The Delphian School

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 at 03:17PM
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How to Choose A College For Long-term Success in Life - You Will Be Surprised

Many students and families believe that where you go to college matters and the type of college you go to matters and affects success in life. It is easy to understand that belief. It seems reasonable. But it’s wrong.  Belief has to be based on facts; reliable research tells a different story.

Last September in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman discussed a Gallup Poll about the relationship between a college education and success in the workplace.  The poll tried to determine what things in college produced successful employees “on a fulfilling career track”.  If you had to guess what those things were, you’d probably be wrong.  I was!

“According to Brandon Busteed, the executive director of Gallup’s education division, two things stand out. Successful students had one or more teachers who were mentors and took a real interest in their aspirations, and they had an internship related to what they were learning in school.

“‘We think it’s a big deal’ where we go to college, Busteed explained to me. ‘But we found no difference in terms of type of institution you went to — public, private, selective or not — in long-term outcomes. How you got your college education mattered most.’”

Wow!  How you got your education mattered most, not where!  Public college, private college, selective college - it didn’t matter!  Whatever college was attended, the two essential elements of success were:

  1. mentors - one or more teachers were mentors

  2. internships - internships related to their studies.

You can read the study yourself; it said that where one was educated “hardly matters at all to their workplace engagement and current well-being.”  

“Only 22 percent of college grads surveyed said they had such a mentor and 29 percent had an internship where they applied what they were learning.”  This was a huge poll; Gallup “collected the voices of close to one million Americans in the past year alone.”  Gallup and Friedman are both concerned because most college students are not getting the two things that lead to success.

Part of the problem is that colleges think they are preparing students well.  “And then when you ask business leaders whether they’re getting enough college grads with the skills they need, ‘only 11 percent strongly agree.’ Concluded Busteed: ‘This is not just a skills gap. It is an understanding gap.””

Busteed wrote a related article in which he found that “ matter who you ask -- from parents to college students to the general population -- everyone agrees that the No. 1 reason to go to college is ‘to get a good job.’” He argues:

“Nothing will fix our economy more fundamentally than new business creation. And we won't get the new great American economic engine humming again until we build strong linkages among educators, employers, and entrepreneurs. Right now, we're more likely to see kids with entrepreneurial talent diagnosed as underperforming troublemakers than we are to recognize them as the next Mark Zuckerberg.

“...Perhaps the most important education-related news story of the entire year was Google -- the world's most admired brand -- announcing that it found almost no correlation between the grades and test scores of its employees and their success on the job.”

I agree with his advice on how to fix all of this:

“...Employers of all shapes and sizes can make it a core mission to offer paid and unpaid internships to high school and college students. They can also offer externships for teachers and faculty, many of whom have never been in a work environment outside schools and academia. Education leaders of all kinds must recognize that their job is to foster teacher and faculty engagement, not just student engagement. Engaged teachers and faculty in turn engage students. Educators everywhere must look for ways to align their curriculum with long-term projects that apply the classroom to real problems.”

The Delphian School emphasizes project-based learning, internships and apprenticeships; it has great student-teacher mentorships.  We do what many colleges don’t.  But colleges and schools like ours are the exception, not the rule.  

The main takeaway for my students and their families, and anyone else who will listen, is to choose a college, not for the big name or high ranking, but to choose a college that has many teachers who are actually mentoring students AND that has lots of career internships. Sorry if that changes your plans!

Posted by marks on Monday July 20 at 09:40AM
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Ken Robinson and Bill Gates Share A Viewpoint About High School

Sir Kenneth Robinson’s new book is Creative Schools - The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education.  Robinson is brilliant, and this is a “must read”.  I’m not done with it yet because every time I pick it up and read it, my mind explodes (in a good way) and I have to think about what he’s said. Then I pick up the book a few days later and the same thing happens. I also listen to his talks and interviews which are equally stimulating. I recommend them all.  He is an excellent communicator, he is logical and persuasive, and he is fun to listen to. I particularly want to share excerpts from the book’s introduction that really help orient us to what we have done right in education and what we need to do to improve and transform it.

He writes, “When you look at what goes on in many schools, when you listen to what many parents expect of and for their children, when you consider what so many policymakers around the world are actually doing, it seems that they really believe that the current systems of education are basically sound; they’re just not working as well as they should because standards have fallen….This story is a dangerous myth." 

We’ve seen this myth perpetuated in reforms that just try to teach reading better, math better, science better - but still in a system that was not designed to educate all children fully and completely.  We’ve seen this myth perpetuated in all kinds of funding requests - more money for teachers, more money for facilities, more money for ……!

In 2005 Bill Gates spoke at the National Education Summit on High Schools.  He acknowledged the good things our schools have done.  “Let’s be clear. Thanks to dedicated teachers and principals around the country, the best-educated kids in the United States are the best-educated kids in the world. We should be proud of that.”

He follows that with a caveat: “But only a fraction of our kids are getting the best education.”  

Gates said:

“America’s high schools are obsolete.  

“By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.

“By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

“Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It’s the wrong tool for the times.

“Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age.  Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.

“Today, only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.  

