The Delphian School

Proficiency News - The Oregon Proficiency Conference is Coming March 4, 2016

The 5th Annual Proficiency Conference (Student-Centered Practices Conference) is happening. In my world, this is bigger than the SuperBowl because it focuses on improving education for Oregon students!

Find out all about the conference here and sign up before it is too late!

This upcoming conference in Portland is just one of a handful in the nation that focuses on proficiency (student-centered practices and/or personalized learning). That's why the Business Education Compact and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators have partnered to bring an incredible educator to speak to us.

The key presenter for much of the day is Rick Wormeli. He’s an educator, an author and great speaker. If you haven’t seen him on YouTube, you don’t know what you are missing. Please watch a video or two of his - they are great! (Some are linked at the bottom of the conference announcement.)

What is most exciting about this conference is that educators can learn from Oregon model schools including Oakridge School District, Bethel School District, Umatilla (and their use of badging and earning credit outside the classroom) and Coos Bay School District.

If you are educator, I urge you to bring teams from your school. If you have questions, contact the Business Educator Compact, one of the conference sponsors. They are great and they provide wonderful proficiency training and coaching to Oregon schools and districts!

More news to come!
Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Monday February 22, 2016 at 08:42AM
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Thinking About Education - Thinking About Students And Conditions of Learning

Albert Einstein said, I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”  I love this quote.  It is truly inspirational, and provides teachers with a correct orientation.

Gravity is a great teacher. It teaches a child to walk, how to fill a glass, and how to ride a bicycle. No adult teacher involved - just the conditions in which they can learn. No one has to tell them to pedal faster, because if they pedal too slowly, the bike falls over.

One can’t be taught to make discoveries. The best we can do is provide the conditions that make discovery possible.  So many inventions were the product of self-education and an on-going learning process.  But we often teach the short story and end result and give multiple choice tests about processes that were really about self-learning!  We’ve got it wrong and we’ve got to take a hard look at what works and what is the right way to see our youth are educated.

A few years ago I was stunned when I watched Dr. Sugata Mitra’s TED talk.  I have mentioned his work earlier because I’m a huge fan of his work.  TED summarizes his talk (which everyone should watch):

Educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest. In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

“The ‘Hole in the Wall’ project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who's now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it ‘minimally invasive education.’"

In February 2012, Dr. Mitra wrote an article about his experiences.:

“What happened next astonished us. Children came running out of the nearest slum and glued themselves to the computer. They couldn't get enough. They began to click and explore. They began to learn how to use this strange thing. A few hours later...children were actually surfing the Web.

“[W]ithin six months the children of the neighborhood had learned all the mouse operations, could open and close programs, and were going online to download games, music and videos.

“Over the next decade we did extensive research in self-directed learning, in many places and through many cultures. Each time, the children were able to develop deep learning by teaching themselves. 

“When working in groups, children do not need to be ‘taught’ how to use computers. They can teach themselves. Their ability to do so seems to be independent of educational background, literacy level, social or economic status, ethnicity and place of origin, gender, geographic location (i.e., city, town or village, or intelligence.

“[L]ocal teachers and field observers noted that the children demonstrated improvements in enrollment, attendance and performance on school examinations, particularly in subjects that deal with computing skills; English vocabulary and usage; concentration, attention span and problem-solving skills; and working cooperatively and self-regulation.”

Sometimes I have to stop myself and ask, “Why aren’t we doing what works?  Why aren’t we doing what is good for children?”  

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The secret in education lies in respecting the student.”  Every minute of every day we must respect them and remember that they are their own best teachers!  Really.  We are guides, not sages!

A recently posted bio about Dr. Mitra said, “Sugata’s work inspired the book ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that went on to become the Oscar winning film of 2009. The global consequences of Sugata’s discovery for closing the digital educational divide have resulted in him receiving many international awards.”  

Research has shown it's not always just a case of taking teachers out of the equation because “children in remote areas often perform poorly at school because they do not have access to good teaching.” Further research “showed the importance of an encouraging adult in these circumstances.” This is the familiar “guide on the side” we’ve heard so much about.

