Mark Siegel's Thinking About Education
Saturday I spoke at Parents’ Day at Delphi Academy of Florida followed by a talk at the Community Learning Center (which is doing a great job with students who are struggling with their studies and their lives). I had a great time. I saw many families with older children at the Delphian School in Oregon, many of my former students, and many of my former students had children enrolled at the Delphi Academy. Rather than make me feel old, I get a warm feeling to see how well they are all doing. We all had a lot to talk about!
Again, the students and parents were all great, and I really liked getting to know and work with the faculty and staff! Again, some are former students of mine, and it was fun having them in my audience when I did an extended briefing for all of the faculty on Friday, which I’d also delivered for Clearwater Academy faculty. I’m a man on a mission!
I enjoyed meeting lots of students and seeing how well they were all doing, and finding out about all the special things that happen at the Florida Delphi. I learned a lot from Headmaster Colin Taufer’s end-of year video, which was great!
Again, I told the audience that this was actually a Thanksgiving celebration - celebrating our freedom of not having children in an old, factory-model school but in a new school where students are the center of the program and they proceed at learning pace that works for each of them as individuals. I shared breaking news with them about schools that are now "de-linking" age and grade-level, so students can study at different levels in different subject areas. I hope to blog about that soon, along with a number of hot topics that I’ve been researching.!
And of course, I also asked everyone to purchase and read Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning: Learning in the Age of Empowerment (New Edition) by Charles Schwahn and Beatrice McGarvey. I want everyone to buy the hard copy so they can pass it on!
i started writing this blog looking out at Clearwater Marina where dolphins play and beautiful boats can been seen beneath a beautiful blue sky. I’ll miss it, but not the heat/humidity (smile)! I am finishing writing this at 39,000 feet on my way to finalsite university in Hartford, Connecticut, where I’ll learn a lot about our website and all the new things we can do with it. Of course, on Wednesday I’ll be speaking about emerging trends in proficiency-based education! Again, they will hear about the big shift to new schools that have proficiency-based teaching and learning! Did I mention that I’m a man on a mission?
on Monday June 17 at 06:07PM
Yesterday I spoke at Parents’ Day at Delphi Academy of Boston and I had a great time.
The students and parents were wonderful, and so were all the faculty and staff! I enjoyed the music performances by all the students (by class) and the five excellent and moving graduation speeches. They were great. It was clear the all the students loved learning, loved their teachers and loved their school. There were student tears because there would be no school next week (as they transition to their summer program)! It is always a joy to see students filled with energy, hope and excitement about their school, and who look forward to school every single day! That’s why their parents send them there!!!
I told the audience that this was actually a Thanksgiving celebration. I wanted us all to be thankful that we weren’t in an old factory-model school where time was the constant and learning was the variable, and where students were given letter-grades and placed in grade levels. I wanted everyone to be thankful because we were in a new school where learning is the constant and time is the variable, and where students have personalized and individualized education avail to them! I also shared the good news that this change to new schools is happening in schools and districts around the country! My blog readers know we are talking about proficiency-based teaching and learning!!
I also asked the audience to please purchase and read Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning: Learning in the Age of Empowerment (New Edition) by Charles Schwahn and Beatrice McGarvey. I want everyone to buy the hard copy so they can pass it on!
Now I’m heading to Florida where I will speak at Parents’ Day at the Delphi Academy of Florida and to other groups of parents who want to know about this big shift to new schools (proficiency-based teaching and learning)!
And I’m writing this blog at 30,000 feet on a computer connected to the Internet by wi-fi! Today there is a lot to be thankful for!
on Sunday June 9 at 12:53PM
I just read a great commentary in Education Week by Ryan McLane (the principal at Utica Junior High School in Utica, Ohio) that I want everyone to read. I couldn't have said it better myself, except I would go farther and get rid of grades totally and completely. Really. I would get rid of them. Stay tuned!
Please read his entire commentary (it is short). I should mention that academic letter grades using a bell curve are going to go away as one of the stupidest inventions ever. They never worked and that never made ANY sense.
