learners to be successful in the future in her article, "The Need for a Balanced Approach to Prepare Students Pre-K and Up."

AdvancED’s Vice President of Development, Heather Kinsey, shares some alarming data from student surveys in which students rate their high school education as less than adequate. She shares the results in her research brief, "Student Perceptions in Preparedness," Dr. Sally Downey, head of the East Valley Institute of Technology, shares her thoughts on the importance of every student having a marketable skill in "Student Perceptions on Preparedness. In Every Scholar Needs a Skill."

This issue concludes with a Perspectives piece, "Preparing Students for the Success in the Work Place." AdvancED Source asked several business leaders about what key elements of K-12 education contribute to students’ future potential success.

We are grateful to our authors and interviewees for their contributions to expanding our thinking on preparing students for the future and reaching their goals.

Teaching & Learning

By definition, when we prepare people, we are making them ready for use. With regard to education, the fundamental question should be, “what is the use for which we are preparing learners?” 

By definition, when we prepare people, we are making them ready for use. With regard to education, the fundamental question should be, “what is the use for which we are preparing learners?” The answer to this basic question challenges teachers, administrators and parents and therefore, it is too often side stepped. Our rhetoric too often simply refers to the destination without contemplating the purpose of the journey. This is the reason why young people lose motivation in school. Learning to simply get to the next level does not inspire powerful engagement in learning.

Applying to college and getting into a “good school” has become an intensely competitive process. Getting in is the goal. We learn in elementary school to be prepared for high school, and we learn in high school to be prepared for college. Rarely do we stop and consider what students are being prepared for. This is the cause of much anxiety in the lives of young people. They do not know their options for careers, they are uncertain about what they want in life, where they will live, how they will connect to others, and what their purpose will be. We focus them on achievements: grades, accolades, scores and devote little time to helping them discover purpose, meaning and passion.

The drive to prepare students for college causes intense anxiety for students. This anxiety is exacerbated by the race to the brand name college or university.

Annually since 1983, U.S. News & World Report magazine has ranked America’s 100 Best Colleges. This publication has changed the way parents and students choose institutions of higher education, leading them to believe that the value of a college degree is only as good as its brand name.

For the past 25 years, this annual ranking system has almost guaranteed that SAT scores are considered the most important factor in college admission. In reality, SAT scores remain a notoriously poor measure of both student ability and likelihood of success in college.

Success in college is largely a result of a number of wellness indicators rather than standardized test scores that have no correlation to daily stresses and challenges of college life. The following traits are some of the most important for navigating college life successfully:

  • Adaptability
  • Self esteem
  • Time management skills
  • Sense of purpose and direction
  • Understanding strengths
  • Physical health
  • Self control
  • Resiliency

If educators are truly interested in preparing students to be successful at the next level, they will prepare them in these indicators rather than solely focusing on scores and grades.

The Fallacy of the S.A.T. as Preparation

Maggie, a diligent, socially adept student with a great talent for dancing, was not going to be accepted to college. She had average grades throughout high school, and her teachers considered her a good, consistent student. Maggie’s confidence on stage impressed her teachers. She performed in many school musicals and on the competitive dance team. She felt motivated by dance, and worked hard to become good enough to build her life around it.

Like many students, Maggie bombed standardized tests. She had a poor short term memory and suffered from all too common test anxiety. Everyone was proud of Maggie after she returned from her dance audition at a small liberal arts college in a nearby state. She had chosen the college specifically for its very selective dance program. Over 65 students had auditioned for the program, and Maggie was one of 16 chosen. When her mother called frantically one day and asked us to contact the college’s admissions office to see if they were going to admit her or not, my first reaction was one of nonchalance. Of course they would admit her. Another week passed, and our school’s college counselor stopped me in the hall.

“Maggie hasn’t heard from any of the schools she applied for yet, and her mother is getting really anxious. Can you call her?”

I called the admissions office to find out what was going on. Tania, the admissions person in charge of Maggie’s application, was warm and friendly but told me that she felt it would be very difficult for their admissions team to admit Maggie because of her low SAT scores.