(Mitra recently gave a speech titled The Future of Learning, which you must must must watch - hopefully more than once.  I will blog about it soon. He takes his audience “through the origins of schooling as we know it, to the dematerialization of institutions as we know them. Learn how children can self-organize their own learning, achieve educational objectives on their own, read by themselves, and most startlingly, how groups of children with access to the Internet can learn anything by themselves.”)

Self-directed learning is the best form of education. Let’s work much, much harder to do what Einstein said to do - “to provide the conditions in which they can learn” - and to let students direct their own education!

Posted by marks on Monday November 2, 2015 at 09:02AM
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Proficiency in Higher Ed - Too Much Good News!

First, my readers may not have noticed that I’ve updated my Proficiency Resources Handout (downloadable PDF), that you can find right below my picture. This is my best shot at rounding up the best resources on the subject.

Second, I want to share some recent higher education proficiency news with very little comment. If this proves popular, I’ll try to do this on a regular basis to supplement my longer single-topic blogs.  Here goes:

Although I don’t read Virtual Strategy Magazine, I found this great article which begins:

Rio Salado College joined nine educational institutions in Washington D.C., July 28-31 to reinvent higher learning and the student experience as part of the EDUCAUSE - Next Generation Learning Challenges 2015 Breakthrough Models Incubator funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This is the third Breakthrough Models Incubator hosted by EDUCAUSE and NGLC, which is designed to bring leadership teams of forward-thinking colleges and universities together to develop and explore the latest innovations in new business and learning models for higher education\\The primary charge for the 2015 cohort is to create competency-based education (CBE) models, which reward students for skills they acquire rather than time spent in class.”

Enough said.

University Business posted this (Sept 2015) headline “Competency-based programs reimagine college credit - Lessons from early adopters”.  The article begins:

“After years of quiet evolution, the competency-based education movement is now poised for explosive growth, with several hundred colleges and universities developing programs that fundamentally redefine the college degree.

“An estimated 34 U.S. institutions now offer some form of competency-based learning, according to research by Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. But that number is expected to multiply significantly as a new wave of schools embraces the model.

“Growth has been fueled by an endorsement from the federal government, which has approved waivers to allow financial aid for students in competency-based programs.”

Enough said.

Competency education comes to the medical school.  The picture below the headline  “This KU Medical Center breaks ground on new $75 million Health Education Building” says:

“Amenities include significant simulation space and flexible, state-of-the-art learning space to support interprofessional education, a competency-based medical school curriculum and other new models of teaching.”  The article tells even more about this brand new approach to medical education!

I just read that College For America at Southern New Hampshire University, is “an accredited, nonprofit college dedicated to making a college degree achievable for every working adult: flexibly scheduled, uniquely applicable, competency-based education for just $2,500 a year (or less).”

And to wrap up all of this news, “Is Competency-Based Education Finally Becoming Mainstream?” is a great article by SkilledUp that outlines the history of competency-based education in higher ed and begins:

“If it seems to you lately like competency-based education has passed a threshold from exotic to mission-critical at many institutions, we’ve had the same impression.

Why? Several new initiatives, involving dozens of colleges and universities and brand-name philanthropic funding, are coming online. They represent a surge in efforts to promote best practices, partnerships and coordination among the growth in competency-based education or competency-based learning (also known as CBE or CBL).

“For example, consider just these new projects that have emerged recently:

“The traditional institutions involved with these initiatives are joining pioneers like StraighterLine and Western Governor’s University, which, as StraighterLine’s CEO Burck Smith argued here earlier this year, have been working to loosen the relationship between seat time and college credit for years. Separately and together, these initiatives are at the forefront of a movement to connect business leaders, higher education institutions and students around a common goal of creating programs centered on specific competencies that people need to succeed in the 21st century workforce.”

Enough said!  This is all great news - great for students and great for the world of higher education!

Posted by marks on Tuesday October 13, 2015 at 11:13AM
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Thinking About Proficiency/Competency Education - Higher Ed Good News is Everywhere

Pierce College in Washington State just announced a new university transfer degree that  eliminates textbook costs. “Starting in Fall 2015, the Pierce Open Pathway (POP) program will allow students to enroll in online and hybrid classes, which use openly licensed learning resources that have been thoroughly evaluated by Pierce College officials.”

Pierce also announced that an associate degree in business can be earned...

