The Delphian School

A New Paradigm - Putting All Students in the Driver's Seat

Wanted to share some good news. An article I wrote (A New Paradigm - Putting All Students in the Driver's Seat) was just published in the launch of AdvancED Source, a new online resource that connects practitioners, legislators and educational leaders to explore education for today's learners. Designed for those who want to help ensure that all learners realize their full potential, The Source houses articles from education thought leaders and practitioners, videos, opinion pieces, case studies and more, reaching more than 100,000 readers.

Stay tuned....!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Tuesday December 2, 2014
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Why Do We Need to Learn This?

I was bothered by an Edutopia blog I read a while ago that I just re-read ("Why Do We Need to Learn This?"). The author writes:

"When are we going to ever use this stuff?" is a protesting lament heard by most teachers several times a year. It comes from students with little patience to put up with ideas or concepts too abstract or irrelevant for them to fathom. Many more students share this thinking but have sufficient impulse control to keep their lips from expressing the same thought. Now more than ever, with Common Core emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving in an ever-changing world of information and technology, there are even many educators who struggle to identify content that is important and relevant."

It is good for students to ask this question. At the Delphian School students ask this all the time, and they must get it answered before they are allowed to move on in their studies. Studying with the viewpoint of using the information to be learned (and knowing how it will be used) is part of Delphian’s DNA.

In many schools, the answers often start with "you need it to get into college " to "you'll need it in college" and go on from there.

The Edutopia blog said, "Unless students are blessed with an exceptional memory, most of the stuff we teach won't be remembered or used beyond the final exam." 

Won’t be remembered? Won’t be used? What?

That raises three important questions.

One, why teach it?

Two, why learn it?

Three, why aren't we doing something better with our student's precious time?

Some background info is needed. Our nation's current school curriculum was invented by the NEA's 1892 Committee of Ten. A quick Internet search tells the whole story. Wikipedia says "the National Education Association formed The 1892 Committee of Ten" to standardize education. "Twelve years of education were recommended, with eight years of elementary education followed by four years of high school..The committee responded unanimously that "...every subject which is taught at all in a secondary school should be taught in the same way and to the same extent to every pupil so long as he pursues it, no matter what the probable destination of the pupil may be, or at what point his education is to cease." These recommendations were generally interpreted as a call to teach English, mathematics, and history or civics to every student every academic year in high school. The recommendations also formed the basis of the practice of teaching biology, chemistry, and physics, respectively, in ascending high school academic years."

You get the point! Almost everything in our society has changed except our schools. Today's school desks contain more plastic than wood, whiteboards have replaced chalkboards, and they are used in teacher-centered classes where the teacher talks all the time to get students ready for tests so they can earn grades. High school students find themselves in rooms similar to the rooms in their parent's high schools and they move from room to room whenever the factory-bell rings in the warehouse school system. 

Teachers are generally helpless to do anything when students ask why they are studying certain subjects or topics at all, or to help students who have something else they'd rather study. Most teachers have to move their students through state-approved curriculum programs so they can pass tests, regardless of the usefulness of the subjects tested or whether the test scores or grades make any sense.

The Edutopia blog provides three strategies for relevant learning, noting that "[t]he best solution to this problem is to make every lesson relevant to each student. However, given the impossibility of achieving that goal, I offer a few teaching tips that can mostly make that dreaded question about relevance a thing of the past."

Sorry, but relevance questions are relevant!  In my experience It is possible to make every lesson relevant to each student. We must do this!  It is vital! It can be done and it is done day after day in proficiency-based teaching and learning schools and in project-based learning programs, for example. Chuck Schwann, co-author of Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning has a great but very short video on this.

One blog-suggested approach: "Tell your students that not everything you teach will always make sense. Let them know that you will always do your best to explain when they might use what you are teaching them, but that you might not always know. For example: "Not everything I teach will always make sense to you right away. I'll do my best to explain, and I’ll even try to help you see how you might actually need or use what we're learning. But sometimes you’ll just have to trust that what I'm teaching is important to learn for now -- even if it seems confusing, silly or unnecessary."