It will take a while to get rid of them, just as we've seen other social changes. But hey, if the Berlin Wall can come down, we can get rid of grades! I attended an Ed Week webinar on the topic that was highly attended and very good. When the recorded version gets posted, I'll let you know the link. There are so many good thinkers who have done all the heavy lifting, but now we have to enlighten others. I hope it doesn't take as long to get rid of letter grades (and age-based grade levels) as it took to get people to realize the earth is round or that the sun is the center of the solar system.
Meanwhile, here are a few salient quotes to get you interested in reading the full commentary:
"Realistically, I have no idea what Johnny's B means. To fix that problem, I suggest we make sure Johnny's grade reflects what he knows and is not influenced by factors such as discipline or responsibility. Those should be separated." By the way, that is the law in Oregon! More on that in a later blog.
McLane writes "I firmly believe the problems of the American education system ... are the result of years of poor grading practices."
He doesn't stop there, and I love what he says. "I believe it is our responsibility to make sure all students are learning the content and skills that are required of them. I am a big believer in reteaching and reassessing. It is more important that the child learns the material than when the child learns the material.... However, simply putting that grade in the grade book and moving on is the exact reason why public schools are in the position they are in today."
Please re-read that paragraph again. Please.
He is right when he says that "[t]his process begins early in a child's education when a child never learns the necessary skills, and then continues to fall further and further behind. It would be my hope that a struggling student receives additional instruction and is reassessed and that his or her grade is updated to reflect the new knowledge gained."
He reports that some educators respond with some pretty severe nuttiness! "When I share this view with other educators, the No. 1 response I get is that it is not fair to the kids who got it the first time to allow kids to be reassessed....Really? I missed the part in education school where they taught us that a grade's primary purpose was to compare and rank students. It was my understanding that a grade is a tool that tells us about an individual's level of mastery. If that is the case, then it is unfair if we do not reassess that individual."
You will have to read the article to find out the second-nuttiest thing some educators say on this point.
I disagree about ever giving a grade, but we need to start turning this ship around now. McLane is right when he says "we need to make grades more meaningful and more reflective of what students have mastered, not how compliant they have been... I am not a proponent of just passing them along. I am a proponent of fixing the problem." Then I say we just get rid of them entirely!
Read the article and start spreading the word. I will post of more information on the subject of getting rid of the letter-grading system. Letter grades make no sense, but until we get rid of them they should reflect mastery, not speed.
on Thursday June 6 at 07:55PM
Just read a great article Four years later, a district’s standards-based reform evolves and pays off which tells a great story that I want to share. The story by EdNEws Colorado begins:
"In 2009, a Colorado school district in turnaround took a leap: it abandoned traditional K-12 grade levels and instead implemented a system that advances students based on how well they do rather than how long they sit in class.
Administrators and teachers staked the struggling district on the “standards-based education” gamble, and four years later — after lots of tinkering — it looks like they won."
This extensive article provides lots of detail about the Adams 50 School District's “competency-based system”. The district has 10,000 students who "advance through academic levels once they demonstrate competency in the subject, not once the school year is over. When school starts again, students pick up where they left off."
This is exciting. The article brings my readers up to date on this trend toward proficiency-based teaching and learning and refers to the proficiency-based program in Chugach, Alaska that I've discussed in earlier blogs. The article showed that there were bumps along the way but shows that four years after they started things have improved and district-wide gaps have been closing.
What we should all be happy about is that this new improved approach really works. The article says, "Perhaps most importantly, administrators and teachers say the system addresses the achievement gaps more easily ignored in traditional education systems, because students can’t progress until they’ve demonstrated proficiency — and the system allows schools to narrow those gaps sooner rather than later." That is good news!
Next month I am speaking at Parents' Day at both the Delphi Acadeny of Boston and the Delphi Academy of Florida. I came across this article and I liked it so much, I got permission from EdNews to distribute copies of the article to my audiences there. Nice folks there, and a nice article that shows we are slowly moving from the ineffective and inefficient time-based factory-model schools to proficiency-based schools where learning is the constant!
by Mr. Mark Siegel
on Thursday May 30 at 05:51PM
I just read an Education Week article with the headline High School Redesign Gets Presidential Lift. It cites President Obama's February 12 State of the Union Speech in which he said "[t]onight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy." Great! Our high schools must be designed, shifting them from factory-model schools to proficiency-based schools!