“through our new competency-based education program. The requirements for the online degree are the same as the traditional program, but with added flexibility….[It is] completely online and self-paced. Students work through competencies, taking advantage of prior experience in work or life where appropriate.”

Western Governors University Washington just announced “Back-to-School Scholarships to help professional men and women get quality, career-driven educations.”  

“WGU Washington uses an innovative approach to earning a degree called competency-based education, which measures learning rather than time spent in class. Students earn their degrees by demonstrating mastery of the subject matter they need to know to be successful — real-world competencies developed with employer input. Designed to meet the needs of adult learners, competency-based education allows students to take advantage of their knowledge and experience to move quickly through material they already know so they can focus on what they still need to learn. WGU Washington faculty members work one-on-one with students as mentors, offering guidance, support, and individualized instruction. While WGU Washington's degree programs are rigorous and challenging, competency-based learning makes it possible for students to accelerate their programs, saving both time and money.”

The Herald Times OnLine reports:

“The Woodrow Wilson Foundation turned heads in education circles last month when it announced a partnership with MIT for an education graduate program that will offer degrees to aspiring or current teachers based on their proven competence rather than seat time.

“Students could move through the program as fast as they demonstrate key skills. By focusing on demonstrable skills rather than book learning, the Wilson Academy, which will be located in the Boston metropolitan area, could be a radical departure from traditional teacher training, with implications for how we train teachers.”

Deseret News reports news from Utah:

“Professional learning for teachers, a combined statewide plan for public and higher education, and an education system based more on student ability than seat time could be topics of new legislation and policy for Utah during the coming year.

“Those and other issues were examined during a joint education conference of educators, lawmakers and businesses this week at Southern Utah University….”

Clarifying Competency Based Education Terms is a new publication from the American Council on Education and Blackboard which will be very useful to those interested in or involved in proficiency/competency-based education:

“Though not entirely new, competency based education has captured the attention of the higher education community—and for good reason. With approximately 36 million Americans with ‘some college, no degree’ who need flexibility in their post-secondary education, as well as the large segment of first-generation, low income students who would benefit from innovative pedagogical approaches and lower cost options, competency based education provides many advantages.

“However, there is no ‘one specific thing’ called competency based education. Further, related terms are used in different ways by different people, often causing confusion. This document is a first step in what we hope will provide a helpful structure for future discussions about competency based education, especially for those new to the conversation.”

Huffington Post notes about higher ed that:

“Today's student population isn't exclusively bright-eyed 18 year-olds fresh out of high school. Many students are returning to school years later. They're juggling kids, family responsibilities, multiple part- or full-time jobs, among other commitments, and so the need to accommodate this growing segment of students is very important.

“Competency-based education (CBE) is an innovative model of higher education defined by the Department of Education as ‘transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery... regardless of time, place, or pace of learning.’

“Sounds pretty awesome, right? Completing a degree on your own schedule, whenever and wherever you want is a model that has the potential to change the game for a lot of students. Plus, the Harvard Business Review said CBE ‘is the key to filling the skills gaps in the workforce.’" [That article deserves its own blog!]

The article notes that surveying higher education students about their competency-based education (CBE) showed that it can be done online, and problems in this new approach can be solved. More importantly, students love this approach when it is done correctly because “social support alone is not enough.”  Students need academic support as well.

“[W]hat we do know is that ensuring CBE students have both academic and social support to succeed in the form of accessible coaches, advisors, and tutors is essential.”

“The Future of America's Schools of Education: Repair or Replace?” is a Huffington Post blog by Arthur E. Levine, President, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.  He notes:

“The United States is making a transition from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information one. All of our social institutions -- government, media, healthcare, education, and the rest -- were created for the former. They work less well today than they once did and appear to be broken. They need to be refitted for this new era.”

He argues that in the short run, we need to repair our schools of education and has good ways to do this.  But he notes that we need to move away from time-based programs to proficiency schools of education:

“In the long run, deeper, more fundamental change in education schools is necessary. These institutions have become outdated. Schooling in America, education schools included, is a product of the industrial era. They are time based, measuring student progress in terms of years of study, courses taken, and credits accumulated. The currency is seat time, how long students are taught. It is assumed all people can learn the same things in the same period of time. Time and process are fixed; outcomes are variable.