I don’t think you can stop there, as I discussed earlier.  What does it mean to teach things that don't make sense?  Not to be silly about it, but we can understand why people thought the world was flat, or thought the four elements were earth, air, fire and water.  What are we teaching and testing that doesn't make sense, and really, why are we teaching things the don't make sense?  (I am getting ready to blog the problems in teaching, so I'll stop there on this point.)

A second suggested approach is to use humor. The blog author notes that "a high school teacher I work with tells her students, "I'm not sure because I don't know what you want to be in your life. But if you give me a list of everything you plan to do and accomplish, I'll do my best to let you know when we cover something that I think you might use." When kids say, "I don't know what I'm going to do,” her response is, "Exactly. You might need it next week, next year or never. But it is going to be on Friday's test, not because I want to make you miserable, but because at the end of the year, it is going to be on the state test, and if you want to pass, you need to know it.”

Are you serious?  This is humor?  Sorry but I don't find this funny. I don’t think “because” is a very good reason for students to study subjects for which there is no other good reason, and “to pass a test” is equally bad. Future careers, the changing world of work, course relevancy, etc. are hot topics. We are preparing students to work and live in a world that we can’t even imagine very well. Things are changing. “As a rule of thumb, 60% of the jobs 10 years from now haven’t been invented yet,” according to futurist Thomas Frey.  We could always tell students that this is our best analysis of things you will need to know and able to do, and explain our reasoning, couldn't we?  And that is just one step many are taking as we re-look at the skills and abilities that will be needed in the 21st century and beyond.

The third (and best) suggestion in the blog was to "Connect Learning to Life Goals."  I can't imagine doing it any other way.  Really!

But I disagree with the author's suggested way of connecting Algebra to learning to be successful.  He writes:

"At one of my seminars on motivating unmotivated students, an algebra teacher gave me a paper he gives to all of his students on their first day in his class. He calls it "Algebra Attitude Adjustment." It begins: "So, you are stuck taking this class and having to learn stuff that you most likely will never need. Why do you even have to take this class? I mean, it is all so unfair." After continuing in that vein for a bit, he writes, "Remember that you want to be successful. A successful person would figure out a way to use a class like this to his or her advantage. A successful person would want to take this seemingly bad situation and twist it around. A successful person would take lemons, make lemonade and sell it! So here's the silver bullet -- the secret to success -- the key to surviving this algebra thing:

It's not about the math!

You're not just in a math class!


End of blog quote - start of "are you kidding?"  I understand where the author is coming from, but this is not good!  The sentences don't link together.  Being in algebra (an exciting class) is not something "all so unfair", and it is not useless.  (Check out Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel.  Check out his video.)

Wikipedia says "Algebra  is one of the broad parts of mathematics. In its most general form algebra is the study of symbols and the rules for manipulating symbols and is a unifying thread of all of mathematics. ..Elementary algebra is essential for any study of mathematics, science, or engineering, as well as such applications as medicine and economics."  

I am going out on a limb (smile) and declaring algebra is not useless.  Moreover, we should not be complaining at all.  We should be excited about the fact that we have access to problem-solving tools and the language of science that everyone can learn and use.

(Side note: I will be blogging at length about a recent NY Times article Why do Americans Stink at Math? which you may to read now for free if you don't have an online subscription that enables you to access the article.)

Please. Yes, we often have to do things that we don't want to do, but the stated goal of algebra is not to do something you don't want to do.  Come on!  Remember, the blog author said the material being studied "won't be remembered or used beyond the final exam."

If the point of algebra is learning to succeed I suggest that is a bad way to teach how to be successful,  It is wasteful of rooms full of student/human potential and useful problem-solving skills.  I do think that an education goal is learning to succeed, but I have a better idea than doing that with Algebra. I suggest giving students some real-world problems (or find out what problems they'd like to solve to make the world better) - such as helping feed the needy in the school’s local community or addressing global human needs (food, shelter, clean water, etc). We’ve seen stories of school and student heroes who make a difference.  The highest purpose of algebra is not to help students learn to be successful, I respectfully suggest that we could do this in a way that could make the world a better place instead of earning a meaningless letter grade!

