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Fix, Don’t Discard MCAS/PARCC

This fall I had one on one conversations with many of our state's leaders and experts on the misplaced opposition to testing in gen...

Monday, September 3, 2018

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer HD

Apr 19, 2018
There’s growing recognition today of a huge problem slowing innovation in personalized learning: we don’t have a clear pipeline for preparing and developing personalized learning teachers. Although many aspects of teaching translate across personalized and traditional settings, the schools driving personalized learning forward often find that their teachers need some additional skills and mindset shifts that they just don’t pick up in traditional teacher preparation.
The solution, as many funders, experts, and school leaders see it, is collective action. They talk of bringing together a diverse array of stakeholders to define a common set of educator competencies and then working with established teacher education programs to create new pathways for developing next-generation educators.
On the surface this approach makes sense; no single organization today has the scale to impact all of K–12 education. But if we look to how innovation problems have played out in other sectors, it’s clear that the “collective action” approach will likely flounder at creating the pipeline of excellent personalized learning teachers that the field needs.
The collaborative approach.  A close analogy is the problem that the computer industry wrestled with when trying to launch touch-screen devices. Today everyone knows the story of how Apple created an entirely new product category with the iPad. What’s less known, however, is that PC makers tried for roughly a decade ahead of Apple to launch mobile tablets. So why did the PC makers flounder and Apple succeed? The answer is multifaceted, but innovation theory makes clear that “collaboration” was a major hindrance to success.
PC makers, like many education thought leaders today, tried developing something new with an ecosystem of partner organizations. No one company had enough scale across PC components to make a complete touch screen device, so companies like HP and Lenovo worked on the overall hardware architecture; Microsoft made the operating system; and a host of other companies supplied the central processors, hard drives, etc. These companies thought they had everything they needed to make a successful mobile tablet: the core components and specifications were basically the same as the desktop and laptop machines they had built together in the past; the new devices just needed to be compact and touch compatible.
A restricted design.  But the devil was in the details. No one really knew how to design a great mobile tablet because it had never been done before. Getting the form factor just right in order to nail what customers needed meant making important tradeoffs between interdependent components—things like processing speed, weight, software compatibility, and cost. However, with all the companies relying on predetermined standards and specifications to define how the interdependent components would work together, no one had the design freedom to experiment with all the important feature tradeoffs to get the user experience just right. In other words, the ability to continue innovating on the overall design of the devices was ultimately sacrificed for the common set of group-determined design goals. Yet this freedom to test and experiment with new designs was critical for early innovation, since no one had yet proven how to design a great tablet.
The result: devices born of these partnerships came to market, but they never gained much traction beyond tech enthusiasts. They were too heavy to carry comfortably in one hand, their screen buttons and menus didn’t work very well with fingers, and their battery life didn’t last very long when they were untethered from a power cord. As can be seen in this example, the supplier partnerships that worked well for building laptops actually held back efforts to create great tablets.
An explanation in Modularity Theory.  Clayton Christensen’s Modularity Theory illustrates one important reason why the PC makers’ approach proved less effective. According to the theory, when new innovations are still stretching to meet our expectations, the best strategy for pushing a product’s performance forward is for a single entity to control all the interdependent pieces of the solution (e.g. the processor, screen, memory, and operating system) that affect performance. Only by doing this, can innovators gain the degrees of freedom they need to tinker with the interdependent components of a solution to meet customers’ expectations. If a single PC component supplier had integrated its business across all the interdependent parts of a mobile tablet it would have been better able to meet customers’ needs.
Hopefully, those working to develop teacher pipelines for personalized learning don’t make the same mistake. Although we have a rough idea of the instructional models, teaching practices, and educator mindsets and skills (i.e. interdependent components) we want teachers of the future to have, we’re still a ways off from having clear and reliable blueprints for effective personalized teaching and learning. Given this current reality, there’s little chance any collaborative group of stakeholders is going to collectively develop clear and common standards for defining the teacher of the future at this stage in the field’s development.
Potential solutions.  So, what should personalized-learning proponents do instead? Given where education is at as a field, the best solutions are going to come from integration. Rather than working to build consensus on common educator competencies and form partnerships with established teacher education programs, the field should focus on supporting leading innovators, like Summit or Lindsay Unified, in developing their own integrated talent pipelines to meet the needs of their particular contexts and instructional models.
This integrated approach is not without precedent in the education space. A decade ago, when a few equity-focused charter school networks in New York City found that traditional teacher preparation programs weren’t preparing teachers in line with their instructional philosophies and approaches, they launched their own teacher preparation program, which went on to become the Relay Graduate School of Education. Now with sites in 14 different metropolitan areas, Relay provides a unique, practice-oriented approach to teacher preparation, and its graduates go on to work across the district and charter landscape. In a parallel fashion, I can imagine Summit’s teacher residency, or something like it, becoming for personalized learning schools what Relay is for equity-focused schools.
The tale of touch-screen tablets also bears testament to the wisdom of an integrated approach. By engineering the iPad from end to end, Apple could be more strategic about tradeoffs between various design decisions in order to make sure it could deliver the optimal user experience. 
Lastly, for those worried about the need for partnerships in order to reach scale, Modularity Theory also offers hope. The theory predicts that modular, partnership-based solutions can eventually work—and may well dominate—once the integrated innovators pave the way. For example, Android and Windows tablets—whose components come from multiple suppliers—have gained substantial shares of the mobile device market today; they just needed Apple to first show the world how a good tablet should be made.
When it comes to training personalized learning teachers, modular “partnership” options will have only mediocre success until a single organization with an integrated solution proves how to do personalized learning and teacher development really well. Thus the better strategy, at least for now, is to put our bets on integrated solutions.