“In information economies, the scales are reversed. The focus in education shifts from common processes to common outcomes, from what students have been taught to what they have learned and their ability to demonstrate that knowledge. This is the model of education that will supplant and replace the current system.”

And that’s just a few days worth of news about proficiency and competency education!
Posted by marks on Thursday September 17, 2015 at 11:15AM
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Thinking About Questions - The Source of All Learning

In education, questions are often better than answers. Only by asking questions can we make forward progress. What if no one asked how birds fly or how a group can cross a large river?  Think of all the questions that lead us from caves to modern civilization? Every field of science is based on exploring questions, and “wondering if”.

Author and scientist Isaac Asimov said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'”  

Charles Goodyear wondered why his new formula of “accidently stove-heated rubber” didn’t melt, but held its shape in heat and cold environments.  Swiss electrical engineer, George De Mestral, came in from a walk with his dog and wondered why the cocklebur plant’s brown burs clung to his dog and to his clothes, and Velcro was born.  Dr. Alexander Fleming came to his lab after a two-week vacation.  He found mold on an accidentally-contaminated petri dish, noticed that the mold stopped some harmful bacteria from growing, and wondered why, leading to the development of penicillin. There are many, many more examples of discoveries based on asking questions and “wondering why”. (If you want to have fun, just do an Internet search on “accidental discoveries” to find many more examples.)

In all of my seminars I want my students to ask questions.  Many books on education talk about designing lesson plans that start by asking questions and having students also ask or formulate questions.  Sometimes these are called guiding questions, anticipatory questions or opening questions.  

Many teachers follow the Socratic-seminar approach (named after Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher) where students question and examine issues and principles related to a text and discuss various points of view.  And let’s not forget the original Socratic method of teaching. This involves inquiry and discussion between individuals, using questions and answers to stimulate thinking and insight related to a wide variety of topics. Socrates said, ““I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”  

American novelist Thomas Berger said: “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”  Anna Devere Smith, American actress, playwright, and professor said, “Think of education as a garden where questions grow.”

I started by stating that, in education, questions are better than answers.  

I’ll end with Socrates who said it best. “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”

Posted by marks on Wednesday September 9, 2015 at 09:23AM
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A Respected Education Leader Suggests Doing Away With The K-12 Grade-Level Structure - Is He Serious?

You have to read Blowing Up K-12?, a May 10, 2012 article/blog by Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators, and a veteran public school educator with more than 40 years of experience, 27 of those years as a school superintendent. Wow!

He advocates “that we do away with the K-12 grade level structure in education.”  He notes that  school reform talk never includes “talk of doing away with grade levels.”  Many of us in the proficiency/competency/mastery education field do talk about it, but rarely do people listen.  Most folks think the solution is just to fund or tinker with the system. In a recent blog, I showed that both Ken Robinson and Bill Gates agree that the system is obsolete and improving funding or tinkering won’t help.

A grade is a group of people or things of the same category.  A grade level is a unit of pupils of similar age or ability taught together at school.  Usually students are grouped by age. Why do we do this?

Domenech is correct - we need to get rid of grade levels.  It is an age-based, one-size-fits-all model that makes no sense.  Children of the same age wear different-sized clothing and shoes, have different styles of dress and behavior, and very different desires and dreams.  Yet they are all grouped together, and must all be at the same page in the same book at the same time - every day of the year - year after year.  That’s how grade-levels work.  Groups of pupils of similar age taught together and ignoring all of the differences that make students special and different!  This is wrong!

But this isn’t news.  The 1994 “Prisoners of Time” report said, 

“[w]e have built a learning enterprise on a foundation of sand, on five premises educators know to be false…The first is the assumption that students arrive at school ready to learn in the same way, on the same schedule, all in rhythm with each other.”  We all know this is just not true!

This factory-model, age-based, grade-level system is an antiquated approach that doesn’t work. Domenech is a respected veteran educator, and when he says that “many of the problems affecting our education system can be traced to the grade level organizational structure” we should listen.