The article says that “Recognition is widespread that high schools need to change to engage students and prepare them for the workforce of the future. That push goes back decades, but now momentum is accelerating, and talk is not of reform, but redesign.” That is all I have been talking about shifting from factory-model time-based schools to proficiency-based schools.
Someone else agrees with me! "There is a realization that our high schools were designed for another time and era," said Joe DiMartino, the founder of the Center for Secondary School Redesign, based in West Warwick, R.I., and the author of Personalizing the High School Experience for Each Student. I love it!
If you read the article, you will learn more about personalized learning, project-based learning, proficiency and competency-based grading, and other efforts in the right direction. In the side-bar article, I read that “New Hampshire began to offer credit based on competency over seat time in 2008, and schools started phasing in the changes.” Yippee. And in discussing one of the schools that switched, it said “the test scores are clear: Pittsfield has gone from being among the five lowest-performing high schools in the state to near the top in math, and reading is also improving.”
There is more to glean from the article. DiMartino said, “For schools to truly be able to change, there needs to be a move away from seat time and testing to new approaches to engage students,..and to competency-based learning that uses a variety of assessment instruments, such as student exhibitions of their learning.”
I am always learning more about the shift for proficiency, and I found that “[e]fforts to reinvent high schools date back decades. One of those was the NASSP's 1996 release of the "Breaking Ranks" framework for school improvement and an updated version of the initiative in 2003. It outlined three core areas that must be addressed for student performance to improve: collaborative leadership; personalization of the school environment; and curriculum, instruction, and assessment.”
The article concludes with a discussion of common themes and principles, and I really liked two of them. One was “Personal connections and engagement: There has been a move away from large traditional high schools to smaller personalized ones (or at least teams within a big school) where students can feel a sense of belonging.”. Other was “[l]everaging technology and data for individualized learning: Personalization in learning, through the use of technology, means students can move at their own pace and feel a sense of empowerment in their education.”
I have been speaking about proficiency to both national and international audiences recently, and I’ve been asked (or allowed...[smile]) to give talks and workshops on this topic to school faculty as well as parents on this vital topic over the next year. The response is uniformly positive and I get invitations to speak in additional venues. I mention this because there is something that resonates with parents and students, teachers and administrators when I explain it. I thought it might be useful to summarize how I start my talks.
You and I probably went to an old school, where time was constant and learning was the variable. You know - 50 minutes of Algebra for 180 days. Some students got it some of the time - everyday some were bored and some were lost, but as a class we moved ahead regardless of our test scores from last week’s test. But Delphian is a new school, where learning is the constant and time is the variable. We are all about personalized and individualized education where students proceed only when they reach proficiency on their current studies. This shift from seat-time Carnegie Units to progressing upon reaching high levels of proficiency or competency is happening all across the country and all around the world. It may be new to some, but we’ve been doing it for 39 years!
Hope you find it helpful.
on Friday April 19 at 09:15AM
I just got a copy of Salman Khan's new book The One World School House - Education Reimagined. He founded the Khan Academy and his TED video has been viewed by millions. I just started the book and wanted to share a few items from the first few pages to get you thinking about education and to buy/read his book! You may notice that the points I included here are points I've been taking up in my blogs and talks, but I really like his clear take on the entire subject!
On the lecture-model classroom, he writes:
"The old classroom model simply doesn't fit our changing needs. It's a fundamentally passive way of learning, while the world requires more and more active processing of information. The old model is based on pushing students together in age-group batches with one-pace-fits-all curricula and hoping they pick up something along the way. It isn't clear that this was the best model one hundred years ago; it certainly isn't anymore."
About change in the education system, he said:
"Between the old way of teaching and the new, there's a crack in the system, and kids around the globe are falling through it every day. The world is changing at an ever faster rate, yet systemic change, when it happens at all, moves glacially and often in the wrong direction; every day--every class period--the gap grows wider between the way kids are being taught and what they actually need to learn."