This is part of a bigger problem.  Thoughtful educators are concerned about the products of our factory-model time-based schools that are not creating leaders to solve the world's problems, or even encouraging creativity, two things we really need! Read one of Dr. Yong Zhou’s books to see how it could work.  There are many other writers, thinkers and leaders I will discuss in the weeks and months ahead.

Please. Take the student’s questions seriously, and let’s get school out of the 19th century. There are much better working models!  Why we don't have more of them in place will be the topic of future blogs.  

Meanwhile, let's take student's concerns seriously when they ask "When are we going to ever use this stuff?"  It is a great way to start student engagement and to get them owning their own education now, and for their journey of life-long learning.

Posted by marks on Monday July 28, 2014
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Google Says GPA Worthless For Hiring Purposes

I oppose academic letter grades for any purpose!  I hope they quickly go the way of all things stupid and worthless. Not everyone agrees (yet) but I think the battle is being won.

On Saturday, February 22, 2014 Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed “How to Get a Job at Google”  in the New York Times.

It begins:

“Last June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.”

If you subscribe to the New York Timses you can read the article, and find out what skills and abilities top companies are really looking for.

Since Friedman cited a Google interview last June, I found the interview and wanted to share this point (also available to NY Times subscribers):

“After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.

“Another reason is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment. One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.”

I’m done (for now)! At Delphian, we’ve know this and if you know anything about us, you’d know that we part ways with lecture-method traditional academic environments because they are both artificial and they don’t work! Delphian prides itself on its real-world approach full of lots of project-based learning, practical activities and all the parts of program that make us so unique.

Delphian grads may not choose to work at Google, but they are gaining real-world skills and abilities so they could work at Google if they wanted to, or they could start their own companies. They are getting the kind of education we need more of. Much more!

Posted by marks on Friday July 25, 2014 at 02:16PM
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What Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning is Not

When you hear proficiency mentioned when people discuss standards-based teaching and assessment that is very different than proficiency-based teaching and learning. Different.  Very different!

I have tried to clear this up before, but some are confused about standards-based teaching and performance assessments.  They get confused when the word proficiency is used in discussing that topic.

Let’s be clear.  While I am not jumping into the Common Core debate here, we do know some things.  "Proficiency" is often used as a synonym for "standards" in the context that outlines what a student should know or be able to do at each level of education. The Common Core State Standards Initiative and other standards-based initiatives are about content and measuring mastery of that content.  Common Core has standards for each grade level to check yearly progress.  These initiatives were designed to provide a way of honestly informing parents about exactly what their children know and what they can do.  It does not address how students are taught, and generally assumes students are in a factory-model school with all students “moving” at the same pace.

Why does Common Core exist?  The Common Core site says: “State education standards have been around since the early 1990s. By the early 2000s, every state had developed and adopted its own learning standards that specify what students in grades 3-8 and high school should be able to do. Every state also had its own definition of proficiency, which is the level at which a student is determined to be sufficiently educated at each grade level and upon graduation. This lack of standardization was one reason why states decided to develop the Common Core State Standards in 2009."

Got it.  I have been talking about another word for what tests measure.  One wonders what they were testing for before, if now they are testing for proficiency!   Hmmmm..

Testing for proficiency is not Proficiency-based Teaching and Learning. I advocate Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning - a whole new way of educating. A better way, a modern way. Proficiency-based teaching and learning is a very different topic.  It is about the educational process itself, shifting from a factory-model, time-based approach to a personalized learning-paced approach.

You can read my many blogs about this 21st century approach!  It also has standards or proficiencies that must be met.  What is different is that proficiency-based teaching and learning addresses a change in the educational process to a new improved model.  

Hope that helps clear up the confusion.

By the way, it is easy to follow my blogs!

Many ask how to know when I post a new blog.  Our website company (finalsite)  has made this easy.  On my blog page is a little orange rectangle with a bell that says ALERTS.  You can sign up to be notified whenever I post a new blog (or you can use the RSS Feed [orange button], if you know what that is all about).

It is easy to sign up for ALERT notification.  Click on the ALERT bell.  If you have an account on our site use your username and password and sign up for the alert.  If you don't have an account, the program  will help you easily set an account up and then help you sign up for the alert.  There is even a short video to help you.

