Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Andrew Calkins, senior vice president at Mass Insight Education & Research Institute Inc. made the following statement today in an Education Week online chat:
“To me, a critical strategy of the whole standards movement is confronting all of us -- but especially policymakers -- with hard data that puts the hard questions right in front of us. We now know exactly how far behind students like these are slipping. We also know more today than we ever have before about what could help those students. Now the question is: will we have the public and political will to put these supports and strategies in place?”

(Education Week Online Chat 1-22-08
Archived here:
Turnaround Challenge: How to Help Low-Performing Schools

The conclusion of our analysis in Approaching 100% is that the goal of leaving no child behind – is technically achievable. We have the needed data-driven technology and scientifically proven practices. The remaining question is whether or not we can leverage these advances in the science and technology of learning in a way that focuses on the value of each learner. Can we as a nation radically change a culture, profession, and organizational system rooted in the ‘art of teaching’ to a new system centered on the science of learning?

From the book:
Systemic change takes place when a critical mass of people within an organization, collectively or individually choose to behave differently. A change can sometimes be forced through mandate and sometimes be enticed. Whether push or pull, the motivation to change is only as effective as the consequences that result in choosing to adopt or reject a change. For example, cell phones offered variety of benefits – including improved productivity, status, and safety -- that motivated individuals and businesses to adopt the technology on such a large scale. At some point the benefits of adoption were seen as greater than the incremental cost. The consequence of not getting a cell phone -- lost productivity, lower status, or greater personal risk – was strong enough to justify the change of behavior. We can find a mandated change in the banking industry. When banks started using computers to record transactions it was not an option for a bank teller to say, “I don’t feel comfortable with computers. Paper and pencil has always worked for me and I’m going to stick with it.” No, it became a job requirement for bank tellers to use computers. A mandate that has no consequences for the individual will not motivate an individual to change.

Organizations must have both the motivation and the capacity to change. (Elmore, 2004/2006) In the bank teller example, the capacity that was needed was that every teller has the skill to use the technology and understand the related changes in operational practices. The banking industry recognized that use of the technology was an essential factor in meeting its business objectives and therefore the essential job skills for a bank teller changed.

Unlike the banking industry, education has yet to introduce technology into the core, day-to-day, business. The ‘transactions’ of learning are the daily instruction, student work (e.g. class work and homework), and classroom assessments. There are still teachers that say “I don’t feel comfortable with computers.”

The culture of education agencies and classroom practices are so entrenched that it will take both external mandate and individual-internal motivators to bring about systemic change. It may take education professionals to see the value of the changes to the professional at nearly the same time leadership and policy makers agree that new technology-enabled learner-centric processes are essential. The consequence of not adopting the new system -- lost productivity, lower quality of life for individual learners, a ceiling for teacher salaries, lower status of teachers, national economic risks – must be strong enough for a critical mass of stakeholders to overcome their resistance to change.

We are suggesting a model that takes advantage of multiple change agents. Some are already in place.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The "Every Child" Paridigm Shift

The goals of the No Child Left Behind Act are not fulfilled by the accountability mandates that focus on subgroups. The Act has focused attention on underachieving subgroups and held schools and districts accountable to meet the needs of those subgroups. It has not (yet) cause a transformation of public education agencies into organizations that meet the learning needs of every child. The Act was just one step in that direction.

In 2001 there were major barriers rooted in institutional cultures and technological feasibility that prevented monitoring and supporting learning at the individual level. The legislation was developed under these conditions. States took on a new federally mandated accountability role that focused on subgroup performance on once-a-year high stakes tests. States did not have student unique identifiers or the data systems needed to monitor individual student growth.

Progress has been made. Many states have unique student identifiers, and some states are developing models and supporting information systems to measure individual student growth. Some major institutional culture barriers still exist. Based on the original mandate, even the new growth models are designed to measure subgroup accountability based on one-a-year snapshots. However, the technology can and is being made available to LEAs to support assessment for learning.

The institutional culture barriers may prove the most challenging as educator belief and practice need to reflect the notion that every child can learn and has the right to learn.

The following is from the book:

To approach 100% of students achieving minimum proficiency will require instructional practice consistent with what the research says are the best-practices. It will also require an unprecedented ability to address individual student needs. This is especially true as we get closer to the goal, as we attempt to bring students representing the last few percentage points to minimum proficiency. Moving from 50% to 70% could be done by changing the way teaching and learning happens in groups. The new goal, 90% and above (Fullan 2006), will require a focus on the individual learner.

There are many barriers that currently limit our education system from operationalizing the proven practices and organizational changes revealed by the research. And there are even greater barriers to the changes that would be needed to adequately adapt organizational structures to optimally meet the needs of all learners on an individual level.

We can not assume that a classroom teacher can single handedly meet the individual learning needs of every child that might be assigned to her. It is a relatively new expectation that all children will learn.

“Although the United States was the first nation to embrace the idea of free universal public education for all of its children, historically those children have been guaranteed only the right to attend school rather than the right to learn.”
(DuFour, Richard, DuFour, Rebecca; Eaker, Robert; Karhanek, Gayle; Whatever It Takes – How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn; 2004;

It is recognized that the teaching and learning process requires adjustment to accommodate special needs students. However, to address the expectation that all children will learn will require a new paradigm that considers every learner’s ‘special’ needs, and it will require new methods to address the individual needs of every learner. Ultimate success may also require an expanded definition of “learner” to include school staff and other adult stakeholders in a child’s education. The information-driven world we live in does not stand still and the need to learn does not stop when leaving school or acquiring a teaching certificate.

A foundational concept from which all levels of our educational system should operate is that every learner is a person with God-given strengths and weaknesses, and with previously acquired knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The existing educational system operates with a focus on education agencies, schools, and groups of students. Identifying and meeting individual needs of every learner is NOT something that the current structure, capacity, technology, practice, and culture of schools can handle.

The Take Away:

Technology can help bring about a system that optimizes learning experiences for each learner. Thereby, allowing students to develop their natural talents to their fullest potential and in-turn maximizing each individual’s value as a contributor to our economy and social condition. The challenge between now and 2014 is to change professional practices to take advantage the technology and focus the mission of state and local education agencies on individual learners.