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KS Needs More $$$ for Schools

December 31, 2014 Leave a comment

In earlier posts I wrote about KS failure to provide enough funding to ensure equitable opportunities for students raised in poverty… and as hoped (by those who favor funding reform as opposed to privatization) the a State court panel yesterday determined that the legislature was not providing sufficient funding to make it possible for the equalization funding formula to achieve its results.

As is often the case in these suits, however, it will be some time before the districts serving children raised in poverty see a dime of the funds they need. Why? “…because the state is expected to appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court.” In the kinds of excruciating procedures that often surround these cases, this will be the second time the Kansas Supreme Court heard this case after the second time around for the three-judge Shawnee State Court panel. Wha-a-a-?:

This same three-judge panel ruled last year that lawmakers needed to inject an additional $440 million of annual school funding to meet the constitutionally acceptable base state aid. But the state’s Supreme Court sent the issue back to the district court, saying that it needed to reconsider whether total funding was adequate using a different legal standard.

But even if the court rules in favor of the three-judge panel, Governor Brownback has a workaround: he intends to introduce legislation to change to the funding formula. This runaround isn’t fooling the districts who brought the suit:

“The formula’s fine,” said John S. Robb, one of the lawyers representing the school districts and individuals suing the state in the lawsuit, Gannon v. Kansas. “But you got to fund it. You got to fund whatever you do. They did not find the formula was wrong. So Brownback’s trying to fix something that’s not broken.”

But as it is currently constituted, KS’s legislature will never fund public education to the levels required to provide equity… a fact that should infuriate voters in the districts being shortchanged especially given the deep tax cuts the state is providing to corporations on the theory that these cost will stimulate the expansion of jobs which, in turn, will provide more revenues into the state coffers. But here’s the reality: the trickle down theory works even worse at the state level than at the federal level… and an entire generation of students raised in poverty in KS, NJ, and WI will suffer as a result of the leadership’s refusal to implement the decisions made by their state judiciaries.

CBE Part VII: New Technology and New Skills Required

December 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

What support systems — people and technology — need to be in place for schools to successfully move to CBE? What other frameworks need to be in place to promote a “progressive” CBE?

CBE schools may not require additional staff… but… CBE schools WILL require the re-deployment of existing staff at all levels. As noted in earlier posts, in CBE schools students will not be assigned to “classes” in age-based “grades”. Instead of having a sequence of “grade-level” teachers or content area teachers, CBE students will be assigned to an academic advisor-coach who would follow their progress through the mastery of fundamental competencies (i.e. what is currently expected of students leaving eighth grade). While this kind of extended advisor-coach relationship is uncommon in public education, it is typical in Waldorf Schools where an age cohort of students is instructed by a single teacher through eighth grade. In such an arrangement student progress more anecdotal and not wholly determined by test results and, most importantly, the student and parent have a sustained relationship with an individual who gets to know a student well. This requires a different skill set than the factory school teacher: it values nurturance and developmental psychology over knowledge of a specific skill and test construction and administration.

In order to provide the kind of asynchronous learning described in earlier posts, CBE schools would require broadband access in all student and teacher residences and would require an airtight student information systems that ensure confidentiality between the student and academic advisor-coach and/or between the academic advisor-coach and parent. Many teachers and parents are rightfully concerned about the sharing of data with for-profit enterprises, yet the pushback against the mandated data management systems in the health area has been minimal. The CBE data management system described above, where the information is not shared with for-profit enterprises, is analogous to the way a pediatrician or other health professional stores and shares information with parents, patients (e.g. children) and other health professionals. If we can entrust health information with medical personnel of all educational backgrounds, we should be open to doing the same when it comes to educators and related service providers. An essay I wrote several years ago, A Homeland Security Bill for Education, describes how interagency communication might facilitate learning for students who are part of the social service web. In the intervening years since the publication of that article the capability of data sharing has increased but the interagency firewalls remain in place.

CBE Part VI: Time is Variable, Mastery of Skills is Constant

December 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

While CBE promises to change things like “seat time,” does it necessarily change other traditional outcomes of school? Is it still focused, for example, on the things that are “measurable”?

Assessment necessarily requires some kind of measurement… but MASTERY assessment tends to be binary. Thus, CBE schools will not rank students using the current system of “grades” that presumably indicate the percentage of information a student has mastered. Nor will CBE schools compare students to other age peers in “grade level” cohorts based on their rate-of-speed of learning. Instead CBE schools will provide each student with individual feedback on the progress they are making in achieving the fundamental competencies identified in the NCC and/or those set forth by post secondary institutions or employers.

