Oregon public education is changing in a major way.  We no longer elect a Superintendent of Public Instruction.  The Governor now wears that additional hat.  Our last elected Superintendent is ending her term early (at the end of the June).  The Governor has appointed his chief education officer to oversee the Oregon Department of Education, as well as the community college system and the system of higher education.  All of this change has created quite a stir.  The Governor has nominated Rudy Crew as his chief education officer, and this has added to the controversy.  I’m not here to take sides or weigh in on this appointment.  


But the Oregonian newspaper’s website OregonLive.com ran an editorial by former head of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Jack Roberts that provoked my thinking.  He quoted Mr. Crew, as follows:


“It is unacceptable for students not to know the rules of work: that there is a time and place for everything and that a work environment, interview, or formal setting requires a different attire from a mall, a ball game, or just hanging out. … Teaching children about time and place is as important as teaching them about math and science. And if we don’t teach them that, we’re consigning them to a permanent place in the underclass of society.”


Roberts goes on to list “some of the things Crew believes young people should know in order to possess this workplace literacy:

  • Basic financial realities and budgeting.
  • How to balance a checkbook.  
  • How interest and credit work.
  • What to wear and how to conduct themselves in an interview.   
  • How to write a proper and effective letter and email.   
  • What general area of study or employment they want to head toward.   
  • The fundamentals of how money works in our economy and government.”

Again, I’m not weighing in for or against Mr. Crew’s appointment.  But I am glad to hear his viewpoint on what I consider a vital part of a high school education.  I teach my business students much of this, and much much more.  Workplace literacy is just one element of a good high school education, but an important one.  I hope you agree!

Posted by marks on Wednesday June 20, 2012 at 12:07PM

This year’s Commencement speaker was Dr. Thomas Hellie, President of Linfield College.  It was a great speech.  He gave our graduates four main pieces of advice, with good examples and Shakespearian references:

1) Find a mentor and make a plan.

2) Find your passion and adjust your plan.

3) Find meaning in the service of others.

4) Don’t forget the people you love (and who love you).


I couldn’t agree more.  

He added a fifth piece of advice that I wanted to share with you as well.

It came from Dr. Win Dolan, a Linfield College professor who lived to be 100. Four years ago, at the age of 99, Dr. Dolan gave the Linfield commencement address.  At the end of his talk, Dr. Dolan said that the most important thing he had come to realize over his many years was the value of stopping for at least one moment each day and looking for beauty—in nature, in art, anywhere. Too often, he said, we charge through life without seeing how beautiful and precious it is.   

Dr. Hellie invited (and urged) our graduates to choose a time each day to appreciate something beautiful—to savor the taste of food, to smell the aromas of life, to listen to beautiful sounds in nature or music, to look at art—or a bird or a flower or a tree.  He urged them to stop and breathe and enjoy how good it feels to be alive. He said that all of their plans and goals and hopes are very important—but so is beauty, and so is love.

I thought this was a message well worth repeating.

Posted by marks on Wednesday June 13, 2012 at 04:52PM


We Don’t Need School Reform, We Need School Transformation


I just read a great article about a “cutting-edge education experiment at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School” in Maine, that “could become the norm in Maine if Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen has his way.”


The story is about a switch to proficiency.  One Maine teacher said “It used to be like, ‘Oh well, they got a D,’ and we moved them on anyway. Now the students get the help when they need it.”  Wow.  This is fantastic.


What is going on in the classroom?  “[S]tudents from as many as three grades can be found studying together…  Instead of letter grades, student performance is based on a numbered system in which 4 means proficient and a 1 or 2 means the student has more work to do before moving on. And teachers who were used to pulling entire classes of students through the same lessons at the same speed now are responsible for monitoring each student’s progress individually.”


Wow!  Hmmm.  Where have I seen that before?  Here at Delphian!  I get excited when I see anyone freeing up the students (prisoners of time), and education focused on individual progress and demonstrated mastery.


Commissioner Stephen Bowen has a dream and a plan to make all of Maine’s schools run like this.  The news story tells about the shift in this new direction.  Bowen’s plan has a name:: “Education Evolving: Maine’s Plan for Putting Learners First”  and a goal “to transition Maine schools to a model in which students have more of a role in organizing their education and more choice in deciding how they master academic standards.”


Last October he gave a fantastic speech, and he said  there were three challenges:

Challenge 1: Our legacy system isn’t getting the job done.