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Champlain Valley Union (CVU) High School in Hinesburg, Vermont, just outside of Burlington.  CVU serves five feeder districts, each with their own middle school. It's a big school for Vermont with 1200+ kids, but midsize for other states. The student population is economically mixed and racially homogeneous.  

Nothing in the outside architecture appears remarkable when entering the school.  Inside, like other schools, there are adults who great guests and check on kids and a normal front office that issued guest stickers to each of us and sent us to meet our student guides who took us around the school and helped connect us with teachers and other students.  What I saw was a school that has made the transition from old learning models to the new.  I saw personalized, competency-based learning and deeper, applied learning

While I have met many teachers who generate those two principles into their teaching, those that teacher in district public schools are often held captive by two systems relics from the industrial past which hold most good teachers back from real reform: (1) Antiquated daily school schedule and (2) Antiquated assessments and report cards.  CVU is the first high school I have visited that appears to have evolved those two relics into new systems that better support all kids and better prepare kids for their futures.

#1 System Improvement -- Schedule.  How kids and teachers spend time is a primary measure of the school’s values. The CVU schedule splits 8 blocks over two alternating days.  As a result, kids get more choices and longer class blocks. The school has a relaxed, not frenetic feel. The kids voted a gentle gong as their school bell to mark changes in classes.

9th graders are split into four even, heterogeneous groups of two classes each, paired with two humanities and two STEM teachers to work with each group.  Teachers work collaboratively in teams, at times starting with two combined classes and then one teacher working more intensely with small pull-out groups.
Each student can select two electives which included:
  • Extensive STEM and design labs
  • Strong school support for internships and co-ops
  • A personalized learning class called Nexus where students are supervised while they pursue independent and small-group projects
  • A class called Think Tank in which kids actively studied education reform and participated directly in the school design

Some of the kid's stories:
  • I talked to one girl in 10th grade, real working class, who got an internship in 9th grade to explore auto mechanics.  She tried it and did not like it. That year she began to pursue animal husbandry and worked to lead a team of older students to build a movable goat house and fencing system to let goats graze the landscape.
  • Another bookish girl talked about how she used Nexus to pursue independent study of the psychology that made some Germans support Nazis and some resist instead of taking 9th-grade social studies.
  • A confident boy in 12th grade talked about the video production business he started that year with two friends.  The school supported them with community mentors. While the other two go off to college next year, he is going to work full time on growing the business while his friends find new clients in the cities where they will attend college.  He plans to join them one year later.
  • A quiet girl in 12th grade who said she was always good in science but did not know she wanted to be a scientist until the school arranged for her to do a project with a local university professor.  She said that she saw the professor as much more knowledgeable and experienced, but not fundamentally different from her and she now is ready to pursue science vigorously in college.
  • A brainy boy shared that he had completed his 3rd year of calculus and had built his first self-learning software in the Nexus class.  A testified in the Vermont legislature on legislation that is putting in place a commission to explore the ethical issues that will come from AI.

#2 System Improvement -- Assessment.  The second most important system improvement I saw at CVU was teachers’ use of assessment.  The school has clear, common learning targets which explicit, commonly understood and practiced expectations for what 1) begins; 2) approaches, 3) meets; 4) exceeds the target. Teacher feedback to the student in writing and in person was personalized and constructive.   

Teachers use the software JumpRope to maintain progress towards learning targets.  

Growth mindset.  Amazingly, everyone in the school, teacher, and student spoke of “formatives” and “summatives” and understood that low performance in summative assessments would be “replaced” in the gradebook by better summative results.

While child.  I heard the term “check-in” from both students and teachers for the process in which a student and a teacher would talk about their work and get guidance. “Check-ins’ appears to have an important role in the familiarity the teachers showed for whole child development.

Quality human interactions.  Most importantly, the school had a culture of human interaction that seemed familial, not bureaucratic or institutional.  The students in the school seemed to be genuinely known by the educators and demonstrated a mature understanding of their immediate, post-HS plans.  The combination of skills, applied skills, and experiences they were getting at school is preparing them for the dynamic world they will find.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

When Learning is Paramount, New Models Emerge

Medical students are skipping class in droves — and making lectures increasingly obsolete
Future doctors are skipping class in droves and making lectures increasingly obsolete

Harvard Medical School’s curriculum changed to meet new demands in 2015.

By Orly Nadell Farber, STAT
The future doctors of America cut class. Not to gossip in the bathroom or flirt behind the bleachers. They skip to learn — at twice the speed.

Some medical students follow along with class remotely, watching sped-up recordings of their professors at home, in their pajamas. Others rarely tune in. At one school, attendance is so bad that a Nobel laureate recently lectured to mostly empty seats.