"But instead of acting, people just keep talking about incremental changes. Either for lack of imagination or fear of rocking the boat, the conversation generally stops well short of the kind of fundamental questioning that our educational malaise demands, focusing instead on a handful of familiar but misplaced obsessions like test scores and graduation rates. Those are by no means trivial concerns. Still, what really matters is whether the world will have an empowered, productive, fulfilled population in the generations to come, one that fully taps into its potential and can meaningfully uphold the responsibilities of real democracy."
And when it comes to thinking about education, he asks:
"How do people actually learn? Does the standard classroom model--broadcast lectures in school, solitary homework in the evening--still make sense in a digital age? Why do students forget so much of what they have supposedly "learned" as soon as an exam has been taken? Why do grown-ups sense such a disconnect between what they studied in school and what they do in the real world? These are the sorts of basic questions we should be asking. But even then, there is an enormous difference between bemoaning the state of education and actually doing something about it."
And that is why I am sharing this with you, hoping you will (or are) doing something about it. I hope I got you thinking about education, and interested in buying or reading his book! I may not agree with everything he says, as I haven't finished reading it, but so far I'm on his side. Put it on your shelf next to Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning by Schwahn & McGarvey and you'll have a lot to think about!
on Thursday March 21 at 12:57PM
This just in! The US Dept of Ed just issued a press release "Education Department Releases Guidance on Providing Title IV Eligibility for Competency-Based Learned Programs".
The news is that colleges "that offer competency-based programs in which students learn at their own pace – but that currently do not offer federal student aid" can do so. [Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 provides federally funded financial aid, such as Perkins Loans, Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Loans.]
The release notes that "[i]n recent years, some institutions have recognized the potential of innovative learning models and developed creative programs that allow students the flexibility to learn at the pace that makes sense for them, both in career-technical and degree programs. Students progress in these competency-based programs by demonstrating their achievement of specific skills or knowledge. Most competency-based programs fit into traditional learning models that measure progress in credit or clock hours, but an increasing number do not. Some of these programs would like to offer their students title IV aid – including Pell grants and federal student loans – but have been unable to do so."
Wow - some colleges are moving to competency (read "proficiency") where students demonstrate skills or knowledge (not seat time). Fantastic. They get it. Seat time doesn't benefit anyone! Proficiency does!
The problem has been that colleges that do competency-based education thought they couldn't offer federal student aid. Today's letter addresses their concerns and provides guidance on developing programs that are likely to be title IV eligible!!
Don't believe me? Here's what the US Dept of Ed press release says:
"This is a key step forward in expanding access to affordable higher education," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We know many students and adult learners across the country need the flexibility to fit their education into their lives or work through a class on their own pace, and these competency-based programs offer those features – and they are often accessible to students anytime, anywhere. By being able to access title IV aid for these programs, many students may now be able to afford higher education."
The press release says the US Department of Education "notes the potential of competency-based approaches to shorten the time to degree completion and reduce costs, while providing an opportunity for students and workers to develop the knowledge and skills they need to compete for high-paying jobs or advance in the workplace. Going forward, the Department plans to collaborate with accrediting agencies and the broader higher education community to encourage innovative approaches, identify promising practices, and gather feedback to inform future policies."
Colleges are finally catching on! Now let's look for rapid adoption of proficiency-based (competency-based) teaching and learning in the public and private K-12 world!
by Mr. Mark Siegel
on Wednesday March 20 at 10:31AM
I stopped blogging for a while so I could step back and think about education newly. I wanted to re-orient myself and insure I was focusing on what was important. So I stepped back and read and thought and traveled and met and spoke, and thought some more. As things were starting to make sense, I had a plan about things I wanted to blog about.
But today I was jolted into blogging by an article in eSchool News that everyone should read . I was shocked (and I'm not easily shocked) by the report of the Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) 2013 annual conference in San Diego last week. The theme was that "[t]ransforming schools from places that deliver traditional, factory-era models of instruction to institutions that support engaging, personalized, and student-centered learning requires bold, audacious leadership."
That means that we don't have engaged, personalized, and student-centered learning. That means we want engaged, personalized, and student-centered learning. It means it will take a lot of work to get there! This is serious! And we don't have audacious leadership!