He notes:

“When there were thirty-some students assigned to a class with one teacher, the modus operandi was for that teacher to teach to the middle of the pack. The class was taught as a group. Consequently, the kids at the bottom were lost and left behind and the kids at the top were bored and frustrated. Teachers lectured and, with so many students, were seldom able to provide individual instruction. The students who did not grasp the lesson would have to stay after school or come in early to try to get extra help from the teacher. Often that was not enough and thus began a cycle where students were being left further and further behind. Our solution was to provide remediation, summer school, after school, private tutoring. All kinds of add-ons to the school day to deal with students who could not keep up with instruction aimed at children of a certain age at a certain grade level. For the gifted and talented we saw the creation of gifted and talented programs that would either group these students into homogeneous classrooms or provide for their needs at certain times of the day, much like what was being done for their less talented peers.”

He doesn’t stop there.

Whoa there, some of you may be saying, isn’t this what we are still doing today? ...The pity is that it no longer has to be that way. Smaller class sizes and technology make it absolutely possible for us to break away from the grade level structure and provide individualized instruction to each and every child. Our teachers will need to be trained to become directors of instruction, guides on the side rather than the sage on the stage. The laws, rules and regulations that have firmly ensconced grade levels into our schools will have to be repealed. Can schools operate without grade levels? Of course they can. Since the 1970’s there have been sporadic attempts at non-gradedness. Montessori programs have been doing it for years. Individually Guided Education was popular in Wisconsin as early as the 1960’s. And of course, the original one-room schoolhouse was non-graded.

Read the rest of his blog.  He says the age-based group was based on expediency, not good pedagogy.  It was designed to make it an easy and efficient way to “organize children into manageable units.”  He thinks that

“we have the opportunity to move towards a performance-based, competency-based system of education that would allow each child to learn at his or her own pace...In a competency-based system children would never be left behind because the instruction would always be appropriate to their level of performance. Today’s technology makes that possible.”

Brilliant approach.  He joins many other educators who realize that transformation is possible and more importantly, it is the right thing to do.

What does he think it would it be like if we adopted his approach?  

“High School diplomas would be bestowed upon those that achieve the prescribed level for mastery of the standards. Students will achieve such mastery at various ages but a high school diploma will have meaning, ensuring that the holder has achieved a specific scope of knowledge and level of performance.”

A proficiency-based system like Delphian's or Lindsay's would be a much better system than most of the world has now!  It would be better for students, better for families, better for the nation and better for the world.

Posted by marks on Monday August 24, 2015 at 09:40AM
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Thinking About NOT Taking the SAT? More and More Colleges Don’t Care

I’d like to see the SAT and ACT fade from the college admissions landscape. The good news is that this is happening.

George Washington University announced that beginning in August, submitting SAT or ACT scores will no longer be required for most students applying for undergraduate admission! This is big! Really big!

But this isn’t new news! More colleges are moving to SAT-optional admissions processes. But it is news for students planning to attend GWU! It is important for students to know about the college admission process where they plan to apply.  If those colleges don’t require the SAT, that changes everything, including saving lots of time and money and wasted “test-result” worry.

PrepScholar has compiled a complete guide to “SAT-optional colleges”. They have information on colleges that are test-optional, test-flexible and test-blind. 

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial. On April 29, 2015 they announced that “more colleges and universities reduced or eliminated admissions testing requirements over the past twelve months than in any previous year.”

The Center reported “that two dozen schools adopted test-optional policies since spring 2014. More than 850 accredited, bachelor-degree granting schools now do not require all or many applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores….FairTest’s ACT/SAT-optional list now includes more than 165 schools ranked in the top tiers of their respective categories. More than one-third of top-ranked national liberal arts colleges have test-optional policies.”

“The SAT and ACT are fundamentally discriminatory,” says Joseph A. Soares, author of SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions. Through his own essays in the book, as well as those of contributors that he edited, Mr. Soares builds a case against the SAT. He characterizes it as a test that tends to favor white, male, upper income students with the means to prepare for it.

The real questions are, “What use is the test score to a college admissions officer? Can it accurately predict a high school senior’s future? Why do we value students who get lots of multiple-choice answers right? Is this how we determine who should lead our country and solve the world’s problems?”

The good news is that more and more colleges are ignoring SAT/ACT scores in the admissions process. Students who choose to go to those colleges will be able to spend time furthering their education, instead of wasting time, money and worry trying to increase their SAT scores.