Nationally, nearly one-quarter of second-year medical students reported last year that they “almost never’’ attended class during their first two, preclinical years, a 5 percent increase from 2015.

The AWOL students highlight increasing dissatisfaction and anxiety that there’s a mismatch between what they’re taught in class during those years and what they’re expected to know — or how they’re tested — on national licensing exams. Despite paying nearly $60,000 a year in tuition, medical students are turning to unsanctioned online resources to prepare for Step 1, the make-or-break test typically taken at the end of the preclinical years.

These self-guided med students are akin to a group of American tourists wandering through Tokyo without a map. Like a tour guide hired on the street, the online learning tools — including memory aids, videos, and online quizzes — can enhance the educational journey, or send the students down a dead end.

Lawrence Wang, a third-year M.D.-Ph.D. student at the University of California, San Diego, and the National Institutes of Health, said he relied heavily on these resources during his first two years of medical school.

“There were times that I didn’t go to a single class, and then I’d get to the actual exam and it would be my first time seeing the professor,’’ he said. “Especially, when Step was coming up, I pretty much completely focused on studying outside materials.’’

Wang isn’t alone. According to 2017 data from the Association for American Medical Colleges, 1 in 4 preclinical students watches educational videos — like those on YouTube — on a daily basis. And according to two video developers, tens of thousands of medical students subscribe to their products — one of which costs $250 for two years, the other $370 for one year.

Leaders in medical education have begun to scramble. Some medical schools, like Harvard, have done away with lectures for the most part. Instead of spending hours in an auditorium, Harvard students learn the course content at home and then apply the knowledge in mandatory small group sessions.

Other institutions, like Johns Hopkins, are moving in the same direction, but have yet to make a full switch. Hopkins cut down on lectures and boosted sessions that require active student participation. Preclinical lecture attendance hovers around 30 to 40 percent, according to Dr. Nancy Hueppchen, associate dean for curriculum.

For many students, she said, licensing exam prep begins on day one of medical school: “They have this parallel curriculum going along with what we’re teaching them.’’

Step 1, an eight-hour multiple choice test, is a big deal. Performance on the exam, though it’s taken before most students even begin training in a hospital, heavily influences which medical specialties they can eventually pursue after school and at what hospitals they can pursue them.

With medical schools grading pass-fail, the Step 1 score is an increasingly significant piece of information that’s used to sort through residency applications, Hueppchen said. When she took the exam, it was only used as a pass-fail test. Today, residency programs rely on the score more heavily; students and faculty suspect that it’s used as a cutoff for making admissions decisions.

Ryan Carlson, a third-year M.D.-Ph.D. student at the University of Washington, said that his school focused on teaching “what they thought was important for a physician to know.’’ But medical students have to know more than what is relevant to a practicing clinician to succeed on Step. The exam focuses on rare diseases and other minutiae, said Carlson, who now tutors for the test.

Hueppchen acknowledged that students at Hopkins and elsewhere “express some distrust that they’re getting everything they need — or that we’re being meticulous in pointing out what they need — to study for and excel on the Step 1 exam.’’


That distrust has spawned a cottage industry of online study aids. Most are a far cry from your high school SAT prep course.

SketchyMedical is one of the most popular guides. The company, built in 2013 by three then-medical students at the University of California, Irvine, produces visual memory aids with elaborate illustrations to help students learn and retain the voluminous material they’re expected to know.

Dr. Andrew Berg and his co-founders, Drs. Saud Siddiqui and Bryan Lemieux, started sketching pictures and pairing them with stories while taking microbiology in their second year of medical school.

“We were just bombarded with different names of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and we were having a tough time keeping them all straight,’’ he said.

The sketches helped them, and now other students are using them, too.

Imagine it’s test day and a med student is asked which drug she would use to treat a patient’s postoperative gastrointestinal blockage. The student closes her eyes and mentally enters the world of “Acetyl-Cola,’’ a bustling port town that’s depicted in one of SketchyMedical’s cartoons. Outside a storefront, the student finds construction workers, motorcyclists wearing brain-shaped helmets, piles of dripping-wet fish, and a man sporting an adrenal gland-shaped beanie.

A colon-shaped mixing truck pouring out cement is an unfortunate, but effective, symbol for defecation, and a worker wearing a name tag reading “Beth’’ and drinking a cola reminds the student of the drug bethanechol, given to treat intestinal obstructions.

The illustrations are turned into narrated videos, which teach drug names and their mechanisms and side effects. SketchyMedical has also produced videos on microbiology and pathology.

Berg compares the work of Sketchy to hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt. But for many, Sketchy evokes a different technique used a thousand years later in ancient Greece: method of loci, also called a memory palace or journey.

Memory palaces are typically imagined spaces in which a person can store information like a string of numbers or a series of words. Each piece of information is placed somewhere inside the palace. When the palace builder wants to recall an item, she can take a mental stroll through the space to retrieve it. This technique famously enabled Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher, to commit his speeches to memory.

“We accidentally stumbled upon these visual learning techniques, but now looking back we see there’s a lot of evidence supporting visual learning,’’ Berg said.

SketchyMedical is not the only extracurricular resource students rely on. An entire industry cropped up in the last few years, marketing videos and self-quizzing features to preclinical students. Dr. Jason Ryan, the creator of Boards and Beyond, is a name (and voice) familiar to medical students across the country.