“But what about her grades?” I asked.

“We are just worried she won’t be able to handle her courses.”

“What gives you that idea? She’s a solid student here.”

“Yes, but her scores indicate she hasn’t been prepared to handle a rigorous college program.” she said.

“No, I think you misunderstand. We are a college preparatory school. Have you looked at the transcript?”

I went on to explain that while Maggie may not be able to earn all A’s or B’s in college, she would be a good student, a solid student motivated to succeed, one who would by no means flunk out of school. The admissions officer told me she would take this information to the dean, but that we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

The next day I placed another call to the admissions office. I again told the officer that Maggie was a right choice for admission, and she told me again that she would bring the information to the committee, but that her SAT scores were most likely going to prevent her admission.

“If she had mailed in only her ACT scores, she probably could have gotten in without being sent to committee.”

I quickly rifled through the green college file that the college counselor’s assistant had left on my chair that morning. I found the right paper and saw that her ACT scores were not that much better than her SAT scores. I asked her about this.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Her ACT scores are only slightly better than her SAT scores. I told you, she doesn’t do well on standardized tests.”

She told me that ACT scores don’t count. I asked her what she meant by “count.”

“You know,” the admissions officer explained, “for the ranking data.”

I listened while she explained that they had to submit all the SAT scores of students who were admitted in the freshman class to U.S. News & World Report for the rankings, and that Maggie’s scores would bring down the average and negatively affect the university’s ranking.

In the mad rush to make their school seem more desirable, the admissions office was driven to deny admission to the very type of student who would actually contribute the most to the community and make the institution better.

How Can College and High Schools Work Together to Best Prepare Students?

The S.A.T. issue described above is clearly one that is generated by the colleges and then acted upon at the secondary level. So how can educators stop this chicken and egg dilemma? The answer comes when we shift from a focus on achievements to a focus on meaningful lives and developing individual’s strengths over the pursuit of achievements that have nothing to do with young people’s real desires. Such achievements do not activate their essential strengths. Empty achievements, those that lack a connection to an inner sense of meaning and purpose, are pushing unprecedented numbers of college students into campus mental health offices with complaints of depression and anxiety. In a 2010 report by the American College Health Association, 45 percent of college men and 50 percent of college women surveyed said they had experienced depression so severe at some point in time that they could “barely function;” 14.9 percent said they had been medically diagnosed with clinical depression. In the same survey, 60 percent of students reported “feeling things were hopeless” one or more times during the previous school year.

This anxiety starts developing as early as middle school, when parents and teachers begin to warn children that if they don’t get good grades, they will not get into college. These kinds of threats make getting good grades and high scores more important to children than learning.

When “getting in” becomes a matter of family pride, children will do anything to get good grades, including cheat. Children cheat in school when they do not feel invested, committed to, and motivated by learning. Earning good grades and pleasing parents and teachers are not effective motivators for true learning. Good grades alone do not help students discover their strengths, and the emphasis on getting good grades just to get into a school has caused cheating in high school to become a national epidemic. The results of the 29th Who’s Who Among American High School Students poll found that 80 percent of the country’s best students cheated to get to the top of their class; 54 percent of middle school students said they had cheated on an exam within 12 months of the poll. Ask any middle or high school student to tell you how many of his peers cheat at some point during school just to get by, and he’ll most likely say that everyone cheats.

Truly prepared students are engaged in meaningful learning that directs their lives toward authentic success. Here is how to do this:

  • Provide context and relevance for learning rather than simply learning to get to the next level.
  • Help young people discover their strengths-- the things that energize and interest them enough to build a career from them.
  • Differentiate instruction so learners can discover individual systems to manage time and work loads.
  • Offer courses and programs in relationship building, resilience and conflict management.
  • Place the focus on fulfillment and contribution rather than achievement for its own sake.