From the article:
“We need disruptive, innovative leaders to move 21st-century education forward,” said Jean Tower, CoSN board chair, in kicking off the conference March 12. Tower is also director of technology for the Northborough and Southborough Public Schools in Massachusetts."
OK, we've heard of this before. Anyone who's followed Clay Christensen's work on disruption, including his 2008 book Disrupting Class, Expanded Edition: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns will be familiar with this concept.
But how serious is the problem? One of the speakers, "Lord David Puttnam—who worked for Great Britain’s Ministry of Education for several years and is now chancellor of the online Open University—said education in the Western world isn’t at a “Sputnik” moment today, referring to the mobilization around science and math instruction that occurred in the 1950s when the Soviets launched a satellite into space.
"Instead, 'we are at a Pearl Harbor moment,' he said—suggesting the urgency to act is even greater now than in the 1950s...."
I think this is very strong language. Is this a wake-up call we've not heard before? After discussing the investment in education by other countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, Puttnam said those countries love to see "the dysfunction in the U.S. political system that’s holding education back." Again, in very strong language, he noted “Napoleon once said, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake.’ That’s how southeast Asia sees us.”
Wow! I don't consider education systems at war, but if the US education system fails, there goes the US economy, and the US! We can't afford to fail. If Puttman is right, that means we need audacious leadership to move us to engaged, personalized, and student-centered learning. Hmmmmm...I think I may have mentioned this once or twice...
Want to read more shocking data! Read the full article!
by Mr. Mark Siegel
on Tuesday March 19 at 10:52AM
Many folks are confused when they hear that schools districts, states and even countries are now requiring students to pass proficiency tests in math, reading, English, etc. It is important to know that this is a separate topic from proficiency-based teaching and learning. In many cases they are unrelated. Proficiency tests are general tests usually administered to all students at one time for a few hours, to find their reading and math abilities (proficiencies). As is true of all tests, these have limited usefulness and accuracy.
The proficiency tests in the news are usually being given to public schools students in schools that still operate on the factory-model or still use the lecture method. Testing for proficiency does not mean teaching for proficiency. Don’t think that if schools in your area are now administering proficiency tests, that proficiency-based teaching and learning has arrived to rescue your schools from the factory model. These are different topics.
Testing for proficiency is not teaching for proficiency. Tests don’t address how students are taught. It is just testing - general testing at that!
Proficiency-based teaching and learning includes proficiency testing in some form to insure mastery before a student moves on. But proficiency-based teaching and learning is all about breaking away from the factory model to an approach to teaching and learning that makes sense! It is individualized and personalized, and is all about the student proceeding at a pace that makes sense for that student, not at a fixed pace for a fixed amount of time dictated by the Carnegie Unit.
Proficiency-based teaching and learning is a transformational shift away from factory-model schools and lecture-method schools to flipped classrooms (see my Khan Academy blog), to project-based learning, to schools with self-paced instruction, to schools where learning (not time) is the constant. (See my many blogs on this subject.) Proficiency-based teaching and learning means abandoning the factory-model school and moving into the 21st century.
I’m not against proficiency tests, but I oppose over-testing and I am upset that proficiency standards vary widely from state to state. If tests are used to help students and their families find out what students know and can do, and help determine the logical next steps in their education program - I'm OK with that! If they give honest useful data so families can monitor a student's educational progress and understand areas that need work, great!
If schools are now administering proficiency tests and this is something new, what were they testing in the past? Shouldn’t all tests address proficiency. Yikes. Hopefully proficiency tests (knowing the limited usefulness of a few-hour snapshot) are an attempt to insure children really are prepared for their next educational step or the world of work, and to give an honest picture of what a student knows and can do. You'll have to see if the tests in your area are doing that.
I hope you can explain this to your friends so they won’t confuse proficiency testing with proficiency-based teaching and learning. You could always tell them about my blog!!
on Friday August 3, 2012 at 02:36PM
I think about education all the time. Today I found an article about education in Fast Company (an unlikely source) that knocked my socks off. You can stop here and read it. But here’s my take and why I’m excited. (I don’t think the author reads my blog, but the parallel thinking involved is incredible!)