Ryan, a faculty member at University of Connecticut School of Medicine, creates explanatory videos that track along with the content in First Aid, a Step preparatory book that Ryan said is more like “an encyclopedia of terms’’ than a real study aid. Ask any medical student if they use First Aid, and they’ll point you to their heavily annotated, tattered copy.

While both Ryan and Berg consider their products supplements to regular medical education, many students view them as necessary investments for success. Choosing which ones to use can be a challenge, however.

“That was the biggest learning curve of med school — it wasn’t so much how do I do well in it, it was, how do I use all these crazy resources that are being marketed to me to best meet my goal of passing Step,’’ Carlson said.


This expanding corner of the medical education industry is both a product of a new attitude among students — born from anxiety surrounding exam prep — and a disrupter of the traditional classroom education. Med schools now have to think more creatively about how they train their future doctors, Berg said.

In 2015, Harvard Medical School revamped its curriculum for the first two years to enable clinical exposure and boost class attendance with a flipped-classroom model: Students learn the content at home, and then apply it during in-class exercises. Dr. Richard Schwartzstein, director of education scholarship, said the program now emphasizes problem-solving and critical thinking — skills seen as essential to practicing medicine — instead of factual recall.

But while medical schools are de-emphasizing pure memorization, the national licensing exams have yet to reconsider, he acknowledged. Still, Schwartzstein is not a huge fan of external resources, citing their focus on memorization and pattern recognition as major weaknesses.

“You don’t have to actually teach pattern recognition,’’ he said. “We all are born with the capability of recognizing pattern.’’ He advises students to stick to Harvard-developed videos and their recommended readings. Like many medical schools, Harvard gives students a dedicated study period — six to eight weeks without coursework — to “prepare in whatever way they deem most appropriate to take the boards,’’ he said.

Hueppchen said that the outside resources “may have value in day-to-day studying, they may have value in studying for Step 1,’’ but Hopkins has not vetted them so it doesn’t recommend them to students either.

The National Board of Medical Examiners, which works with state medical boards to set the minimum standards for medical licensing and administers the Step exam, also doesn’t endorse these products — or their use as hard lines for residency admissions, said Dr. Michael Barone, vice president of licensure programs. The group “is aware of some secondary uses of scores,’’ he said, but the test’s primary purpose is to report licensure alone.

So long as Step still requires intensive rote memorization, companies like SketchyMedical and Boards and Beyond will likely remain in business.

Both Berg and Ryan agree that physicians no longer need to memorize as much as they did in the past. Ryan’s grandmother was one of the first female physicians to graduate from her medical school in the 1940s. Back then, he said, she had to remember everything. “If she had to go to a book every time she saw a patient, she’d never be able to work through the day.’’

Today, there’s much more to know, and medicine is evolving so rapidly that physicians can’t possibly remember it all. Instead, they look information up on their cellphones, using a variety of apps on the clinic floors. But preclinical students still need to commit board-tested material to memory, a task often compared to drinking from a firehose.

Needing to memorize for boards and learn in parallel for their institutions is the breeding ground for anxiety that Hueppchen said “has truly detracted from the joy of learning.’’ It has even detracted from the joy of teaching, she added.

Berg said he tries to bring joy to memorization: “I think that what I hope to contribute the most is making studying more fun.’’

Orly Nadell Farber is a reporting intern at STAT, where a version of this article first appeared.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Michael Horn on G+L vs CBE