As noted in previous posts, students would be expected to demonstrate mastery of “soft skills” like attract thinking and interpersonal skills. Students would demonstrate mastery of these skills by exhibiting them to the satisfaction of their advisor-coach and/or peers.

 

In CBE schools, time will be variable and the attainment of mastery will be constant… not the other way around.

CBE Part V: Student Engagement Through Assessment

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

Can students be engaged in determining “competencies”? How might CBE help give students more responsibility?

Student involvement in the determination of competencies would likely occur in the development of the screening assessments at some post-secondary institutions. For example, given their current ethos colleges like Evergreen, Hampshire, and Bard might engage their current students in such a process and some progressive employers might use recent entrants to their workplace help them devise screening assessments as well.

As noted in an earlier post, CBE schools would engage students and increase their responsibility by including them in the assessment process for determining mastery of “soft skills” and thinking skills. Just as the best employee evaluation systems incorporate peer review, CBE assessments would incorporate student reviewers on the panels that determine mastery of abstract and interpersonal competencies. This would reinforce the skills the students mastered earlier and increase their level of responsibility within the CBE school.

CBE IV: Writing the New Common Core and Assessments

December 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

To repeat an earlier question, what is “competency”? Who decides? How is it different from current assessment decisions? (Is it?)

The development and defining of “competencies” and the means of assessing the mastery of “fundamental knowledge” (i.e. what is currently expected of students leaving eighth grade) would be determined by the teams developing the New Common Core (NCC). Ideally, robust state departments of education would develop the NCC using teams of classroom teachers, post-secondary content experts, and government funded psychometric consultants to assist them. In some instances, states might create alliances to accomplish this task… but under no circumstances should the NCC be developed through private funding or by for-profit corporations. The content required for the “fundamental knowledge” modules should be developed solely by educators and reviewed and adopted by democratically elected oversight board.

As students decide what direction they want to head after they demonstrate mastery of the “fundamental knowledge”, post-secondary institutions and businesses would define the competencies and assessments required for entry and students would need to demonstrate mastery to their satisfaction. There would be no time limit imposed on the attainment of these competencies.

College NOT for Everyone

December 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the NYTimes ran an article lamenting the lack of guidance counselors in public schools, noting that the shortage of counselors makes it difficult for students to get their college application materials filed on time and creating a huge workload for counselors at this time of year. Here’s a comment I posted in response to this article, which overlooks the need for counselors for NON-college bound students:

This article focuses on only one role of counseling, which is helping students prepare for college. As one who worked for nearly two decades in school districts where a majority of students did not go to college I believe that we neglect the needs of students who are NOT going on to post-secondary schools and, as a result, we have many young adults who find it difficult to transition into the workforce. As much as NYTimes readers and politicians want to believe otherwise, college is NOT for everyone and the HS students who do not want to continue their education need as much help as those seeking entry into elite colleges.

Several years ago a monograph titled The Forgotten Half described the way the non-college-bond students feel in school…. invisible, neglected, and left out. If we want to make high school relevant and meaningful for all students we should take some steps to celebrate the accomplishments of NON-college bound students, pay more attention to their needs, and make certain every high school includes activities that makes them feel included.

CBE Part III: Skill Modules or the New Common Core

December 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

How might CBE’s emphasis on the “modularity” of skills shape teaching and learning? What does it mean to see knowledge as “modular” in this way? Does this mean that knowledge is seen as static? As decontextualized? Or only contextualized through a certain “order” of skills?

Yesterday’s post suggested that instruction in factual and hierarchical information would be provided asynchronously though computer technology and in classroom dialogue sessions facilitated by advisor-coaches. This “fundamental knowledge” required that students must master (i.e. what is currently expected of students leaving eighth grade) will become the New Common Core (NCC). Many critics decry the current Common Core, yet the practical reality is that before the Common Core was defined at a national level textbook companies and/or populous states with state-wide adoption textbook adoption policies defined a de facto “common core”… and that de facto “common core” was not based on research or the collective wisdom of teachers. The de facto “common core” it was based on content that would promote the widespread sales of textbooks which, in turn, created an environment where texts would embrace the latest fads sweeping the nation. This created a planned obsolescence of instructional methodology which, in turn, created a periodic demand for shiny new textbooks. Future posts will describe how the NCC is developed

In a CBE school, instruction that requires drill and memorization (e.g. times tables, phonics, some mathematical algorithms, etc.) would be decontextualized. Most of the  “fundamental knowledge”, though, would be presented in a context that helps students understand it’s relevance. As a student progresses and determines the direction they intend to head after their fundamental CBE instruction is completed virtually all of the instruction will be contextualized based on the skill modules developed by either higher education institutions or businesses.