I urge everyone I know to strongly consider going to a college that doesn’t care about those test scores. they can shift from a focus on improving their test scores for hours, weeks and months on end, to a focus on their studies, their families and their communities. Instead of taking practice test after practice test, they can make plans for their life and for making the world a better place to live.

Posted by marks on Thursday August 13, 2015 at 01:13PM
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Thinking About Genius - Saving Our Brightest Minds and Our Future

I’ve often spoken and written about how factory-model, time-based schools keep bright students from moving ahead.  We bore these students, they often find other “games” to play (which may not be constructive and helpful), and we waste their potential. We let them down, and we lose them.  I’d seen it and experienced it, but hadn’t read or studied much about it in depth.

I recently found that there is a lot of information to support my observations, and my brief review gave me even more cause for concern.  It is clear to me that factory-model schools stifle creativity and genius, and limit humanity’s search for solutions to the problems which plague us. I found (but had not yet read) a book Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting our Brightest Young Minds.  The book’s site tells it all:

“With all the talk of failing schools these days, we forget that schools can fail their brightest students, too. We pledge to ‘leave no child behind,’ but in American schools today, thousands of gifted and talented students fall short of their potential.”

Authors Jan and Bob Davidson (creators of Davidson & Associates, the educational software company) founded the Davidson Institute for Talent Development to assist gifted children and schools.  From the book excerpts and summary, I can tell that they tell a great story.

They “describe the ‘quiet crisis’ in education: gifted students spending their days in classrooms learning little beyond how to cope with boredom as they ‘relearn’ material they’ve already mastered years before. This lack of challenge leads to frustration, underachievement, and even failure… At a time when our country needs a deep intellectual talent pool, the squandering of these bright young minds is a national tragedy.”

I didn’t know the numbers - in the US alone, there are hundreds of thousands of highly gifted children - and millions more of above-average intelligence.  At the site you can read excerpted stories of genius and in some cases, how their needs were finally met, and how society benefits when these geniuses help us solve the tough problems.  It also helps to know that gifted students are often misdiagnosed as having the mythical ADD because they are being forced to “learn” things they already know, or get in a flash.  One story told of a girl who could read and fully understand a literature book in one night that the class was reading paragraph by paragraph for weeks on end.  Cruel treatment of our best and brightest.  The bottom line - proficiency-based education benefits all students.  Geniuses can move at their own pace as well as other students who need more time in some subjects and less in others.

 I found a great quote about teaching gifted students: “Teaching those types of voracious minds in a regular classroom without enhancement is like feeding an elephant one blade of grass at a time. You'll starve them.” (Elizabeth Meckstroth)

What would the world be like if we let all students reach their full potential - including our young geniuses?  Would major illnesses be eradicated, hunger cured, and poverty and the energy crisis  things of the past?  We’ll never know until we leave the factory-model behind, along with the many other outdated technologies and ways of thinking. 

Posted by marks on Monday August 3, 2015 at 09:15AM
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Thinking About Going To College? Knowledge & Skill Matter Most, Not The College Or Major

recently blogged about the “go to a good college” myth and a Gallup poll that showed that where a student was educated “hardly matters at all to their workplace engagement and current well-being”, and it outlined the two vital elements of a college program that do matter and which now define a “good college”.

As the study makes clear, there is a reality gap between colleges and businesses.  Most colleges think they are doing well in preparing their students and most employers think colleges don’t do well.

In its Feb. 25, 2014 issue US News and World Reports took up an aspect of the same Gallup poll in an article “Education Leaders: Time to Rethink What a College Degree Promises” with the intro “Colleges and businesses need to work together to fill the gap between hiring expectations and realities, new data suggest.”  

While 96 percent of chief college academic officers think they are doing a good job of preparing graduates for success in the workplace,  “just 11 percent of business leaders surveyed” agreed, and “most business leaders are unsatisfied with the pool of applicants.”

I hear this same message from the business community, because I am actively involved with many businesses leaders locally as well as during my 10-day Business Seminar Field Trips to the East and West coasts.  The article says:

“The disconnect may come from the fact that colleges and universities are not transparent enough about what exactly they're preparing students for, while the public has not articulated clearly what higher education could do differently, said Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark..”  