Let’s retire the ‘gifted-and-talented’ label

Aug 9, 2018
Earlier this year the Fordham Institute wrote about the challenge of the gifted gap in our nation’s schools. Put simply, gifted students from disadvantaged backgrounds too often are not identified as gifted, which causes them to lose out on access to a variety of gifted-and-talented programs at their local schools that could accelerate their development and social and economic opportunities.
The report’s authors offer seemingly three solid recommendations toward this end—universal screening for gifted students; identification of gifted students within each school, not just district-wide; and active efforts to counter bias.
Those make sense if we assume gifted programs are a good idea. But in a day and age where we can move past our factory-model schools and personalize learning for all students, such that students can move at their own pace and not grow bored or disengaged and can dive deep into areas of passion, should schools be in the business of placing labels on students designed to sort them?
Count me as unconvinced.
In 2010, a fifth-grade student named Jack (his name is disguised) started the year at the bottom of his class in math at Santa Rita Elementary School in the Los Altos School District in California. I visited the class several times during the year. Jack had struggled to keep up in math and grew to consider himself one of those kids who would just never quite ‘‘get it.’’ In a typical school, he would have been tracked and placed in the bottom math group—and he certainly would not have been considered a “gifted” student. That would have meant that he would not have taken Algebra until high school, which would have negatively impacted his college and career choices.
But Jack’s story took a less familiar turn. His school transformed his class into a “blended-learning” environment to personalize the learning. After 70 days of using Khan Academy’s online math tutorials and exercises for a portion of his math three to four days a week, rather than remaining tracked in the bottom math group, Jack rose to become one of the top four students in his class. He was working on material well above grade level.
The reality was that Jack had just missed some mathematical concepts in much earlier grades that continued to haunt him. When he had the opportunity to revisit those concepts and master them, several of his misunderstandings disappeared. Jack started to soar.
The traditional system would never have been able to reach Jack. Its treatment of students like him amount to educational malpractice, even though we do not call it so. Labeling other kids as gifted would have damaged Jack’s ability to make progress, both because of his self-perception as well as others’ perception of him.
As Jack’s performance changed, Jack’s self-perception changed as well. I am also fairly certain that Jack’s performance, as well as that of his classmates, will remain uneven, with bursts of accelerated progress and periods of struggle.
Closer to home in Lexington, Mass., where I live, over coffee a parent told me that his daughter in the eighth grade was anguishing over whether to take regular or honors math next year in high school. The stress over the decision was intense, he said. As stress like this builds, he told me that many parents were considering taking their students out of the public school system. I couldn’t believe this was all just over what math class a 14-year-old should take. Why did she have to choose, label herself, and place herself on a track with no flexibility?
If Lexington Public Schools moved to a mastery-based system, one in which students progress as they master material, not based on an arbitrary measure of time, and utilized blended learning to personalize for each student, she could just take “math.” Lexington High School could maintain a minimum pace at which she had to move and then she and the school could see how far and deep she could move in mathematics. In the course of taking it, she might surprise herself—and avoid closing off a door too early. If colleges really needed a label later to evaluate her, the school could retroactively provide one based on her actual progress.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for saying everyone is above average and giving medals for participation. A mastery-based system is more rigorous than our current one because students would only make progress by demonstrating mastery of learning. Rewards would only follow true mastery. But I’m also unconvinced applying labels makes sense when, in a personalized system, those same labels could be wrong and outdated on any given day. Labeling risks shortchanging a lot of students. And society loses, as we miss out on fully developing future human capital.
If we give students like Jack the stretch opportunities they need to soar without labeling them gifted—or avoid incorrectly labeling them and taking away those same opportunities—don’t we create a better system?
The more important principle is to make sure we do not shortchange students based on their race, income, or gender. And if we start judging everyone based on mastery, I think our chances are a lot higher of fixing that problem than if we continue to obsess about labels.
Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently works as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

House PROSPER Act eliminates the concept of distance education from the law.

By: Alana Dunagan

Feb 27, 2018

Distance vs. correspondence? Where federal policy stands today

Distance education was first defined by the Higher Education Act in 1992. At the time, the primary aim of lawmakers was to address waste, fraud and abuse by “correspondence programs”, which sent course materials mainly through the mail. In the 1980s, these had been responsible for an outsized share of student loan defaults. The language developed in 1992—which permissively noted that transmission by microwave was acceptable—excluded correspondence programs from receiving federal funds, but did not anticipate how online learning would develop, and therefore  have proved wholly inadequate to regulate online education.

The key variable separating distance education from correspondence programs was the concept of “regular and substantive interaction” between students and instructors. This has led to a series of Department of Education regulations on what is “regular”, what is “substantive”, and who is an “instructor”. These regulations constrain the ability of online programs to innovate around the instructional model, but they do nothing to ensure strong outcomes for students.

In 1992, online programs were just emerging, but today over 30% of students are learning online. Regulations which encourage innovation—while protecting students—have never been more important for online programs.

[Tweet “Regulations which encourage innovation—while protecting students—have never been more important for online programs.” @alanadunagan @christenseninst]

The normalization of online learning?

The two houses of Congress are taking different approaches to drafting legislation to reauthorize the HEA. The Senate is taking a slower approach and is leaving the door open to drafting a bill with bipartisan support by holding committee hearings every few weeks that focus on affordability and federal financial aid programs. In contrast, with little public debate, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved the PROSPER Act on a party line vote in December.

PROSPER eliminates the concept of distance education (and microwaves) from the law. Online learning is addressed throughout the law as a normal means of conducting education. PROSPER doesn’t create any new or different requirements for online programs. The law also eliminates Department of Education regulations that schools seek authorization in every state in which they serve students, and instead proposes that schools only be authorized in the state in which they are physically located. States had largely resolved this issue themselves through SARA, the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, but this workaround would no longer be necessary if PROSPER became law.

Innovation is guided by incentives

PROSPER removes a complex and burdensome layer of regulation from online programs and allows schools the freedom to design instructional models that take advantage of advances in technology. But for innovation to thrive in ways that benefit students, the workforce, and society, all colleges need to be incentivized to provide affordable, high quality programs that are aligned to workforce needs.

No one, on either side of the aisle, wants to see the federal government dump cash into low-quality programs that are more focused on revenues than on providing an education that helps students succeed. PROSPER’s authors aim to unleash innovation in higher education, but the guardrails the bill places on the industry are simply too weak. Measures in the bill touted as “risk-sharing” are likely to have adverse consequences, but are unlikely to change institutional behavior in ways that protect students. The bill also requires programs to demonstrate that their graduates maintain a 45% student loan repayment rate, or else be ineligible to continue receiving funds. This is an improvement on prior metrics, but is still a laughably low bar, and fails to take into account the outcomes of students who don’t graduate.