Stay tuned for lots of good news!
Posted by marks on Wednesday July 23, 2014 at 03:49PM
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More on Learner at the Center

More on the Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet’s 2014 report Learner at the Center of a Networked World. (Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet, Learner at the Center of a Networked World, Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, June 2014.)   At their site is a great short video that summarizes the report hat I highly recommend (click here).

(You can also watch the longer video of the live Panel on the Task Force.)  I did and I learned a lot.  This group really confronted all aspects of this topic, and they were action-oriented from the beginning of their work.

I want to focus on a few notes in the Forward that bear highlighting and contemplation.

“America is at an inflection point [major change in direction of a curve] with respect to reshaping learning, teaching, institutions and indeed how we deliver these to individuals—of every age. In our country, the quality of education today will determine America’s strength in the future and help individuals secure their own prosperity. Yet, according to international tests, American students are falling farther behind their counterparts in other countries, which suggest that our 18th and 19th century model of education is not working as it should in the 21st century.”

The Washington Post used National Center of Education Statistics data in its April 28 report on high school graduation rates, reporting a high water mark of 80% of students who entered schools four years earlier graduating four years later, but noting that “disparities persist”.  Hmm.

“In many states, one-third of students from low-income families did not graduate. Black students had a 69 percent graduation rate and Hispanic students had a 73 percent rate, while 86 percent of white students and 88 percent of Asian students earned high school diplomas.  English-language learners and special-education students had below-average rates of 59 and 61 percent, respectively.

“And graduation rates varied from state to state.”

The article was about a talk by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who spoke about the 20% who did not graduate:

“Let’s talk in concrete terms about who is behind those numbers,” Duncan said. “That 20 percent represents 718,000 young people, among them a sharply disproportionate share of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans” as well as special-needs students and English-language learners, he said.

“Those students without high school diplomas face a bleak life of “poverty and misery.”

“High school graduation may have once been a finish line, but today it is just a beginning,” Duncan said, adding that the nation needs to also concentrate on college graduation rates, which have been slipping.

“A generation ago, the United States led the world in college graduation rates. But today, 11 other countries have surpassed the United States, where 43 percent of young people have a college degree, Duncan said.”

OK.  We have to do better.  We have to.  We have to do something, change something, stop doing something and start doing something else.  These are our children.  

The Aspen Report Task Force wants to provide realistic solutions, and was highly motivated to help solve this problem.  They noted:

“Manufacturing and factories which influenced subjects, teaching models and even classroom design have been replaced by an economy of creating, developing and selling across a vast array of platforms. The jobs of today, and tomorrow, will require an entirely new system of learning—online and offline, in traditional settings and in the real world, inside and outside walled classrooms.”

As many of us have been saying - the time-based factory-model school is dead.  

What I like is that “[t]his report sets forth a vision that stems from the premise that the learner needs to be at the center of novel approaches and innovative learning networks. It argues that we need to embrace innovation to create a diverse system of educational opportunities that can help each and every child reach his or her full potential. “

As many others have noted, our schools are the last institution that has resisted change, while all around us the world has changed, flattened and sped into the 21st century.  The Report Forward says it better than I could:

“New learning networks allow learners and teachers alike to connect directly to resources, people and activities. Teachers likewise will utilize networking for preparing classes, connecting to students and parents, and learning from and with other professionals. A new era is expanding the possibilities for inspiring, mentoring, assessing and credentialing learning for students of all ages. This starts with putting the focus on the student. For today’s students, learning does not start when they enter their homeroom or end when the dismissal school bell rings. Kids can attend class anytime, anywhere, in courses tailored to their own learning style, and at their own pace. We can create an education system where instead of time being the constant with learning the variable, the constant is mastery of content and the variable is time. If the opportunity for personalized learning were made available to all students—and we believe that it can be—we could realize the potential for improving academic performance for all students, substantially reducing the disparities that have long been a troubling aspect of the American educational system.”

I hope you agree with the Task Force (and me) that “[t]his is the education every student can and should receive.”
Posted by marks on Thursday July 10, 2014 at 10:02AM
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Learner at the Center - What a Great Idea!