Educators know intuitively that real preparation involves the above suggestions. It will take bold leadership and acts of faith to push these agendas in schools. The leaders who embrace these concepts will ultimately push the standardized test makers to retool their assessments to include wellness indicators to determine future success.

Educational Change

The national conversation about K-12 education today seems to revolve around the holy grails of math and reading achievement. Schools are held accountable and graded by students’ test scores, and more and more classroom time is dedicated to drilling square roots and vocabulary, even as art and music programs fall by the wayside and recess is dismissed as unnecessary “play time.” 

The national conversation about K-12 education today seems to revolve around the holy grails of math and reading achievement. Schools are held accountable and graded by students’ test scores, and more and more classroom time is dedicated to drilling square roots and vocabulary, even as art and music programs fall by the wayside and recess is dismissed as unnecessary “play time.” The pressures of academic achievement have even trickled down to early childhood — more parents are asking if their children should be reading by age 5, or if they need to “red shirt” children by holding them back a year to have more time to prepare for kindergarten.

In the midst of these pressures, cracks are starting to show: anxiety-related complaints and stress — problems that don’t normally appear until the teen years — are cropping up in young children, and rising incidences of school bullying and behavior problems have left parents and educators wondering if perhaps our educational system has missed something in its one-dimensional pursuit of academic excellence.

It’s true that pre-K has become more learning-focused, but it is not true that early childhood educators should focus exclusively, or even predominantly, on academics in order to prepare children for later success.

High quality early childhood education takes a broader perspective: the focus is on supporting and advancing the development of prepared, happy, confident, well-rounded children, which goes far beyond teaching and testing numbers and letters.

According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, “The early years lay the foundation for a wide range of later developmental outcomes that really matter - self-confidence and sound mental health, motivation to learn, achievement in school and later in life.” A report from the National Research Council, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, confirms that from birth to age five, development in all areas is rapid. Nurturing guidance and attention to every part of a child’s development during this crucial stage helps them acquire not only math and reading proficiency but also compassion, strength, independence, resilience, and a love of learning - qualities that are easy to take for granted but that need to be taught and encouraged for success beyond preschool.

Thus, a balanced approach to developing physical, social-emotional, creative and academic skills is key to preparing young children for school and life:

Physical Development.

As physical education classes get shorter and the risk of childhood obesity increases, the importance and value of movement is being increasingly recognized by early childhood educators. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education has presented research that shows movement plays an important role not only in health, but in the future development of a child. During physical activities, children use multiple senses (touch, sight, smell, etc.), which create neural connections that wire the brain for future learning as well as improve the rate of learning and the development of executive functions (brain processes like planning and abstract thinking). In a practical example, Naperville School District 203 in Illinois provides a compelling case for the need for physical education: the district has limited educational funding, but its schools consistently rank among the top ten in the state. The only major difference is the district’s inclusion of daily exercise in its curriculum.

Social-Emotional Development. 

While parents have always encouraged children to “get along with others,” a growing body of scientific work has documented the necessity of social and emotional development for future success. According to the Child Mental Health Foundations and Agencies Network, “Children who do not begin kindergarten socially and emotionally competent are often not successful in the early years of school — and can be plagued by behavioral, emotional, academic and social development problems that follow them into adulthood.” Noted psychologist Ross A. Thompson points out that early relationships are necessary to develop “healthy” brains, with healthy and supportive relationships shown to buffer stress in children. Parents and teachers who model appropriate social skills for children prepare them to not only “get along” in the world, but to be kind and respectful, show compassion, and care about others.

Creative Development.  

Often overlooked as “frills,” art and music programs that promote creative expression and development are nonetheless an important part of a balanced approach to early childhood education. Young children naturally engage in “art,” or spontaneous creative play, but when educators involve and encourage children in arts activities regularly from an early age, they lay the foundation for successful learning. Research conducted by Americans for the Arts shows that arts education plays a central role in preschoolers’ cognitive, motor, language and social-emotional development. Arts activities develop the imagination and critical thinking, strengthen problem-solving and goal-setting skills, build self-confidence and self-discipline for completing tasks, and nurture values like team-building and respecting different viewpoints. According to Edwin E. Gordon’s book Learning Sequences in Music, early exposure to music also sets the stage for enhanced brain development that increases neural connections, boosts IQ scores and improves musical aptitude.