Incentives for student success

Organizations design their business models around incentives. In higher education, institutions are paid to enroll students—they have incentives to expand access, but not to achieve outcomes like completion or career success. As a result, money has flowed relatively freely, quality assurance has been a thorny problem, and affordability is an increasingly pressing issue.

Instead, Congress should adopt regulatory mechanisms that focus on outcomes. Changing the way colleges are funded by creating meaningful alignment with student outcomes could improve quality for the entire industry, not just online programs. This could take the form of meaningful risk-sharing, whereby colleges have to repay some financial aid dollars if students default. It could also include increasing the role of income-sharing agreements, whereby some revenues become contingent on a student’s future earnings. These funding models would incentivize colleges to ensure that their programs are adequately preparing students to succeed in today’s labor market.

Using outcomes to create guardrails against waste, fraud, and abuse is preferable to complex, clunky federal definitions of what is meant by online education. Higher education providers will continue to innovate; the authors of the next HEA reauthorization can’t reasonably be expected to create definitions that will remain relevant through the next decade of technological change and business model evolution. Relying on outcomes gives institutions the flexibility to innovate, while still protecting students and taxpayers.

The House bill drops the outdated distance education definition, but doesn’t sufficiently improve risk-sharing or other mechanisms to align institutional incentives with student outcomes. We hope the Senate bill truly modernizes higher education regulation, not just for online education, but for all programs.

Alana Dunagan

Alana leads the Institute’s higher education research and works to find solutions for a more affordable system that better serves both students and employers. In this role, Alana analyzes disruptive forces changing the higher education landscape

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Why Is Accountability Always About Teachers?

By Mark Dynarski 02/21/2018 - Education Next

Most education reform efforts focus on what teachers are doing — professional development, new curricula, bonuses and incentives to raise scores, and so on. All are based on the belief that teachers can teach more effectively if their skills can be improved, their tools can be better, and their efforts can be more energetic.

Teachers are the largest group of staff within the K-12 system, and their skills matter for its performance. But they do not manage or direct the system. Do organizations wanting to improve expect that they can get it done by upskilling only their line-level staff? If Walmart were losing money, would it conclude that management was doing a great job but the floor staff needed professional development? The more natural focus would be on decisions and actions of executives, managers, and senior administrators.

An average teacher is highly experienced
The du jour focus in education reform (currently personalized learning, differentiation, and hybrid learning are topical) typically presumes teachers have an appetite and willingness to change their classroom practices. But teachers are both highly experienced and work in highly constrained settings.
An average K-12 teacher has been teaching for about 14 years. [1] A typical school year is 180 days, a typical school day is 6.5 hours—so average teachers have taught more than 16,000 hours. During those hours they have worked with hundreds of children. If they teach in middle schools or high schools, it may be thousands of children. From those many hours, teachers have amassed pedagogical practices they believe work for their students. These practices may be effective or flawed or plain wrong, but the point is that teachers might not be easily separated from their practices.

And these teachers face a lot of constraints in classrooms. Teachers are assigned to grade levels, their students are assigned to classrooms, their textbooks and supplies, including software and computers, are chosen for them, and the entire school or district is lockstep in a schedule that dictates how much time is spent on each subject. Teachers control how much time they invest outside the classroom in exploring new teaching approaches or learning about what others are doing that might work for them too. But any ideas they find in this kind of self-study still need to fit within the constraints. A teacher who reads about an interesting approach for, say, teaching fractions, has to contend with a textbook and test materials that might focus on a different approach to teaching fractions.

Evidence is lacking on how teachers can be more effective
A group as large as teachers (there are about 3.1 million public school teachers) will include some who are more effective and some who are less effective, and ample evidence exists that teachers differ in their effectiveness. [2]With the exception of how many years a teacher has taught, however, what separates highly effective teachers from less effective teachers has proven to be a tough nut to crack, and, relatedly, far less evidence exists about how to move teachers from the lower side of the effectiveness curve to the higher side.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP) recently looked at professional development in large school districts and a charter school network and concluded that “We found no evidence that any particular kind or amount of professional development consistently helps teachers improve.” [3] It’s not for lack of spending to help teachers improve—TNTP estimated that large districts were spending more about $18,000 a year per teacher on professional development. TNTP also reviewed the broader research literature and commented on findings from the most rigorous studies that had been done by the Institute of Education Sciences: “teachers who received the best of the best [professional development] were no more likely to see large, lasting improvements in their practice, knowledge, or student learning.  In fact, many did not use the techniques they’d been trained to employ—even when researchers were in the room to observe them.” [4] This last point may relate to teacher experience noted above—a teacher who has been teaching a subject for years might not be easily convinced to teach it some other way based on a presentation at a workshop.

These ‘top down’ approaches to improve teaching have been complemented by ‘bottom up’ approaches that offer financial incentives for teachers to improve. The idea of financial incentives is based on logic that economists find eminently sensible—workers work harder when money is at stake, so giving teachers higher pay for higher test scores should cause test scores to go up.

An attractive feature of financial incentives is that teachers can plot their own paths to improvement. This is the ‘bottom up’ aspect. It’s an idea worth testing, and two recent studies have. Both were large and designed to the highest research standards. They are worth discussing at some length because both studies reveal insights about teachers and districts that add to the picture of how accountability might be better focused.