Challenge 2: Recent initiatives aren’t helping

He said “We need to make some big changes. And this is not, in my mind, a case of nibbling around the edges. This isn’t a situation where we need to adopt a new math curriculum or buy a bunch of interactive whiteboards or something

Challenge 3: Our legacy system was designed for a different century (read my next blog about this.)


Among Bowen’s priorities, I liked Priority 3 the most.

Priority 3: Multiple pathways for student achievement


In his words “[a]t long last, can we move away from the assembly-line, age-based grade level system we’ve endured for generations, and move to a system where students move upon demonstration of mastery ? We can. It is happening in schools right here in Maine, right now.


“…Something that high performing systems do is establish gateways at certain critical points in a student’s academic career, such as the transition from elementary school to middle school. As we build a proficiency-based system, we need to ensure that students are fully prepared to move on ahead in their learning.


“We also need more learning options for students. If we are building a system that puts the needs of students first, can we still cling to a model of schooling where the school the student attends is determined by the student’s street address? … Don’t we need to maximize the use of every educational resource at our disposal — no matter which side of the town line those resources fall on — if we’re going to meet the needs of all kids?


“We also live in an age of anytime, anywhere learning, and if we are going to remain relevant in the lives of this generation of school children, we have to embrace new technologies such as digital learning. Schools can’t be the one place where students are not allowed access to digital learning opportunities.”


Wow!  He gets it!  He knows students all learn at different speeds, and this varies by subject.  One teacher talked about teaching in a proficiency-based system “It’s the hardest thing I’ve done, but it’s also the best teaching I’ve done…. [B]ecause of this, [the students are] going to be more prepared. They need to know everything before they move on.”


At Delphian, that’s what we’ve been about from Day 1!  I can’t tell if the article is talking about Maine or Delphian, when it says “most classrooms … are adorned with charts on the walls that mark each student’s progress through milestones, whether it’s earth science or long division… Each day starts with meetings between students and teachers…about what the students’ goals are for that day. All of it is carefully tracked with software and individual assessment folders.”


Hmm!  This is great news!  I couldn’t have said it any better, and I can’t wait until this becomes old news in all 50 states!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Sunday June 3, 2012 at 11:23AM

As noted in an earlier blog, I am the volunteer executive director of the Oregon Federation of Independent Schools.   This morning, I was on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud on a forty-five minute segment “Choosing A School”, asking why parents are choosing the private school option, etc.  The site with links

(including a link to Delphian) and a podcast connection for listening

and downloading is at:



This show created quite a buzz, with lots of comments being posted at

the website.  Folks were really worked up about the state of their public schools, and opinions on the whole topic varied widely.  The show’s host said this is clearly a hot topic and one that may be the topic of future shows.

I would tell you more about it, but early Thursday morning I’m taking 32 students on a ten-day Business Seminar Field Trip to southern California and I have a few things to do before we go!

Posted by marks on Tuesday February 28, 2012 at 07:39PM

From Education Week:  “Thirty-six states have established policies that give districts and schools some degree of ability to award credits to students based on mastery of a subject, rather than “seat time,” a new report says.”

The report  “State Strategies for Awarding Credit to Support Student Learning” is a great report, published by the National Governors Association.  In the Executive Summary, it tells why state education reform efforts may not work:

“Reforms to increase student readiness for college and careers are hampered, in part, by an underlying education system that dictates inputs such as the amount of time students are required to complete a course (commonly known as “seat time”). States may not be able to realize the full potential of education reform until the system’s focus shifts from time-based inputs to student learning outputs tied to the mastery of content and skills.”

I read the report, and I would direct you to the excellent section “Why Crack the Carnegie Unit?”, which is very well written.  It explains “seat time” and the problems with such a time-based system, and that Carnegie Units for seat time “do not to take into account the varied pace at which students learned. That is because the number of seat hours required to complete a course is standardized across schools without regard to an individual student’s prerequisite knowledge and skills.”  Hmmmm….

Then the report goes right to the heart of the matter.  “.. the basic level of proficiency required to earn credit for a course (often the grade of a “C” or higher) means that students may advance through the grades without learning critical content and skills and may later require remediation.”  Hmmm….

The report says that “In the current system, a student with a “C” average is promoted in the same manner as a student with an “A” or “B” average even though there is a significant difference in their levels of mastery of the course material.”  The report then goes on to discuss the high costs of remedial education for students who didn’t master the material they studied.  The report says that in 2010 “states spent roughly $3.7 billion on providing remedial education services to students.”