“The other two-thirds, most of them low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won’t ever get them ready for college or prepare them for a family-wage job – no matter how well the students learn or the teachers teach.  

“This isn’t an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system….”

Gates and Robinson are in sync. Robinson notes that our current systems were developed “in large part to meet the labor needs of the Industrial Revolution and they are organized on the principles of mass production.

“The old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind.  Improving them by raising conventional standards will not meet the challenges we now face.”

Robinson also notes the good that our schools have done. “Don’t mistake me. I’m not suggesting that all schools are terrible or that the whole system is a mess.  Of course not.  Public education has benefited millions of people in all sorts of ways, including me.  I could not have had the life I’ve had but for the free public education I received in England. Growing up in a large working-class family in 1950’s Liverpool, my life could have gone in a completely different direction. Education opened my mind to the world around me and gave me the foundations on which I’ve created my life.

“For countless others, public education has been the path to personal fulfillment or the route out of poverty and disadvantage.  Numerous people have succeeded in the system and done well by it.  It would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise.  But far too many have not benefited as they should have from the long years of public education. The success of those who do well in the system comes at a high price for the many who do not... Too often, those who are succeeding are doing so in spite of the dominant culture of education, not because of it.

“The great irony in the current malaise in education is that we actually know what works.  We just don’t do it on a wide enough scale...We now have unlimited opportunities to engage young people’s imaginations and to provide forms of teaching and learning that are highly customized to them.”

Our schools are obsolete.  The solution is to change the operating system to a personalized, customized approach - call it “proficiency”, or “competency” or “mastery”.  It requires a shift from the factory model where time was the constant and learning was the variable.  Learning must be the constant and time must be the variable.

Gates and Robinson both know that the system is mythical and obsolete.  Robinson is right.  “We now have unlimited opportunities to engage young people’s imaginations and to provide forms of teaching and learning that are highly customized to them.”  Gates knows better than anyone that technology can help in that personalization and customization.

Let’s just acknowledge that the traditional system doesn’t work, and that we do know what works.  I quoted Jaime Robles from the Lindsay School District in a recent blog, and it bears repeating. “We recognize it’s not the only way to do it, however we believe performance-based education is the right thing to do.”  Let’s do the right thing for all of our children...and for our future.
Posted by marks on Thursday July 16 at 09:51AM
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Proficiency Groups, Resources, and Making Students Navigators of Learning!

One of the many groups working on proficiency-based education is the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL,  They support “competency education”, and explain that “competencies are defined by explicit learning objectives that empower students. Students receive timely, differentiated support, and they advance by demonstrating evidence with meaningful assessments via mastery, not seat time.”  

iNACOL supports Personalized Education - which “opens student pathways, optimizes instruction, and encourages student voice and choice in their education. Data-rich personal learning plans inform student-centered instruction and progression upon mastery.”

iNACOL is the lead organization of CompetencyWorks ( “CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system….CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.”

I outlined this because I want to share lots of news from this group and I wanted everyone to know where this was all coming from.  They have many great articles, and I want to start with one that gives more insight into why academic letter grades should get an F (smile).
Article author Bill Zima is the principal of Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine.  He wrote Learners Rule: Giving them a voice improves the culture of their classroom. On January 8, 2015 he wrote “Navigators of Learning” and you should read the entire article.  Here are some key points that I really like.

“Giving students a letter grade is not a strategy for improvement. It is as helpful as a coach telling a team they lost without reflecting on why the loss occurred. Athletes know the goal of the game is to win, and reminding them of this is not a strategy.”  

His article has many sports analogies and examples, because teachers need to follow successful coaches who use information about team performance to develop strategies on how to improve weak areas.  “Teachers need to do the same. We cannot simply give students a final grade when they are not even sure what strategies they can use to improve – or worse, aren’t even clear on what they are trying to improve. A well-crafted progression of competencies can give the teacher and the student the guidebook needed to create successful strategies for continuous improvement.”  Not news to those familiar with the Delphian School program.

Zima says that educators, “need to make the learning visible so students can see their growth. We need to give students clear targets based on where they are starting and provide feedback on how they are doing at meeting those targets.” Again, Delphian has been doing this for 40 years.

At Zima’s school they use the Applied Learning Model. “We want students to apply the knowledge – not simply be assessed for it.”  They begin with an activity that illuminates “the gap between what the student knows and what the student needs to know to make sense of what they just saw.”  Then they “introduce the learning targets for the unit and the driving question that needs to be answered in the final product.”

Because teachers are “navigators of learning”, their “role isn’t to march students to their destinations, but to provide the feedback they need to get there themselves... Nothing works for all students. But if we know where we need to get them, it makes it easier to guide them when they are ready. Clear targets that are offered in a well-crafted progression, embedded in engaging units to capture their attention, and designed so we can assess, gather evidence, and provide strategic steps for improvement are key in avoiding the pitfall of students being unclear as to why they are in school.”  

At Delphian, all of our students know why they are here and what they are doing.  It is wonderful seeing others addressing this problem. Wouldn’t it be great If all students knew why they were in school...and that they were navigators of their education and their destiny?

Posted by marks on Monday July 13 at 10:24AM
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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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