Kansas: High quality online learning increases equity in education

April 4, 2014 by

(Testimony provided to the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee by iNACOL colleague Maria Worthen on April 1, 2014)

Chairman Masterson, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony regarding proposed cuts to funding for online learning, which could have a catastrophic impact on educational opportunities for the 5,900 Kansas students who today benefit from this option.

iNACOL’s mission is to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and quality blended and online learning opportunities that prepare them for a lifetime of success. iNACOL is a non-profit organization with 4,400 members working in the field of blended and online learning. Our work is focused on research, policy, and quality.

Last year, we conducted an online learning cost adequacy study, which asked the question, “what are the actual resources needed to ensure all students could meet state standards and performance expectations in an online school or program?” Our research findings revealed the costs and funding levels required for online learning programs are different for a full-time online school or a supplemental online course provider, offering single courses. (more…)

Reflections on Education Ministry Meetings in Alberta, Canada – Positive Insights across North America and Lessons for the USA

February 21, 2014 by

In the New Year, I was able to travel to Edmonton – the capital of Alberta, Canada – to visit schools and meet with educators, education leaders and public officials as part of a delegation from the United States.

Focus on Values of Equity and Inclusion

Canada has the smallest achievement gap (the achievement gap between sub-groups of students) of OECD countries. All of the high performing countries on PISA have a very strong sense of shared values, and this was very evident across the meetings and school visits in Edmonton. Alberta’s values are clearly articulated here in a visionary document titled Inspiring Education and repeated at the school and classroom-level by educators from across many fields of study and levels of teaching and administration during site visits.

Alberta school leaders described a changing competency framework and the digital revolution. They described curriculum redesign and moving from very structured curriculum toward achievement of competencies. They discussed the need to:

  • Change how you want young people to learn
  • Change how you measure and benchmark successful outcomes
  • Understand the process for the journey takes a while (over years and requires a growth mindset and continuous improvement framework with flexibility)

Accountability in Alberta —16 Pillars of Accountability

Albert School Superintendents and administrators, like Paulette Hanna, explained that they wished to have accountability that would provide them with useful information on continuous improvement for building capacity at the classroom level and school level. Thus, the information would allow them to support educators and students in improving instructional models at the classroom level throughout the year – focused on student learning, quality and engagement.

The public official noted that if the measures were the correct ones for student learning, then the data would be very helpful for policy makers and accountability purposes, too. (more…)

State of the Union 2014: Opportunity Begins with the Promise of Student-Centered Learning

January 29, 2014 by

From opening words reflecting upon the power of education, the President’s address mirrored his commitment to ensure each American has access to a world-class education. This year’s State of the Union continued this pledge and reflected upon priorities such as STEM education, affordable higher education and the preparation of tomorrow’s workforce through initiatives such as ConnectED, with the goal of connecting the country’s students and schools to high-speed broadband and digital learning opportunities. The focus on innovation and education as drivers of opportunity for America’s students and the country was well received and a job well done.

iNACOL also applauds the continued efforts of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and policy leaders such as Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton. The Administration has placed great emphasis on spearheading innovation and change within our public school system. The Race to the Top programs have driven a strategy providing a greater focus on personalizing learning for each and every child. Because of this, there is renewed emphasis on how our schools and classrooms can individualize instruction for every child’s needs, provide greater equity through new learning models, empower practice through online and blended learning, and focus on moving from a one-size-fits-all education approach toward competency-based pathways.

As the President noted, “those who go all in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” And innovation breeds innovation. We believe in empowering student-centered, personalized learning that allows students to have tailored learning opportunities for each student’s strengths, needs and interests. In focusing on personalizing learning and opening access, new school models can unleash the promise and potential of each and every student in ways never before possible.

What our schools and our children need is a redesign of our education system to provide true equity of access and opportunity for every child to find success through student-centered policies and personalized learning environments. Technology has enabled true personalization in almost every facet of our lives, and we believe it can assist our schools and teachers accelerate every student’s achievement and success. Only then will we unleash the full potential of the next generation of American education to meet the promise of our democracy and society.

School Accountability > Student Learning Accountability

December 10, 2013 by

A series of posts focused on Student-centered Accountability 3.0 as a requirement for supporting student-centered learning.

(Part 3)

The current system of accountability is focused on school accountability – I propose the unit of measure and alignment should be “student learning” accountability.

It is focused on assessments for learning, to support students and educators, and to maximize resources around student learning needs and to build competencies on high standards.

How would assessments work?