Academic Development.   

Today’s academic standards have focused relentlessly on math and reading skills, but what we teach in our preschools should go beyond mere numbers and letters. Needed language skills encompass listening, speaking, reading and writing. Can the child articulate thoughts and ideas? Does he love books and appreciate the pleasure and knowledge they bring? Similarly, math and science skills should move beyond rote repetition to mastery of concepts. Can the child think mathematically — beyond facts — and have a true sense of numbers and concepts? Is she curious about the world, and can she think scientifically — observing, forming and testing hypotheses? In today’s technology-rich world, does the child have a grasp of the power of technology as a tool for creative expression and problem solving? Early childhood education should nurture a love of learning and support learning in multiple ways - through listening, seeing, hearing, touching and play. Preschool curricula should not train children to take tests and push them to academic extremes, but should include purposeful, engaging activities that are developmentally appropriate and support children’s natural curiosity to explore and learn about the world.

The benefits of a balanced approach to early childhood education are well documented.

Over 50 years of research from the Pew Center on the States shows that high-quality pre-K improves children’s cognitive, social and emotional skills, increases their educational attainment, closes the achievement gap, and enhances the quality and productivity of our nation’s workforce.

These results require a holistic teaching philosophy that incorporates the development of children’s physical, social-emotional, creative and academic skills. Only when we start valuing these abilities and work toward finding valid ways to evaluate and track their development will we begin to truly prepare children to be happy and successful in life.

Measuring Success

Preparing students for life after high school is extremely important work, but how do schools know if the work they are doing is having the desired results? An incredible amount of time and energy is invested in the collection and analysis of assessment results and graduation/completion data, but schools often neglect to ask students how they value the education they have received. Do students believe the classes, opportunities, and support they received during high school helped them develop the skills and abilities they need to be successful in the next phase of their lives?

Preparing students for life after high school is extremely important work, but how do schools know if the work they are doing is having the desired results? An incredible amount of time and energy is invested in the collection and analysis of assessment results and graduation/completion data, but schools often neglect to ask students how they value the education they have received. Do students believe the classes, opportunities, and support they received during high school helped them develop the skills and abilities they need to be successful in the next phase of their lives?

Value of Education Rated Low

Many schools – public, private, urban, rural, and suburban - voluntarily administer surveys, such as the AdvancED High School Exit Survey, to gather student perspectives to help answer these types of questions. An analysis of nearly 5,500 responses from AdvancED High School Exit Survey administrations produced consistently alarming results.

Across every student population and school demographic, students rated the overall value of their education, skills developed, and level of support received in high school very low.

When asked to rate the overall value of their high school education on a scale from excellent to very poor, over 76 percent of the 5,500 students surveyed responded with a poor or very poor rating. Disaggregation of the data based on gender, ethnicity, grades received in school (A’s , B’s, etc), and participation in after-school activities produced the same results. While it is true that ratings were low across all student populations and school demographics, it is interesting to note that students who followed a technical or vocational program had a higher perceived value of their education than those in a general education or college preparation program. Fourteen percent of technical/vocational education students rated the overall value of their education as excellent or good, while only 4.7 percent in general education and 3.6 percent in college preparation programs had a good or excellent rating.

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Students not Confident in Preparation

Getting right at the heart of student preparedness, the survey also asked students to rate the extent to which their school prepared them for the future. An overwhelming percentage of students (greater than 60 percent) believe that their high school did a poor or very poor job of providing challenging curriculum and classes that would prepare them for the future. The vast majority of these same students feel that their school did not adequately prepare them for education or employment    after high school. Over 3,400 of the 5,500 students surveyed (62 percent) felt that their school did a less than fair job of preparing them for education after high school, and over 50 percent felt their school did a poor or very poor job of preparing them for employment.