I just read a great short article that everyone should read.  Skip my blog and read the article Tanya Roscorla wrote for the Center for Digital Education 6 Recommendations for Learning in the Digital Age. Really, stop here and click on the article. 

OK, if you are still reading, here’s what the report is all about.  The Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet issued its June 2014 report Learner at the Center of a Networked World.  (Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet, Learner at the Center of a Networked World, Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, June 2014.)

I watched the release video and read the report.  I get it.  As the article says: “[T]he central idea of this report is that learning should revolve around the student, not the institution or school.”  I’ve mentioned this a few times (smile), and I’ve blogged extensively about this, but it is always good to see it and hear it again, from yet another point of view).

On a note familiar to my readers, John Bailey, co-chair of the task force and executive director of Digital Learning Now. said “The shift to competency-based education will also take a lot of work because it requires a change in thinking and policy.”

These challenging action steps are nested under six recommendations that the task force made in its report. I want to share three of the six recommendations with you.

“1. Redesign learning environments so that students can learn anywhere, any time, at any place and at any pace.

“Public education organizations in the U.S. have traditionally dictated that learning happens in school buildings according to a set bell schedule. But today, many organizations, advocates and education leaders are pushing back on this system and emphasizing that learning can happen everywhere without limitations on time or place.”

You get the idea.  I’ve written and spoken about this a lot.  I loved that the recommended action steps include “pilot competency-based learning, share what's working in these pilots and create assessments that show student progress toward competencies.”  This is exciting to me, because I’ve been talking about this for a long time.

I loved the third recommendation.  “3. Build an infrastructure that will connect students no matter where they learn”

Luckily much of this is happening already, but there is much to be done for public school students.  The report does a good job of outlining what must be done and how best to do it.

Recommendation 4: “Ensure that digital resources can work together.”

This is really needed. Unless you’ve had a job like mine (integrating educational technology), This recommendation might seem silly.  But the report gets it right.  “With so many education technology tools on the market, schools have a hard time getting them to talk to each other…[M]any vendors focus on proprietary systems that don't work in the way that schools want to use them, which is as a suite of connected tools.”

 Why is this report important?  The Forward makes a few key points that we all need to think about if we care about the state of education and care about the future of our society - local, national or global.

“This report sets forth a vision that stems from the premise that the learner needs to be at the center of novel approaches and innovative learning networks. It argues that we need to embrace innovation to create a diverse system of educational opportunities that can help each and every child reach his or her full potential.”

As a private school advocate, I fight to preserve the widest range of educational options for families.  The US Supreme Court made it clear that “Children are not the mere creatures of the state.”  That is why I get excited when the report talks about “novel approaches and innovative learning networks” and “a diverse system of educational opportunities.”

I will discuss more of the report in my next blog, but who can disagree with the Report’s observation:

“In our country, the quality of education today will determine America’s strength in the future and help individuals secure their own prosperity.”
Posted by marks on Monday July 7, 2014 at 03:10PM
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Education and Freedom Go Together

As we prepare to celebrate freedom in the United States on the Fourth of July, it is important to remember the vital relationship between freedom and education.  It is easy to prove just how important!  

Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Just ask yourself how totalitarian governments and leaders (existing today and in the past) controlled the education and information available to the populace.  If education wasn’t so powerful, they wouldn’t spend so much time and controlling and restricting it and keeping people ignorant.  Educated people want freedom!   Freedom means the ability to make choices, and we all want freedom to make choices about our lives! 

George Washington Carver said that “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”  Remember the pamphleteers who simply wanted to educate the American colonists about their lack of freedom.  Think about Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China that sent the educated populace into the fields to work while he burned books!

Private schools are important parts of the heritage of freedom, because they allow parents to choose the educational path that is right for their children.  Schools are important keepers of the flame of freedom.  President James A. Garfield said: “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”

As we celebrate America’s independence, we have to remember that not everyone on planet earth is free.  Freedom is hard won, and today’s headlines remind us that there are those who seek to take it away.

As educators, we are bringing freedom to our students when we open their minds to new ideas and we encourage them to think for themselves..

Thomas Jefferson wrote that  “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  As educators, we have the obligation and the honor to teach students about our heritage of freedom and the duty of vigilance.