Get this: “In a system that based student progression on mastery, students would be able to learn more rigorous material when it was clear they were prepared to do so.” !!!!!  I get it.

It is better to learn what you need to know and be able to do it the first time around!  Hmmm….

Read the report.  Spread the word!!!


Posted by marks on Monday February 20, 2012 at 10:13AM

This just in – Education Week Headline – N.H. Schools Embrace Competency-Based Learning

You can read all about it here.  The article says this is

“one of the most aggressive statewide efforts in the country to embrace competency-based learning. In New Hampshire, this means saying that accomplishment doesn’t depend on how long students are in their seats, but whether they can demonstrate that they know their stuff.

“It means letting students learn academic content in new ways. It means agreeing on what constitutes mastery, and holding all students to it, instead of letting some earn diplomas with weak skills. It means figuring out multifaceted ways for students to show what they know, and, ideally, it means letting them progress toward mastery at their own pace”

What more can I say.  Read the rest of the article and spread the word.  


Posted by marks on Saturday February 18, 2012 at 11:11AM

When I’m not working hard as Delphian’s Assistant Headmaster, I head up the Oregon Federation of Independent Schools.  I’ve been working with Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) radio on a news story about the condition of private schools in Oregon.  You can read today’s article by clicking here which quotes me a few times.  This played on OPB radio this morning at 6:50, and at least one of my friends heard it!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Thursday February 9, 2012 at 12:01PM

Oregon State Superintendent of Schools, Susan Castillo, just sent out a report about recent statewide test results.  In her cover letter she wrote, “Education in Oregon, and around the country, has changed dramatically in the past ten years. We are increasing expectations from elementary through high school to ensure all of our students graduate ready for college and career…We are implementing educational models based on proficiency, personalization, and individual growth.”


In my last blog, I discussed the new report calling for replacing seat time with competency.  It outlined state efforts and state plans to bring proficiency-based education into more public school systems and expand it where it exists.  It envisions “vibrant education system where all of our children experience the joys of learning.”


The article about the report is worthy of note.  “We are proposing what amounts to a vital change in current methods of instruction and measurement so that students can move ahead when they demonstrate knowledge,” said Susan Patrick, co-author of the report… “Unfortunately, many states and school districts are still handcuffed by rigid regulations that prevent them from moving toward the student-centered, performance-based approach.”


To repeat:


“Unfortunately, many states and school districts are still handcuffed by rigid regulations that prevent them from moving toward the student-centered, performance-based approach.”


Later from the article:


“Successful implementation of competency-based standards not only will help students have a positive experience with learning, but also will “increase [the nation’s] productivity” by decreasing the dropout rate and closing the achievement gap, the report argues.


“With approximately $600 billion spent annually in the U.S. on K-12 education, why wouldn’t we want to create incentives for our schools so that every dollar going to fund education was based on students’ outcomes, performance, and growth in learning toward world-class expectations, rather than on seat time?” the authors ask. “What would it take to unleash innovation to allow practitioners, educators, and administrators to create competency-based pathways of learning for each student, regardless of where or how long they sit?”


“As one participant in the …forum expressed: “The problem  is quite simple—we are measuring the wrong end of the student, related to learning.”


Get it…(smile)   [If not, just keep re-reading it!]

Posted by marks on Thursday September 1, 2011 at 02:25PM

In a recent  blog, I mentioned two articles arriving in the same newsletter.  Today I’ll take up the second article “Replace ‘seat time’ with competency, reports says”.


It must be apparent by now, I am an advocate of proficiency-based education, although these days it has many similar labels such as performance-based or competency-based or standards-based learning.  When I started my advocacy almost 40 years ago, it was hard to get anyone to listen.  Now there is so much is going on in the field of proficiency-based education that I can’t keep up with it.  The news in this article is very exciting!  It discusses a new report “Cracking the Code: Synchronizing Policy and Practice for Performance-Based Learning ” by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning…


Their site describes the report:


“The report sets a policy framework for advancing performance-based learning and builds on recommendations made during the 2011 Competency-Based Learning Summit …earlier this year. The report recommends that states begin to transform policies from “rigid compliance” to “enabling policies,” by offering seat-time waivers or “credit flex” policies that allow for the flexibility to offer competency-based learning in K-12…”


Wow!  That is great!