“But neither the academic leaders nor the business leaders were right about the job colleges are doing in preparing students for the workforce, she said. ‘This is not about higher education doing it by itself, nor is it about the public being able to stand back and say, “What are you providing?"’ Cantor said. ‘It's really … about collaboration.’"

This problem is not abstract.  Many colleges are not preparing the students for the jobs or expectations of the world of business.  But colleges and businesses have different goals and expectations, and apparently they aren’t talking to each other.

“Steve Odland, chief executive officer of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Committee for Economic Development, said...institutions of higher education and businesses often have very different missions. Odland has served as the CEO of several large companies, and also worked as an adjunct professor in the business graduate schools at Florida Atlantic University and Lynn University.

"’In academia, I think the objectives that we had were to teach people to think,’ Odland said. ‘And I think in the business world, our objectives were to find people who had the skill sets that were requisite for the job position that we needed.’"

“Odland said the even larger disparity between expectations and realities was apparent among entry-level applicants, who often lacked necessary and basic business skills...

"’We were having to retrain all the students fresh from undergraduate programs in how to make presentation skills, how to write for a business, sometimes how to dress and interact with customers,’ Odland said. ‘Once you're looking for somebody with 10 or more years of experience … it didn't matter. They could have had an online degree, they could have had no degree. We hired executives with no college degree, but [who] had the requisite business skills and experience, and that was more important.’"

The bad news is that college graduates are often lacking basic business, organizational and communication skills and thus the ability to do well in the workplace.  Most importantly, all students need to know that the world of business has standards and timetables that must be met. There are no excuses.

The good news is that at the Delphian School students learn many of these skills as part of our basic high school program which includes lots of project-based learning, work experience, apprenticeship and leadership opportunities.  Also, I cover many basic business skills in my business seminars; alumni feedback tells me that what students learn in my seminars helps them every day on the job. I’m able to pass on the skills and standards that are expected in the workplace, from “If you’re on time, you’re late”, to how to shake hands, have good manners, and how to write a business letter!  Our alums weigh in at our annual Alumni Seminars, sharing the list of skills they found vital to business survival.  

The US News article goes on:

“Jamie Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina Foundation, said the large gaps shown in the data should serve as a wake-up call to the country's higher education system that ‘we are either not doing a very good job of articulating what we are doing … or what we are producing is not nearly good enough to meet their needs, or some combination of the two.’"

Isn’t this is a little late for us to notice the gap?  It isn’t as though business leaders can’t talk to higher ed leaders.

"’To me, it really cries out for the need to increase the learning outcome-based focus of what we're doing in higher education,’ Merisotis said. ‘We've got to really articulate how we produce people who are prepared for good jobs, and how they ultimately do have a better life as a result of their attendance at our higher education institutions.’"

Higher ed has lost its focus on its learning outcomes, on what it is producing. What?  Students are going into huge debt attending institutions of higher education that have drifted away from their focus on student learning outcomes and failed to provide graduates with useful employment skills, much less entrepreneurial skills.  These institutions are supposed to be filled with our best and brightest faculty. We give them our best and brightest students.  We have high expectations which aren’t being met.

Final Note: A February 25 article by Calderon and Sidhu at the Gallup site talks about another Gallup study, “Business Leaders Say Knowledge Trumps College Pedigree.”  

“When hiring, U.S. business leaders say the amount of knowledge the candidate has in a field, as well as applied skills, are more important factors than where a candidate attended school or what their college major was…

“Business leaders say that the managers responsible for making hiring decisions are far less concerned with where job candidates earn their degrees, or even the type of degree itself, than they are with what knowledge and skills a candidate brings to the table. This corresponds with recent insights into how large, high-tech corporations like Google conduct their hiring. At Google, hiring managers say certain types of skills and talents are what matter most, more than a particular type of college degree or even having a college degree at all.”

Note to students - do your due diligence (very thorough research).  Find out exactly what the college you plan to attend actually delivers. Find out where its graduates go and what they do after graduation. Find out what they can actually do.  Find out if you will have knowledge in the field where you plan to work, and if you will have the necessary skills and abilities as well.  Avoid end-of-college sticker shock & no-job shock.  