Nelson Mandela said “Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement."

Happy Fourth of July….to all freedom lovers!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Thursday July 3, 2014 at 01:46PM
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Even More Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning At College

I found  a report that I love - A ‘Disruptive’ Look at Competency-Based Education
How the Innovative Use of Technology Will Transform the College Experience (June 2012 by Louis Soares for the Center for American Progress)
.  It is impossible to summarize and it is well worth reading.  But it makes points new to this blog.

The report confronts what it will take to change from the factory-model college delivery system to various forms of competency-based education”, while respecting “ the strengths of traditional colleges and universities“.

After discussing the power of competency-based education at the college and university level and various competency-based programs in higher education, the report asks “whether these innovative learning initiatives and others like them can truly disrupt the current model of postsecondary education—a model that relies on time-based measures to structure and fund learning experiences.”

Side Note: My readers may not be familiar with Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation theory, which the report says “is when technology is applied in a way that creates a simpler, more affordable product for a new group of customers who, in most cases, were not buying (or succeeding in) the traditional offering.”  

Christensen’s written much on this powerful subject generally, and educators know of his book Disrupting Class about disruption applies to education. His thinks “[t]he way we learn doesn’t always match up with the way we are taught. If we hope to stay competitive– academically, economically, and technologically–we need to reevaluate our educational system, rethink our approach to learning, and reinvigorate our commitment to learning. In other words, we need disruptive innovation.”  He writes about what individualized education would be like.  And make no mistake - disruptive education is a good thing!

Back to the report.  Applying disruption theory to higher ed, the report notes that “[w]e are now...beginning to see alternative business models emerging that are using centralized curriculum development along with technology enablers to standardize instruction and assessment so that costs can be dramatically reduced within the business model while still providing a meaningful education experience... 

“While not strictly competency-based, these are three different technology-driven business models that are providing attractive alternatives to the traditional, campus-based postsecondary experience...

“Our analysis clearly demonstrates that competency-based education does have the potential to be a disruptive innovation in postsecondary education. Our four-element analytical lens shows that the technologies, organizational experimentation, and standards are coalescing in ways that make competency-based education a potential game changer in the delivery and affordability of postsecondary education."

This is exciting.  Others and I have been saying some of the things in the report , but I don’t run in higher ed circles.  This approach from a business and technology approach provides another useful viewpoint and route to move to competency/proficiency approaches. The transition of higher ed to proficiency/competency systems will mean higher ed will be much more familiar with, and more eager to receive, standards-based transcripts from proficiency-based K-12 schools!  It will help favorably settle any arguments about (or resistance to) proficiency-based education.  That’s exciting for both our schools and our colleges!  More important, it is important to students of all ages, who will no longer be prisoners of time and who will receive individualized and personalized educations!

Posted by marks on Tuesday July 1, 2014 at 03:27PM
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More About Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning At College

Following up on my recent blog about proficiency (competency) education in college, I found many resources about the progress being made by colleges and universities to shift away from factory-model education.  I wanted to share another one.

"What is Competency-Based Education?" is a Huffington Post blog (9/5/2012) by Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall, President of Western Governors University (WGU),  WGU is a nonprofit, competency-based, online university with more than 34,000 students and 17,000 graduates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  WGU offers more than 50 bachelor's and master's degrees in the high-demand fields of business, information technology, K-12 teacher education, and health professions, including nursing. 

I was thrilled to find that yet another college had moved from the factory to the proficiency/competency model.  I encourage you to read the entire blog.  It is wonderful.  Dr. Mendenhall writes:

"Competency-based education has become a hot topic in higher education circles these days -- it is becoming increasingly popular as the country searches for ways to improve college affordability and more accurately measure student learning..."  

This was news to me, and very exciting.  It makes it easier for K-12 schools to make the case for changing to proficiency-based teaching and learning, because colleges are doing it, and colleges will understand and welcome standards-based grades and transcripts. 

More from Dr. Mendenhall.  "While more traditional models can and often do measure competency, they are time-based -- courses last about four months, and students may advance only after they have put in the seat time. This is true even if they could have completed the coursework and passed the final exam in half the time. So, while most colleges and universities hold time requirements constant and let learning vary, competency-based learning allows us to hold learning constant and let time vary.

