Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Career Pathway or "Tracking" Revisited?

This clipping about Georgia's decision to have 9th graders choose a career has me worried.  This might be another education trend that causes as much harm as good, if career-focus is not balanced with life-long-learning-focus.

Georgia to Require Students to Pick Career Path Georgia is about to start requiring its 9th graders to pick a career path and follow a class schedule that's at least partially tailored to it, in response to House Bill 186. The objective is to raise career and college readiness. Students will pick a potential job to pursue in one of 17 broad career categories. Teachers would start talking to students about potential career opportunities, starting as early as 5th grade. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/12/11)   (summary courtesy of ECS e-clips)

I recall in the 1970's and 80's some schools used tracking to decide in middle school which students were fit for college and which should pursue a "vocational" track instead.  Tracking proved to be misguided at best., inequitable, and even discriminatory in some cases. Factors such as parent's socioeconomic status or career choice, or the child's academic progress at one point in time, could easily influence a guidance counselor's advice about a child's "fitness" for a track.

I agree with Marc Hayes, an Internet company owner quoted in the article that 9th graders have no idea what career would best for them and that the job market will be different by the time they enter it. But I have a bigger concern that focusing on one path will close doors and limit options in a world that has all but eliminated the concept of a life-long career. The right approach would promote a focus for "career readiness" while sending the message that your chosen career may not exist in ten years and you need life-long learning "readiness" to take on whatever the world needs.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Innovation in practice

Hear from teachers excited about a free online platform that is a catalyst changing professional practice and student learning, in  the classroom and outside of school...

There are a lot of learning technologies that are so "innovative" that they are not practical.  The ASSISTments platform, on the other hand, is serving as a bridge by which teachers can easily move from traditional models of teaching and learning to new practices that empower students and leverage the latest cognitive science research discoveries.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Technology - Changing the Rules to the Game of School

I've had the privilege of connecting with Brandt Redd around education data standards work.  This is a video of his presentation at the iNACOL VSS Conference.  It is encouraging to see the work supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (and many others) addressing some of the critical success factors for Approaching 100% by 2014 that I wrote about back in 2007, and refined in the 2010-2011 edition of Approaching 100 Percent.  Some common themes include:

  • assessment AS learning, abundant assessment (and tight feedback loops)
  • student motivation and ownership of learning
  • learning maps 
  • teacher as most scarce resource and the need for a structure that takes advantage of abundant resources  and advance the teaching profession,
  • why the classroom-centric "game of school" is designed for something different than fulfilling today's measures of success, and
  • economic concepts that leverage innovation to 'change the game' 
In the book I contend that technology alone will not do the job; innovation in organizations, professional practices, government policies, and economic models also need to be part of the solution.  The liklehood and timing of success depends on many factors pulling in the same direction to overcome what I call "cultural inertia."  Brandt's presentation, the role of technology as a catalyst in 'changing the game'.  He does a good job of describing our system of education in the U.S. from a gaming perspective, and the work of some key initiatives helping to move toward an improved system able to meet the needs of every learner.  

...see more from Brandt at his blog.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PARCC Model Content Frameworks - A Baby Step with a Big Footprint

Last week the assessment consortium PARCC released its final PARCC Model Content Frameworks, "as a bridge between the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC assessments."   I see this as a baby step toward more consistently/equitably applying best practices (or at least better practices) for the benefit of 100% of learners.  By "baby step" I don't mean to imply that the effort was small, just that it is a small part of many other things that must happen to "approach 100%."

The frameworks emphasize connections between concept and practice.  It is encouraging to see the progress in moving learning standards beyond thinking just about outcomes (that might be implemented as teaching "rote" methods for application of knowledge to "known" problems). The PARCC frameworks build on the direction of the CCSS that recognizes college and career readiness needs to be about equipping students/citizens to solve problems in the future that may not exist today.  One way to do this is to develop students' abilities to apply knowledge using multiple strategies based on deep understanding of concepts.  The following example is from the Mathematics Frameworks at the 3rd grade level:
"Students learn and use strategies for finding products and quotients that are based on the properties of operations; for example, to find 4 x 7, they may recognize that 7 = 5 + 2 and compute 4 x 5 + 4 x 2. This is an example of seeing and making use of structure (MP.7). Such reasoning processes amount to brief arguments that students may construct and critique (MP.3)."
The frameworks also address competency-based pathways, i.e. how mastery of one competency becomes the foundation for learning other competencies.  I don't think the frameworks represent a breakthrough in and of themselves.  The work builds on the Common Core State Standards, the prior work of organizations like NCTM, numerous cognitive/learning science discoveries that are too slowly impacting practice, and on strengths within existing state standards.  However, with the scale of the assessment consortium these frameworks could have a big impact.  The adoption of PARCC assessments could potentially drive equitable adoption of more coherent teaching and learning practices for 25 million students, guided by the frameworks. This is not a leap forward for optimized student learning, but it is a baby step in the right direction...with a big footprint.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Common Education Data Standards

In my new role with Quality Information Partners I am working for the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) facilitating the K-12 Stakeholder Group for the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS). CEDS is a set of voluntary standards that will enable more effective use of data to support improved student achievement.