We need you to do well in college, because we are counting on you to solve the world’s problems!  Is that too much to ask?

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Thursday July 30, 2015 at 01:49PM
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Thinking About Education - Delphian Makes Graduates

Here at the Delphian School, our task is simple: We Make Graduates!  

The Delphian School was designed for all students to cross the finish line!  We think all education programs should be designed so that all students can succeed. Competition has no place in academia - unless we are competing against ignorance. Keep the competition on the playing field or the chess tournament - not in the math or history class.  What a concept.

Design a school where all students can get everything the school has to offer and leave the school competent and able!  A school where students cooperate and help each other get it all!  Imagine a school’s  focus on helping students succeed - not putting them through a system of ringing-bells and letter-grade bell curves, a system of winners and losers!

Making graduates!  Helping students succeed!  Helping students graduate!  Wow!

This is an important concept to think about.  This is a "new school" concept.  ("Old school" is the factory-model, lecture-method, letter-grade and age-based, grade-level model, where if a student shows up enough, stays out of trouble and doesn’t flunk too much, he gets a diploma).  At Delphian, just showing up won’t make you a graduate!  Just putting in the time won’t make you a graduate!  It takes work, effort and intention to master the graduation requirements fully and completely.  You have to learn things, and demonstrate that learning - regardless of which path you took or the length you were on the path!

Although the Delphian School is the oldest proficiency-based private school, there are now many other “new schools”, where learning is the constant and time is the variable, and where everyone (students, faculty and parents) works hard to make graduates!  Delphian students don’t graduate because they’ve put in their time (sounds like prison?) by attending classes.  They move ahead by demonstrating mastery of each step.

What is unique at Delphian and other proficiency-based schools is that we all work hard to ensure that each and every student meets all of our graduation requirements.  The requirements  are stated in terms of skills, abilities and knowledge, not classes completed or seats warmed. We all work hard to make graduates who can use what they have learned.

But schools like ours are the exception.  I wanted to be sure I knew how high school graduation works in most high schools today.  My research confirmed that high school students in the United States need to earn a certain number of credits in required and elective classes, earned primarily by showing up (seat time).  The problem is that students can pass any class and earn credit toward graduation by receiving as low as a D or D- letter grade (D = barely passing and F = fail).  I found that some schools require a C grade point average (so they can’t graduate with all D’s), and others also require some minimum passing score on a state test they can take and retake until they pass.  (Don’t think I will let the topic of letter grades slip by; stay tuned for more blogs on the folly, stupidity and insanity of academic letter grades..  Sorry, but they are nutty and meaningless!)

The tragedy is that some high school students in the United States can graduate by doing little more than attending school and earning seat-time credit. What is worse is not graduating at all!. According to the “2015 Building a Grad Nation” report, the national high school graduation rate hit a record high of 81.4 percent.”  The Alliance for Excellent Education says that “..every year, approximately 1 million students—more than 5,500 every school day—don’t graduate from high school on time. Nationwide, about a quarter of students fail to obtain high school diplomas. Among key indicators, low reading scores and a lack of proficiency in math and English, are major predictors of dropout.”

The truth is that the game for some students is to show up and do only what they have to do to “earn” D’s so they can graduate. There are many schools working hard to change this, especially schools switching to proficiency-based or competency-based programs. But most US high schools are factory-model “old schools”.  These schools are failing the students and robbing them of their potential.

Every Delphian student and parent knows that graduation is not automatic or time-based. Graduation is achieved by hard work on all graduation requirements which set high standards in all areas.  (If you are interested, you can download our graduation requirements from our website by clicking here.)

I am excited about the topic of “making graduates” because it captures the distinction between proficiency-based schools like Delphian and factory-model, time-based schools.  It captures the fact that every faculty and staff member’s focus is to make graduates by helping each student achieve all of the high level of skill and ability required for graduation.  That’s what I’ve been doing for 41 years, and I like being able to state it so clearly.  

At Delphian, we make graduates!

Posted by marks on Monday July 27, 2015 at 03:17PM
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Mark Siegel

Assistant Headmaster
Mark Siegel

About Mark


Proficiency Resources Handout (Google Doc Link) This was updated in July 2015. This is the handout I use in all of my talks and presentations.

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