The article is What Will The Ed Tech Revolution Look Like? Predictions for how the next 15 years are going to change how children learn, at school and at home. It was written by Tim Brady, a partner and co-founder of Imagine K12, an incubator for tech companies focused on serving the K-12 market, so he is seeing this through the eyes of an entrepreneur (which is a good thing).
He wrote: “In an increasingly competitive world, it is clear that our education system--as currently designed--isn’t sustainable.” That’s what I’ve been saying - the model, the system itself, is inherently flawed. I keep saying that it’s the model - not the people - that isn’t working...but I do think that the people should have changed it on their own! More on that in another blog.
At school, Brady predicts that in the next 5 years we “will see teachers become more efficient in their jobs by adopting web-based tools.” That is for sure. I see teachers with iPads, phones, and using programs to make things better and faster! I think this will happen much sooner.
At home, he says “[t]he Khan Academy has brought the notion of self-paced learning outside of the classroom to the mainstream”. In a way he’s right. But there have been other proficiency-based systems in place much earlier, such as Chugach School District in Alaska and others I’ve blogged about. Sal Khan was great, but there are others also making news on the self-paced learning front!
Although I think it has already happened, Brady says that the computer “will now also be seen as a device for learning inextricably tied to a child’s education. This small but important change in perception about the computer at home is a precondition for the second wave.” I think this is already true. Look at the educational software available, as well as the research tools and exciting resources available to children and young adults. Look at the smartphone revolution, the tablet revolution, the electronic reader revolution.
In 5-10 years, he says “[o]nce web-based software becomes commonplace in the classroom, new distribution channels for selling into schools become possible.”...
While he is involved in this marketplace by bringing products to market, what he says is very important for all of us. This is a huge economic and power shift. Just as online shopping has changed the brick-and-mortar world to a click/click-and-mortar world, there is a change in the purchasing system that will mean great things for K-12 education.
Brady thinks that educational purchasing will experience what I call a “teacher as consumer revolution”. Brady says that Instead of superintendents and folks at the top making purchases, “[w]hen dozens of teachers in a school district are using the free version of a web-based product, it’s clear that the product is effective and necessary. The superintendent will no longer need to solicit teachers’ input to know what they want and need.”...”This new bottoms-up channel makes the their jobs easier and their teachers more productive. The best products, rather than the best sales forces, will begin to win the day.”
Wow - the free market and consumer choice at work - getting better and less expensive products to market! Brady thinks that “superintendents will give individual teachers small online budgets (less than $500 per year) from which to purchase their own products and tools.”
Incredible shift in economics, marketing and the rise of low cost, useful products being rapidly developed, improved and put to use.
In fifteen years (far too long for me), Brady says that “we will finally see widespread changes to our public school model. Schools will move toward...models that better support the needs of individual students and reflect the fiscal realities of today.”
In his words: “More specifically, public schools will look to save money by moving away from their traditional age-based and grade-based system (i.e. the “factory model”) toward one based on mastery. Kids will be able to test out of certain classes by proving competency. High schools, and maybe even middle schools, will begin to operate less like factories and more like colleges.”
OK. One more advocate of moving from the factory model to proficiency-based teaching and learning! Great! Welcome aboard!
Brady shares my disappointment when he says that it will take fifteen years to see “substantial change. Fifteen years is an entire generation of students! It is difficult to accept the idea that change will take that long while we are failing so many students.” That is for sure!
But who could disagree with his conclusion. “Most exciting to me in this revolution is the movement away from the factory model of education and towards something more individually customized to each student and more cost efficient...We will fail fewer students because they will be more engaged, and we will lose fewer teachers to frustration.”
I agree. There is good news everywhere. Following up on last year’s Oregon Proficiency Conference, (see my May 2 blog) the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators is making plans for another conference this year. I’ve been asked to speak about proficiency-based teaching and learning at an annual meeting this fall of private school adminstrators in Washington State.
Good news about the shift from the factory model is everywhere, and proficiency-based teaching and learning is working!
on Wednesday July 25, 2012 at 02:14PM