He continues talking about competency-based learning which " particularly ideal for the 37 million American adults with some college but no degree. It makes it possible for them to come back and complete a degree, which can mean a better job, higher earning potential, and a better life." 

"We know two things about adult learners -- they come to higher education knowing different things, and they learn at different rates. Competency-based education recognizes this reality and matches the education to the student. Unlike a one-size-fits-all approach, it allows adults to come back to college and apply what they've learned, either through formal education or their work and life experience. They can move quickly through material they already know and focus on what they still need to learn. For many, this means that they can accelerate their progress toward a degree, saving both time and money."

Mendelhall writes that this will "[f]undamentally change the faculty role. When faculty serve as lecturers, holding scheduled classes for a prescribed number of weeks, the instruction takes place at the lecturers' pace. For most students, this will be the wrong pace. Some will need to go more slowly; others will be able to move much faster. Competency-based learning shifts the role of the faculty from that of "a sage on the stage" to a "guide on the side." Faculty members work with students, guiding learning, answering questions, leading discussions, and helping students synthesize and apply knowledge."

This is very provocative idea.  This shift of the teacher's role applies to the K-12 world as well.  No student should be the prisoner of the teacher's pace of presentation and course schedule.  I'm sure many share my experiences of being bored in class after class once I "got it" while the teacher kept going over it, as well as the experiences of being totally lost and needing to slow things down while the teacher kept talking and everyone else seemed to get it.  This competency-based  approach really addresses the need for educating the individual.

I have to agree 100% with Dr. Mendenhall when he writes: 

"Implemented effectively, competency-based education can improve quality and consistency, reduce costs, shorten the time required to graduate, and provide us with true measures of student learning."

I love it!  More good news to come!


Posted by marks on Friday June 27, 2014 at 09:32AM
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Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning At College

I am giving a number of proficiency talks across the country over the next year, so I’ve been updating my research on proficiency-based teaching and learning (also called competency-based teaching and learning). I found many new resources that I want to share.

I found there are many colleges working on proficiency (competency) education.  I enjoyed a YouTube video “Overview of Competency-Based Education” by Sally Johnstone, Vice President of Academic Advancement, Western Governors University at a New American Foundation conference.

 She talked about the movement at the community college level to move to CBE (Competency-Based Education) and the progress being made to accommodate different learning styles and different learning speeds.  She talked about the shift from courses and credits to competencies, and from time-based learning to competency-based learning.  She and her colleagues have worked hard to come up with good tools for assessing student competencies without teaching to the test. They have addressed many issues and solved many problems to make it all work. As you can imagine, I got very excited, because here were higher education professionals actually doing something to improve the education of each of their students.  That’s the language she used!  It was exciting!

Here’s an excerpt from the YouTube summary:

“The past year has seen an explosion of interest in CBE [Competency-Based Education] on the part of students, institutions, employers, and policymakers. With the cost of higher education sky-rocketing, recent graduates struggling to find good jobs, and real questions about how much students are actually learning, colleges and universities are under more pressure than ever to equip students for career and life success. CBE has the potential to address a variety of the challenges facing higher education -- from cost, to relevancy, to transparency of learning outcomes -- by shifting the measure of student learning from seat time to mastery...

"While the adoption of competency-based approaches by universities such as Western Governors and Southern New Hampshire has been widely covered by the press and policy community, CBE at community colleges has received less attention, despite its close fit with the more career-focused programs at two-year institutions. In fact, for many community colleges, competencies have been at the core of their instructional design models as they strive to meet the needs of regional employers and adult learners seeking industry-recognized skills and credentials.”

I’m always asked about where is proficiency or competency-based education happening, and now you know that community colleges and four-year colleges are heading that way also (there was an "explosion of interest").  This is an education evolution that makes sense and it works!  Now you know it works at the college level!  Isn’t that great news!
Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Wednesday June 25, 2014
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Mark Siegel

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Mark Siegel

About Mark


Proficiency Resources Handout - (Google Doc) I hand this out at all of my talks 

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