Ed Week Headline: High School Redesign Gets Presidential Lift

April 19, 2013

I just read an Education Week article with the headline High School Redesign Gets Presidential Lift.   It cites President Obama’s February 12 State of the Union Speech in which he said  “[t]onight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”  Great!  Our high schools must be designed, shifting them from factory-model schools to proficiency-based schools!

The article says that “Recognition is widespread that high schools need to change to engage students and prepare them for the workforce of the future. That push goes back decades, but now momentum is accelerating, and talk is not of reform, but redesign.”  That is all I have been talking about  shifting from factory-model time-based schools to proficiency-based schools.

Someone else agrees with me!  “There is a realization that our high schools were designed for another time and era,” said Joe DiMartino, the founder of the Center for Secondary School Redesign, based in West Warwick, R.I., and the author of Personalizing the High School Experience for Each Student.   I love it!  

If you read the article, you will learn more about personalized learning, project-based learning, proficiency and competency-based grading, and other efforts in the right direction.  In the side-bar article, I read that “New Hampshire began to offer credit based on competency over seat time in 2008, and schools started phasing in the changes.”  Yippee.  And in discussing one of the schools that switched, it said “the test scores are clear: Pittsfield has gone from being among the five lowest-performing high schools in the state to near the top in math, and reading is also improving.”

There is more to glean from the article.  DiMartino said, “For schools to truly be able to change, there needs to be a move away from seat time and testing to new approaches to engage students,..and to competency-based learning that uses a variety of assessment instruments, such as student exhibitions of their learning.”

I am always learning more about the shift for proficiency, and I found that “[e]fforts to reinvent high schools date back decades. One of those was the NASSP’s 1996 release of the “Breaking Ranks” framework for school improvement and an updated version of the initiative in 2003. It outlined three core areas that must be addressed for student performance to improve: collaborative leadership; personalization of the school environment; and curriculum, instruction, and assessment.”

The article concludes with a discussion of common themes and principles, and I really liked two of them.  One was “Personal connections and engagement: There has been a move away from large traditional high schools to smaller personalized ones (or at least teams within a big school) where students can feel a sense of belonging.”.  Other was “[l]everaging technology and data for individualized learning: Personalization in learning, through the use of technology, means students can move at their own pace and feel a sense of empowerment in their education.”

I have been speaking about proficiency to both national and international audiences recently, and I’ve been asked (or allowed…[smile]) to give talks and workshops on this topic to school faculty as well as parents on this vital topic over the next year.  The response is uniformly positive and I get invitations to speak in additional venues.  I mention this because there is something that resonates with parents and students, teachers and administrators when I explain it.  I thought it might be useful to summarize how I start my talks.

You and I probably went to an old school, where time was constant and learning was the variable.  You know – 50 minutes of Algebra for 180 days.  Some students got it some of the time – everyday some were bored and some were lost, but as a class we moved ahead regardless of our test scores from last week’s test.  But Delphian is a new school, where learning is the constant and time is the variable.  We are all about personalized and individualized education where students proceed only when they reach proficiency on their current studies.  This shift from seat-time Carnegie Units to progressing upon reaching high levels of proficiency or competency is happening all across the country and all around the world.  It may be new to some, but we’ve been doing it for 39 years!  

Hope you find it helpful.

Posted by marks on Friday April 19, 2013 at 09:15AM

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