The Executive Summary says the report’s goal is “to loosen the regulatory environment that is

handcuffing the administrators and educators who are ready to move toward student-centered, competency-based models of learning.”




“At the Competency-Based Learning Summit, participants fine-tuned a working definition of

performance-based learning, described below:

  • ƒStudents advance upon mastery.
  • ƒCompetencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • ƒAssessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • ƒStudents receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • ƒLearning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions

“In partnership with seven states, CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers” has defined next generation learning as rooted in six critical attributes:

  • ƒ Personalizing learning
  • ƒ Comprehensive systems of learning supports
  • ƒ World-class knowledge and skills
  • ƒ Performance-based learning
  • ƒ Anytime, everywhere opportunities
  • ƒ Authentic student voice


Sorry, but this is music to my ears.  This is the music of the education revolution!


This group has thought through the next set of emerging issues:


EMERGING ISSUE #1:  Redefine the Carnegie Unit into Competencies

EMERGING ISSUE #2:  Personalized Learning

EMERGING ISSUE #3:  Student-Centered Accountability and Assessment Models

EMERGING ISSUE #4:  Learning Empowered by Technology

EMERGING ISSUE #5:  Supporting Educators in the Transition to a Competency-Based System

EMERGING ISSUE #6:  Financing a Competency-Based System


Their conclusion is something to think about – over and over again!


“State leadership is increasing its mission to transform what is possible for education systems.


“Competency-based learning is essential to cracking the code, unleashing next generation learning, and positioning the United States to out-innovate global competitors. State policies that set high expectations for students and unleash creativity in designing personalized learning will dramatically accelerate student outcomes at rates never before thought possible. It is state leadership that will be in the position to be the conductors of this transformation—synchronizing the innovations and policies into a vibrant education system where all of our children experience the joys of learning.”


Hmmm.  Where have I heard about this approach before….. (smile)…

Posted by marks on Wednesday August 3, 2011 at 03:53PM

Just read an article claiming that the King School in Portland now has 183 school days, the most school days in an Oregon school, thanks to a federal grant. Parents of students attending KNOVA Learning in the Reynolds School District claim both longer school days (7:30-4:30) and an even longer school year of 200 days.

This isn’t news to the private school world. The LA Times reported that this fall most elementary schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will go to 200 days by adding up to 20 days to their schedules.

Oregon’s King School schedule of 183 days might shock some who think that is near the norm. The article says that “in Oregon this year, the typical school ended after just 170 days of class — a result of the state’s already low standards for what constitutes a full year, compounded by budget difficulties that prompted many districts to cut theirs even shorter.” Some schools in Oregon have 162 to 164 days of class per year!

Longer school years are often discussed for a variety of reasons. Some claim that students forget too much over the summer and in the fall they have to go back and start over, rather than pick up where they left off. Others argue that our silly agrarian-based school calendar no longer makes sense, as rarely are children needed on the farm over the summer and they should stay in school.

Other points in opposition of extended school years include interfering with traditional family vacations and activities; institutions and enrichment activities that have grown up around summer vacation; and the fact that schools aren’t the only place students should live their lives – that there is a world to experience that opens up during the summer.  I hear parents say that their kids don’t need a whole summer off and that a month is plenty.  They say that the new American family where both parents work is far different than that when the current school year was put into place when most households had only one wage earner.  Where schools aren’t fun, more school days is more days of no fun.  And no one could disagree that teachers need vacation time as well as time to prepare for a new school year.

A new issue on the table is that there is so much more to learn to stay competitive and be well-educated than there was even 50 years ago. More time is needed to teach all of this new “stuff”. New subjects have emerged and been added to curricula, and other countries have longer school days.  It is often argued that extended learning time is necessary to improve student achievement, especially in a global economy.

More than 40 national organizations support the federal proposal, which would provide federal funds to states to add at least 300 hours of study time by extending the school day and/​​or school year .

Extended calendars in poorly-run “no fun” schools makes no sense. Schools where students are having fun learning and where learning is an adventure should be open longer.  But no students should be in school earning seat time – that’s more than old school!  Students should only be in school as long as needed to become proficient in the subjects they are studying and meet graduation requirements.  If they need more time – great!  If they get done sooner and can get on with their lives – that’s  even better!

Time’s up!  I’m out of here……(smile)…

Posted by marks on Tuesday August 2, 2011 at 03:38PM