  • Benchmark Entry Assessment – upon entry of a student into a program, an adaptive assessment needs to identify student profile for proficiency levels on standards; this will identify gaps in prior learning to address and close and enable students to see clearly what they have mastered and need to master in their learning progressions toward success.
  • Daily – formative assessments, embedded and performance assessments
  • Rubrics – rubrics that have been tuned by educators with agreement of what it actually looks like when a student demonstrates proficiency and advanced mastery on learning objectives and are needed for evaluating performance-based assessments.
  • Modular summative assessments – offering summative/moderating assessments through the ladder of learning progressions at the appropriate time when a student is ready for assessment throughout the year.

This requires a functional shift to multiple measures of student learning with all assessments having meaning for students in understanding where they are and how they are making progress toward their destination of college and career readiness.

Addressing each student exactly where they are upon entry and meeting individual student needs throughout the year with a focus on competency education is key, with students advancing upon demonstrated mastery of clear learning objectives.

Next time: In education, Accountability 3.0 focuses on each student’s personalized needs toward success, higher standards, and closing the achievement gap will require us to rethink accountability around student-centered learning.

Aligning State Accountability as a Driver of Student-Centered Learning

December 4, 2013 by

How can “Accountability 3.0” — the next generation of K-12 education accountability at the federal level — do a better job of aligning state accountability as a driver of student-centered learning to provide success for each and every student?

First, policy requires a shift around real quality assurance and continuous improvement based on student learning for student success.

New Accountability 3.0:

  • Understand the student level of proficiency, background and context upon entry to a program or school.
  • Identify each student’s individual learning goals and growth targets and holds all students to the same high standards.
  • Benchmark a student’s proficiency level upon entry (need to use an adaptive assessment because students may be on a continuum above grade level or below grade level, and then signals interventions and resources for filling gaps).
  • Provide multiple measures of assessment throughout every week of the school year, including formative assessments for learning, embedded assessments on student proficiency, and emphasizes performance-based assessments on what a student can know and do through a “performance” and demonstration of mastery of the learning objectives and competencies.
  • Provide a clear picture of each student’s profile (personalized learning plan) with concrete levels of proficiency on standards in real-time and a focus on gap closure and growth.
  • Validate daily data on ground by using summative/moderating assessments throughout the year as prescribed by the movement through the ladder of learning progressions at the appropriate time when a student is ready for assessment throughout the year. The focus is on moderating data on the ground and providing validated data.
  • Determinations enable analysis of accountability aligned to effectiveness of student learning by how well a program is serving all students.

Determinations in an Accountability 3.0 program would be made on a finer set of multiple measures of data and would help close the achievement gap by focusing on progress in real-time for students, and make available information for educators and students. The focus on equity would provide better data for student demographics to ensure systems are addressing that all students on track for graduation, closing achievement gaps, serving vulnerable students, analyzing the effectiveness based on the amount of learning per unit of time, and better determining cost effectiveness for amount of learning per unit of time (with time-bound targets).

Thus, a student learning centered system requires a student learning centered accountability system in order to function. Accountability can move from cohorts of students and “bar graph” measuring of blunt proficiency once a year, to deeply understanding how well a program is serving each and every student, accelerating all students toward success, and closing achievement gaps. Imagine that entry data, daily competency growth data, and summative validating data rolled up to create scatter plot graphs – and knowing how much a program has succeeded in supporting students and educators to improve learning and close gaps?

Next time: The current system of accountability is focused on school accountability – I propose the unit of measure and alignment should be “student learning” accountability.

Accountability 3.0

December 2, 2013 by

A series of posts focused on Student-centered Accountability 3.0 as a requirement for supporting student-centered learning.

(Part 1)

We must redesign the federal accountability system around student-centered learning, not the tyranny of seat-time.

This redesign requires accountability focused and aligned to student learning level and competency education.

  • A new Accountability 3.0 system will focus on student success of high, rigorous standards and close gaps for each and every student.
  • Students and teachers have real-time data every day on where each and every student is in attaining mastery on clearly defined competencies.
  • The focus shifts to formative and performance-based assessments for real-time knowledge and skills, with periodic and more modular “validating” summative systems of assessments.
  • Data is rich and provides a robust picture of student learning along progressions throughout the year, not a blunt instrument indicating a once-a-year shot in the arm for whether a student hits the mark or not, year to year.
  • Accountability 3.0 provides rich data visualization, which would encourage viewing real-time progress on closing achievement gaps through scatter plotting data to more accurately show how each group of students is being served successfully. Note: Today’s once-a-year summative testing alone actually masks the derisive depth of the true achievement gap, in the current model. This is really important to address for achieving equity.
  • Accountability 3.0 should provide students, parents and policymakers with a clear picture of student, classroom, school, district, state and federal progress toward success goals — daily, not just once a year.

Next time: How can “Accountability 3.0” — the next generation of K-12 education accountability at the federal level — do a better job of aligning state accountability as a driver of student-centered learning to provide success for each and every student?