This week a final draft of the standards was released for public comment. Version 2 of the standards will be released in January along with online tools that support adoption and implementation...

NCES is pleased to announce the release of the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) Version 2 Final Draft for public comment. The Version 2 Final Draft includes a broad scope of elements spanning much of the P-20 spectrum and provides greater context for understanding the standards' interrelationships and practical utility. Specifically, the Version 2 Final Draft:

  • focuses on Early Learning, K-12, and Postsecondary sectors;
  • includes elements, definitions, and options sets;
  • includes entities (the real world constructs described by elements) and element-entity relationships;
  • is complemented by use case connections describing elements' functional applications; and
  • is accompanied by search capabilities to aid exploration of the standards.

The Version 2 Standard Final Draft can be found at the NCES website (, through which users can submit comments on the final draft standards. All comments must be submitted by November 28th in order to be considered for the Version 2 release in January 2012.

The Version 2 release in January will include:

· a finalized list of elements, definitions, and option sets;

· a CEDS Logical Data Model to describe the relationships among CEDS elements; and

· a Data Alignment Tool to allow users to easily map and compare their own data dictionaries to CEDS and standards used by other organizations.

CEDS is a specified set of the most commonly used education data elements. These voluntary standards are being developed to support the effective exchange of data as students transfer within and across states and transition between education sectors. The standards will also aid in streamlining federal reporting. This common vocabulary will improve the consistency and comparability of data throughout all education levels and sectors, and enable more effective use of data to support improved student achievement.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Variable Learning Time

Last week I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with the Next Generation Learning Challenge Wave II grantees at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters in Seatle. The 19 grantee organizations are meeting the challenge to bring to scale disruptive innovations that can dramatically improve student learning, with emphasis on Common Core State Standards and 21st century skills. These include the kinds of innovations that Clayton Christensen writes about in Disrupting Class such as virtual, online, and blended learning experiences, plus some innovations that Christensen may not have imagined.

In my last blog post I ranted about states that were reducing the number of required school days in the year. Students need more time learning, not less. I stand by my argument that states should not reduce the school-day requirement...with one exception. I also will argue that states should ELIMINATE the requirement altogether in environments which support mastery learning. Seat time doesn't matter when a student meets learning expectations and unlimited access to learning, I.e. When learning becomes the constant, learning time can be variable. Of course students should be encouraged to learn more than the minimum expectations. Every student should have access to learning opportunities 24 hours a day 365 days a year and development of life-long learning habits that optimize his or her life opportunities.

I was pleased to hear from one of the NGLC grantees, the Louisiana Virtual School that the state has adopted a policy that waives the seat time requirement. Until individual competency can be tracked, making minimum learning the constant school days should not be reduced, but when programs such as the virtual school and learning management is in a traditional school then seat time should not matter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

More Learning Time, Not Less

A policy guide on Expanding Learning Time just released by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) points out that some states are reducing the required number of days in the school year. States are allowing a reduction in the school year as misguided attempt to save money, without recognizing the consequences. Typically states require 180 days per year. The cost-cutting legislation in states such as California and Arizona set the bar to 170-175 days.

Students in the United States in 2011 need more time learning, not less. Students need in-school time and extended learning opportunities beyond the school day.

The ECS/NCTL document provides some examples of cost-effective models that expand learning time including:
• Staggered staff schedules
• Technology as a teaching tool
• Community partnerships
The policy guide challenges states and school districts to look more creatively at the fiscal problem without forgetting the core mission of schools, student learning. Student learning time can be extended both inside and outside of the school day even while costs are constrained. In Approaching 100% I explored an economic model that might be used to serve more students with more adults without increasing costs. An example in the ECS/NCTL policy guide shows that an increase in class size by one student could pay for the 5 days being cut based on some state. Children's futures depend on state policy makers being more innovative than that. Cutting budgets by cutting learning time should not be an option.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Next Generation Learning - Connecting Islands of Innovation

A few weeks ago I was pleased to learn that some connections I had made paid off...

(My personal and professional mission, to discover or design solutions that help people and organizations fulfill their potential, often involves making connections...connecting ideas and opportunities to people and organizations. )

I had the privilege of connecting four great organizations, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), CELT, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and Edutopia, to apply for a grant through Next Generation Learing Challenges (NGLC). The project will rapidly expand the use and impact of ASSISTments technology to fundamentally alter teaching and learning processes for improved mastery of 7th-9th grade level Common Core State Standards and development of deeper learning competencies.