Many schools claim to focus on 21st Century Skills development, but how does this translate for students? When students were asked to rate the level of ability they developed during high school in areas such as problem solving, good decision making, time management, career awareness, teamwork, and employability, over 60 percent of the students responded with a poor or very poor rating.

Where is the breakdown in communication? What can we learn from this type of student perception data?

The purpose of this article is not to disparage the work of schools or disregard the hard work that happens every day in educational institutions around the world, but instead to emphasize the importance of gathering student perceptions and using student feedback to improve education quality. Perception shapes reality. If students don’t feel that schools are doing a good job of preparing them for the future, we should listen. Students are in a great position to help design an education system that will not only prepare students for the future, but open their eyes to future possibilities.

Learning Environments

East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) in Mesa, Arizona has a saying, “Every Scholar Needs a Skill.” There is a short period of time while students are in the care of the public schools to prepare them for life after graduation. While EVIT contends that academic rigor is essential, it is also believed to be equally critical for every student to graduate from high school with a marketable skill. That skill, however, is not meant to be the end of their education. In fact, it should help a student prepare for post-secondary education.

East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) in Mesa, Arizona has a saying, “Every Scholar Needs a Skill.” There is a short period of time while students are in the care of the public schools to prepare them for life after graduation. While EVIT contends that academic rigor is essential, it is also believed to be equally critical for every student to graduate from high school with a marketable skill. That skill, however, is not meant to be the end of their education. In fact, it should help a student prepare for postsecondary education.

Having a skill that pays more than typical entry level work can help students pay their way through college.

Better Pay and Schedules

Many Cosmetology and Massage Therapy students at EVIT plan to use their skills to support themselves while they continue their education. Instead of earning minimum wage with no control over their work schedule, they can determine the number of hours they will work and establish their own work time that coincides with their school schedule.

Hands-on Experience

Secondly, career training provides an exploration platform for students while they are still in tuition-free public schools. Arizona State University has such a high number of students who enter “undeclared” as their major that they now have a new curriculum that includes “exploration.” Their hope is that the students will learn about a core of majors and be able to make a choice within the first year. It is not uncommon for a student who has not researched career fields to change their major more than once until they find their niche. This not only increases the number of years of college attendance, but certainly increases the cost of their education.

EVIT has helped students who initially expressed an interest in a career field but after trying it decided it wasn’t for them. While they are still in a public school environment, they have the luxury of trying something else without accruing a large debt. For example a student may want to enter the medical field but learn quickly that they can’t stand the sight of blood, or they really don’t have the caretaker personality that it requires. It could take years in college before they have the “hands-on” experience to help them reach that conclusion.

Passions into Paychecks

Thirdly, career training helps students “jump start” their career. There is another saying at EVIT, “We turn passions into paychecks.” If a student finds his or her passion, we provide the training and avenues for actual experience. Each program has a work experience component. For example, in EVIT’s Automotive Technology program students begin in their junior year with a job shadowing experience. Nearly 30 automobile dealerships in the greater Phoenix area welcome their future workforce into their businesses to provide an inside glimpse of the real working world. Each dealer mentors a number of students through the two-year training program, providing on the job training and internships during the students’ senior year. These internships often become jobs after high school, and many of the automobile dealers pay for continued education at both community colleges and four year universities.

Two out of every three students who complete a program at EVIT continue their education after high school. That is twice as many as a typical high school nationally.

EVIT contends that once students find what they like and can do well, they start looking for the next step. The teacher serves as a mentor encouraging the student to continue their education.

EVIT also prepares students for postsecondary education academically. The level of rigor is such that the Board of Regents for the Universities in Arizona has accepted Career and Technical classes at EVIT for imbedded credits in Math and Science. It also has been shown that students who have taken Career and Technical classes pass and score higher on the Arizona AIMS test.

Helping every student find a skill can give them the support, academics, and confidence to pursue their dreams.

Learning Environments

Student Preparedness

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