The first study was of incentive pay (bonuses) for middle-school math teachers in the Nashville school district. [5]The largest bonus was substantial, $15,000 a year, for teachers whose performance was in the top five percent of teachers based on historical district data. Currently, the district’s salary for a teacher with 14 years of experience (the US average) and a master’s degree is $56,000, so the bonus was about 25 percent of annual salary. Amounts of $5,000 and $10,000 were paid for teachers at the top 20 percent and top 10 percent. The constraints on teachers mentioned above were not relaxed by the incentive-pay program—teachers still were given their grade levels, their students, and their curricula.

But test scores did not improve. And two other interesting findings emerged suggesting why scores did not improve. One was that teachers reported on surveys that they did not do anything different in response to potential bonuses because they already were working as effectively as they could. A second was that teachers did not believe that a teacher who earned a bonus was a better teacher, or that teachers who did not earn bonuses needed to improve. It’s hard to expect bonuses to do much if teachers believed they already were redlined and did not agree with the logic of bonuses.
A second study measured effects of incentive pay (the federal ‘Teacher Incentive Fund’) in 10 districts and reported similar results. [6] Test scores barely moved (they improved by an amount roughly equivalent to one to two-tenths of an IQ point). The study also reported that districts did a terrible job explaining bonuses to their own teachers. In the fourth year of the program, forty percent of teachers who were eligible for bonuses did not know they were eligible. [7] Eligibility was by school, but even teachers in the same school differed on whether they thought they were eligible. And when asked to predict how much their bonus for increasing scores would be, their answers were far smaller than what the real program was going to pay them. Teachers reported they were eligible for a maximum bonus of about $3,000. [8] Districts reported paying maximum bonuses averaging about $9,000.
One of the program’s requirements was that districts create systems for awarding bonuses that differentiated between teachers—the whole idea of bonuses is to reward above-average performance. Yet seventy percent of teachers ultimately received bonuses. The bonuses averaged $2,000, about 4-5 percent of average teacher salaries. Knowingly or unknowingly, districts essentially converted their bonus programs into teacher raises.

Accountability needs to be more equitable
The findings suggest top-down and bottom-up approaches to improve teaching are unlikely to do much. Yet the last ten years have seen tremendous growth in teacher and principal evaluation systems that rely on test scores and observations to rate teachers. If sending teachers to professional-development workshops or paying them real money to improve does not yield results, it’s at best unclear why expending significant amounts to measure and observe their performance will yield results.

The systems focus their measurement and analytic machinery on teachers, who have the least ability to improve what they do. Senior leaders make decisions that affect every aspect of life for teachers in schools. Senior leaders hire teachers, using criteria they’ve chosen. They give tenure to teachers using criteria they’ve chosen or agreed to. Senior leaders assign teachers to grade levels, give them textbooks and curricula, buy and set up their technology, lay out their schedules, create disciplinary policies they need to follow, and choose programs for how they will work with students learning English, and students with disabilities, and students with reading difficulties, and students who are homeless. And senior leaders decide to change these –they adopt new curricula, set up new testing programs, roll out new technology, change schedules for subjects, modify discipline policies.
Teachers are not making these decisions. They might be asked for input on the decisions, but they do not make them.

A teacher does not declare that next year the school will be using this curriculum as their math series.
An important qualification is that some systems, such as the DC IMPACT system, provide a basis for firing ineffective teachers and rewarding highly effective teachers. [9] Eric Hanushek has written elsewhere about the high costs associated with ineffective teachers. [10] To date, these systems have reported large numbers of effective teachers, and, previously, I noted it is unlikely that 98 percent of teachers really are effective, if the word has any meaning. [11] But being able to identify the lowest-performing teachers at least provides administrators with a basis for removing them.

Accountability for administrators is complicated when organizations are not for profit. Private-sector organizations have profit as natural metric, and the market does the work of measuring it. School districts do not have a measure of profit to gauge their success. They need to decide which ‘interventions’ or processes to test, which outcomes to focus on, how outcomes will be measured, and who is responsible for them. For example, Whitehurst previously has written about the promise of selecting more effective textbooks and curricula. [12] Selecting a new math series, for example, should begin an evaluation cycle: Decide on outcomes, how they will be measured, and how much they should be expected to increase. Then assess outcomes and learn whether the series worked. If it seems hampered by implementation factors, adjust them and assess again. If outcomes improve, the improvement will be experienced both by teachers and by administrators who decided on trying the new math series. Equity in accountability is just as desirable in schools as it is in private-sector organizations.

Finding what works to improve involves risk—ideas might work out or they might not. Under the current system, administrators create the structures and administrators come up with the ideas about what might work. Teachers are then assessed on the results. We need to think about how to shift risks back to where they belong, which is with those who make the decisions.
— Mark Dynarski

Mark Dynarski is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Economic Studies, Center on Children and Families, at Brookings.
This post originally appeared as part of Evidence Speaks, a weekly series of reports and notes by a standing panel of researchers under the editorship of Russ Whitehurst.

1. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t12n_003.asp.
2. A recent study by the Institute of Education Sciences and Mathematica Policy Research reported that having a teacher at the 10th percentile of effectiveness compared to having a teacher at the 90th percentile of effectiveness is roughly equivalent to a student achieving 15 percentile points higher on a reading test and 19 percentile points higher on a math test. Differences of this size are rare in education research. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20174008.
3. https://tntp.org/publications/view/the-mirage-confronting-the-truth-about-our-quest-for-teacher-development
4. https://tntp.org/blog/post/what-does-the-research-say-on-professional-development-anyway
5. https://my.vanderbilt.edu/performanceincentives/files/2012/09/Executive-Summary-Final-Report-Experimental-Evidence-from-the-Project-on-Incentives-in-Teaching-2012.pdf.
6. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20184004/pdf/20184004.pdf
7. See table IV.9 on page 65. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20184004/pdf/20184004.pdf
8. Figure IV.11, page 67, ibid.
9. http://educationnext.org/a-lasting-impact-high-stakes-teacher-evaluations-student-success-washington-dc/
10. http://hanushek.stanford.edu/publications/low-performing-teachers-have-high-costs
11. https://www.brookings.edu/research/teacher-observations-have-been-a-waste-of-time-and-money/

12. https://www.brookings.edu/research/dont-forget-curriculum/

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Google Classroom Now Available to All

By Jack Wallen  | February 21, 2018
Tech Republic

Google Classroom used to be limited to educational institutions and those with G Suite accounts. That is no longer the case. Back in April, 2017, Google announced that Classrooms would be open to anyone with a Google account. Now everyone can take advantage of this remarkable tool that makes education, training, and even outreach possible. So your business, your consultancy, or your department can set up a classroom where clients, friends, family, staff, board of directors, or anyone you wish can join the class and learn.

Not only is Google Classrooms a very powerful tool, it's also incredibly easy to use.

I want to walk you through the process of creating a new Google Classroom that you can then use for myriad possibilities.
What you'll need

Obviously, you need a Google account. You'll also need to have thought out what your class is going to center on. Although you can throw something together for testing purposes, when it comes time to create your actual classroom, you'll need your ideas gathered together such as description of class, beginning assignments, materials, etc. However, in the early stages, it's fine to create a skeleton classroom that you can later retool to perfectly fit your needs.

You'll eventually need students. Students are invited, from within the classroom. This can be done later when you're ready to start the actual class.

Finally, you'll want to have a bit of creativity on your side. Teaching a class requires as much creativity as information. You need to keep those students engaged in the learning, even though this isn't a face to face class.

That's it. With everything in place, let's create a class.
Creating your class

The first thing to do is sign into your Google account and then head over to the main Google Classroom page (Figure A).

Figure A

The main Google Classroom page showing two classes I've started to set up.

From that page, click on the + button and then click Create Class from the drop-down. You must click the EULA checkbox and then click CONTINUE. In the resulting popup (Figure B), you must give the class a Name (required), a Section (optional), and a Subject (Optional).

Figure B

Naming your new classroom.
Once you've filled out the necessary information, click CREATE and your class will be created. When the classroom opens (Figure C), you can then set out to customize the classroom.

Figure C

Your classroom awaits you.

Within the main page of your classroom, you might consider taking care of a few options.

First you'll want to select a new theme for the classroom. To do this, click either Select them or Upload photo. With the look of the classroom taken care of, you'll want to give the class a description. To add a description, click on the ABOUT tab, and then in the resulting window, click the three vertical dots associated with the class title. Click Edit and then give your classroom a description (Figure D) and a meeting location, if applicable.

Figure D

Creating a description for your class.

After you fill out this information, click SAVE.

If you're planning on co-teaching the class, click the INVITE TEACHERS button and send invitations. If you'll be teaching the class by yourself, skip that step.

At this point, you'll want to manage the Class Drive Folder. This is where any assignment material will be stored. When you create a new assignment, any attachments to the assignment will be uploaded to that folder. If you go to Google Drive, and check out the sharing permissions of that folder, you will see that only teachers of the class will have access to the folder. You cannot (nor would you want to) give students access to the folder. The only way students can access files within the folder is through assignments. This folder is a good place to house resource materials for teachers of the class. I would suggest creating subfolders for that very purpose. To create subfolders, open up Google Drive, navigate into the Classroom folder and then into the folder for the class in question. Create subfolders in the same way you create folders within Google Drive.
Creating assignments, announcements, etc.

With your classroom ready, go back to the STREAM tab and click the + button at the bottom right corner. From the popup (Figure E), you can start creating announcements, assignments, questions, and reuse previous posts.

Figure E

Creating your first assignment is easy.
Sending invites to students

After you have everything set up, you can then invite students to your class. To do this, click on the STUDENTS tab and then click the INVITE STUDENTS button. You can then invite students by either name (if they are in your Google Contacts) or email address. You can also invite students using a class code. This code will be visible in the STUDENTS tab. You can send an email out to a list of students, giving them the URL for the class and the class code. Once they've joined the class, they can begin working on assignments and even interacting with their fellow students.
Easy online class creation

You'd be hard-pressed to find an easier way to create an online classroom. Google has done a stellar job of developing a tool that teachers of all kinds can take advantage of. If your business needs a means to teach clients, staff, customers, or just about anyone, you should give Google Classrooms a go. It won't let you down.

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