Staying the Course for Student Success

November 20, 2013 by


10 important takeaways from recent conversations/meetings/conference talks:

1. The Common Core will help students succeed in college and career.

2. With deeper learning and critical thinking, the higher standards will lead to greater opportunities for all students.

3. Implementing the standards provides a foundation for students to build competencies for success in college and career.

4. Teachers overwhelmingly support the standards and believe the assessments aligned to the new standards will help foster great teaching.

5. To ensure all students are prepared for success after graduation, the Common Core State Standards establish a set of clear, consistent guidelines for what students need to now and be able to do at each level of their K12 education in English Language Arts and math.

6. Forty-five states have adopted and are moving forward with the Common Core State Standards.

7. A majority of teachers believe the new standards will be positive for most students, but both teachers and students need the right supports and resources to ensure success.

8. The assessments of the new standards aim to provide meaningful feedback and actionable data to inform instruction.

9. Common Core Standards structure education around the core skills and knowledge that students need to master in order to succeed in college and careers no matter where their family lives.

10. By setting consistent, high goals for students in the state, the Common Core State Standards help ensure all students receive a quality education and are on a path to succeed.

We must stay the course. The world is a more demanding place today than ever before. Not only do students have to compete with others in their community for colleges and jobs, they must also compete with students around the country and the world. The vision for all students to access a world-class education makes it important to stay on the course. As colleges and employers expect more, we all have a role to play in helping students master the knowledge and skills that students need to be successful.

Teachers at the Core - Click to see a larger version of this image


10 Trends Driving the Future of Education

November 13, 2013 by

I am flying back from a convening in New England with districts and schools pioneering student-centered learning through the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s Building New Models for Systems Change Learning Institute. What a great meeting!

I wanted to share these ideas from my closing presentation…

10 trends driving the future of education – transforming to student-centered learning:

  1. Shift to competency education away from seat-time; Competency education is foundational for enabling personalized learning strategies, requiring students to demonstrate mastery (through a performance to “show what you know”) before advancing to the next lesson or level.
  2. Personalizing learning strategies focus on tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests — including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn — to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible. (more…)

Applauding the FCC’s important step toward an updated E-Rate

July 22, 2013 by

This jointly released statement was originally issued on Friday, July 19th:

Today, the Federal Communications Commission took an important step toward greater support for student access to 21st century learning environments by voting to proceed with publication of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to modernize the E-Rate program. The program supports high-speed broadband to ensure all students, teachers, and library patrons have the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century. Upon news of the vote during today’s open FCC commission meeting, leaders of national education organizations focused on transforming America’s schools through personalized, student-centered learning opportunities released the following statement:

“Today marks a renewed dedication from the FCC to ensure our students are truly prepared for both college and career in the 21st century. Far too many learning environments remain disconnected from the digital content and tools students need to achieve success in today’s society. The leadership of Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai lays the groundwork for improving connectivity and access to engaging learning opportunities and a world-class education.

“It is imperative that education and telecommunications policy leaders work to re-energize our national commitment to ensure every student benefits from modern broadband access and increased educational opportunities. An update to the E-Rate program underlines the importance of harnessing the benefits of technology in all phases of a student’s education. (more…)

GS Essay Contest for Innovation in US Education

March 28, 2013 by

If you haven’t seen it, Goldman Sachs is hosting an essay contest highlighting ideas to boost innovation in U.S. education.

Essays have run the gamut from “birth to three education” to “unified reform theory”.

Take a look at the finalists:

1) Community Schools

2) Focal Points for 21st Century Education Reform

3) Schools for the Future

Both #2 and #3 (author names are not public) touch upon what I and a growing number of others around the country feel is the most important change necessary for our schools to serve teachers and students in highly personalized environments based not on age or time in a chair, but rather understanding and demonstration: competency-based programs.

Competency (or mastery) allows students to learn at their own pace and “show what they know”. It also allows teachers and schools to educate children as individuals and know exactly where they are along the learning continuum at all times.

That’s the real game-changer.

To show my hand a bit here, while both #2 and #3 focus on mastery, #3, Schools for the Future, is unique among the finalists in its honest take on policy barriers. #1 and #2 outline nice system designs but don’t acknowledge the incredible uphill climb their recommendations would face on the way to implementation.

Entrenched policies are the greatest obstacle to education reform, and any plan to shake up the status quo must incorporate this fact into its transformative roadmap.

With John Danner, Michael Horn, Deborah Stipek, and Randi Weingarten counted among the  judges, you can be sure there were some interesting conversations leading up to the finalists.

Now it’s up to the public. The voting period ends today (3/28). Take a look and see if you are moved to support one:

Contest site

Public voting site

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