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.