The ASSISTments system, developed by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) under IES & NSF grants, combines online formative assessment with continuous feedback and expert tutoring. (In the grant proposal I coined the term "assessment AS learning" to describe ASSISTments, because it goes beyond summative “assessment of learning” and even beyond formative “assessment for learning”. The platform supports formative instruction and individualized learning.) The system has been used by hundreds of teachers and thousands of students across the U.S. and was cited in the 2010 National Education Technology Plan.

On June 14, Next Generation Learning Challenges announced the ASSISTments project as one of the winning proposals. The project is designed to scale use of ASSISTments from an "island of innovation" toward broad-scale use.

The founder of ASSISTments is WPI professor Neil Heffernan. You can learn more about Neil and the story behind ASSISTments in this interview on the nationally syndicated public radio show Hear and Now.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Conference Presentation on Teacher-Student Data Link Data Models

A conference presentation I did with esteemed colleagues from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) and Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) was just posted to the U.S. Department of Education's NCES site here:

About the conference: "Co-sponsored by the Texas Education Agency and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the MIS Conference brought together the people who work with information collection, management, transmittal, and reporting in school districts and state education agencies."

About the session:

Concurrent Session VI Presentations

Thursday, February 24, 2011
10:00 - 11:00

VI–A: Teacher-Student Data Link in Data Models From Transactional Systems to the Data Warehouse

Laura Sonn, Data Quality Campaign
Cody Decker, Arkansas Department of Education
Jim Goodell, CELT Corporation

    The presenters will examine how the teacher-student data link (TSDL) may be represented in various data models: operational/transactional systems, interoperability models (such as P-20 State Core), and data warehouse. Different uses of the TSDL have different implications for how and how often the data is collected, verified, stored, and presented. Audience participation is encouraged around each state's uses for the link and definitions for "teacher of record" and "contributing educators." The discussion will inform a proposed reference model adaptable to state-specific needs. Finally, the presenters will introduce a conceptual draft capability maturity model for roster verification for participant feedback.

Download Zipped PowerPoint Presentation:

Monday, June 6, 2011

University of Phoenix Course

I just completed an online course at University of Phoenix. The online model was well managed making rich use of asynchronous class discussion and electronic media. The value of the course was enhanced through the diverse perspectives offered by the class representing different geographies and experiences working with different grade levels, schools, and cultures.

This kind of learning experience, that breaks away from traditional fixed-time and fixed-location lecture model, has some distinct advantages over site-based/lecture-based higher education. Not being constrained to a fixed class session allows for more or less time as needed to interact with the content, construct thoughtful dialog and craft written assignments.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Visit to TechBoston Academy

Tech Boston Academy and its principal Mary Skipper got national attention yesterday with a visit from President Obama, Melinda Gates, and Arne Duncan. I had the privilege of meeting Mary Skipper and getting a tour of the school 2-3 years after it was founded. It was obvious that something was different and that Mary was a different kind of school leader, she connected with and encouraged every student we passed in the hall and didn't let the adults tagging along stop her from doing her job. It was obvious the students were focused on learning. We walked into one room and there was a group of students unsupervised, focused and quietly working on PowerPoint presentations.

Tech Boston students' success rate far exceeds other BPS students and everything the president said about why the school works was right. However, reflecting on my earlier visit, it was not only about how things were done, but about the attitude of every student and staff member. It was a sense of community 100% committed to the motto "We rise and fall together," and a willingness to to do whatever it takes to ensure that every student meet high standards.

That organizational culture didn't happen by accident. Mary's leadership and the flexibility to select staff with the same commitment have been critical as well as sufficient resources. Another key factor is a kind of cultural scaffolding. The president may have mentioned that every student gets a laptop. But that was not the whole story. I recall that students "earn" the laptop, they get laptops after they first demonstrate that they have certain skills, knowledge, and attitude to tackle on the responsibility. In this way the students cherish the laptop as a privilege not an entitlement. It also supports the underlying achievement-oriented culture and sense of community. This kind of cultural scaffolding creates a social structure for approaching 100%. Tech Boston has demonstrates that it is possible.

Here is the clip of the president's speech.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Information Design for Optimized Teaching and Learning

This video about how information design impacts public health behaviour can be applied to education. In the same way that the good information design empowers patients to make healthy choices, the right information design and feedback will empower students and teachers to act in ways that will optimize teaching and learning.

Thomas Goetz: It's time to redesign medical data Video on

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quest to Learn (Q2L)

This PBS video about the Quest to Learn school in NYC is inspiring. It shows one example of how to transform learning experiences to meet 21st century needs. Even within the physical space of a brick and morter school the experience can be as rich inside school as it is it the digital world outside of school.

Full show "Digital Media - New Learners Of The 21st Century":