Kelly Young of Education Reimagined on Paradigm Shift Toward Learner-Centered Education

Help us kick off a new series on Thursday, October 13, with breakfast with Kelly Young, Executive Director of the DC-based Education Reimagined. Come hear about their work to shift the paradigm in American education toward learner-centered learning—that is, learning that is personalized, relevant, socially-embedded, competency-based, and open-walled.

Will Minnesota Apply for ESSA’s Innovative Assessment Pilot?

On January 3, the US Department of Education (USDE) issued a notice informing states that they can apply for the Innovative Assessment Pilot, which is part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). States were encouraged, but not required, to inform USDE by February 2 if they intended to apply.

Four states—Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Hampshire—told USDE they are interested in applying to participate in the Pilot. However, this is not binding. Other states could apply by the April 2 deadline, or the four states that expressed initial interest could change their mind.

What is the Innovative Assessment Pilot?

Like NCLB, ESSA requires states to use a statewide standardized test in grades 3-8 and once in high school for English and mathematics. However, ESSA also created an opportunity for up to seven states—or groups of states—to participate in the Innovative Assessment Pilot and try new kinds of assessments in a select number of districts in lieu of the state assessment.

The Pilot was inspired by the work that New Hampshire has done with their Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) accountability system, which they were able to do with flexibilities from a NCLB waiver.

When ESSA was passed in December 2015, one of the most talked about components of the law was this Pilot. In 2016, the Center for American Progress wrote, “Indeed, these pilot states will have the freedom to imagine a testing system of the future in which standardized tests taken on one day each year are no longer the typical way of assessing student learning.”

Why Aren’t More States Applying?

Even though the Pilot initially garnered a lot of interest and excitement, there are a lot of restrictions in ESSA that make participating a challenge. Some of the requirements are:

  • States try out the new assessments with a broad cross-section of students
  • Assessments must be comparable to other state tests
  • Assessments must eventually be scaled statewide

Not only are there stringent requirements, but the Pilot does not provide any additional funds for states.

Will Minnesota be Applying?

Doubtful. In several ESSA Committee meetings, Commissioner Cassellius indicated that Minnesota did not currently have the capacity to pursue such an endeavor. Additionally, the majority of the Future Assessment Design Working Group that MDE convened in 2017 decided against using other ESSA flexibilities regarding assessment, such as administering interim assessments.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on the development of States’ Innovative Assessment Pilots.

Found this useful? Sign up to receive Education Evolving blog posts by email.

0 comments · Leave a comment

MN Sees Record Graduation Rates, But Are More Students Prepared for College & Career?

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) released the four-year graduation rates for the class of 2017, which reached a new statewide high of 82.7 percent overall. The statement also touted the narrowing of the graduation gap between white students and students of color. Specifically, in 2012, white students graduated at a rate 26.5 percentage points higher than students of color. The new 2017 data showed that the gap has been reduced to 18.7 percentage points.

Digging deeper, Table 1 illustrates that graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic/Latino students have grown by over 12 percentage points from 2012-2017. During that same period of time, graduation rates for Asian students have grown by almost 10 percentage points and graduation rates for American Indian students have grown by 5 percentage points.

Time to Celebrate? Not So Fast.

Teachers, administrators, communities, and students definitely deserve acknowledgement for their accomplishments and efforts in raising graduation rates and closing the gap.

That said, when the graduation rates data is examined in conjunction with other data points—the percentage of students who met or exceeded standards on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) and ACT scores—the success story becomes more muddied and raises the question: Do increasing graduation rates mean more students are doing more rigorous and higher-level work that prepares them for college, career, and life?

MCA and ACT Scores Indicate There is Much More Work to Do

There are two major assessments—MCAs and ACT—used in Minnesota to gauge college readiness. The MCAs are the state assessments used to meet federal and state legislative requirements. According to MDE, if a student “Meets” or “Exceeds” standards on the MCAs then they are, “expected to be able to successfully complete credit-bearing coursework without the need for remediation at a two- or four-year college or university, or other credit-bearing postsecondary program.”

The ACT is a standardized, multiple choice assessment measured out of thirty-six points and covers four skill areas—English, mathematics, reading, and science. It’s been generally accepted that a composite score of 22 indicates college readiness. And, unlike the MCAs, the ACT is accepted at higher education institutions across the country for college admissions.

The data in Tables 2 and 3 indicates there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that all Minnesota students, but particularly students of color, are prepared for life after high school.

In 2017, the graduation rates for Black/African-American, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian students was above 50 percent. However, in the same year for all three student groups, less than 40 percent “Met” or “Exceeded” standards on the reading MCAs, less than 25 percent “Met” or “Exceeded” standards on the Mathematics MCAs, and the average ACT score was several points below 22.

And while there are other factors to consider—MCA opt out rates and increase in students taking the ACT—comparing the MCA and ACT data to the graduation data raises the question: What other measures, beyond test scores and graduation rates, can be used to measure student readiness for college, career, and life?

It’s Time to Expand Measures of Readiness

The contradictions between the graduation rates and assessment scores present different narratives about the preparedness of Minnesota’s high school students. This dilemma is not limited to Minnesota. Rather, several states around the country—Illinois, California, Maryland, and DC (to name a few)—have faced similar questions about whether they are preparing their graduates for life after they leave high school.

In order to answer this question, there are a number of organizations, states, and schools across the country that have been examining how to measure school quality and student preparedness beyond a single standardized test score.

In order to learn about how innovative, student-centered district and charter schools in Minnesota measure success, this year Education Evolving will explore what “readiness” means for students entering college, career, and life in the 21st century. In particular, what competencies—skills, knowledge, and dispositions—have employers and society identified as important?

This project will culminate in a policy paper to be published in late 2018, along with a toolkit of possible measures and indicators that we’ve found schools are using.

Found this useful? Sign up to receive Education Evolving blog posts by email.

0 comments · Leave a comment

Understanding Outcomes of Student-Centered Learning

Last year Education Evolving engaged in a visioning and stakeholder engagement process to describe what we mean when we say “student-centered learning”—a term we use to guide and orient our organization’s program.

This work yielded seven principles of student-centered learning, which we found are present in the learning experiences students have when schools are equitably designed with students’ unique needs, interests, aspirations, and voices at the center.

Building on this work, we’re excited to announce our new research report, Evidence for Student Centered Learning. This report catalogs evidence from a deep dive on academic research and historical context, to substantiate the case for our principles of student-centered learning.

So, what’s next? All of the work we have done to describe student-centered learning has given rise to a new question, which we will spend time looking at in 2018: what learning outcomes and indicators are (or could be) used to measure whether student-centered learning has been successful?

Exploring Outcomes and Indicators that Measure Student-Centered Learning

Our inquiry on this question will involve holding interviews with schools who are practicing student-centered learning; analyzing the results of a school survey we collaborated on last fall with a researcher at the University of Minnesota; and conducting additional academic research.

Some of the questions this work seeks to answer include:

  • What does “readiness” mean for students entering college, careers, and life in the 21st century? In particular what competencies—skills, knowledge, and dispositions—have employers and society identified as important?
  • Do student-centered learning experiences help to produce these competencies, i.e. learning outcomes?
  • How are (or could) these learning outcomes be measured or assessed?
  • Finally, how is (or could) the data from those measures be used to inform and improve learning? And, how might the data be used for accountability purposes?

Watch for EE events and writings that will take on these questions, including a policy paper to be published in late 2018, and a toolkit of possible measures and indicators we’ve found that schools are using.

Inquiry on these questions is of course only a part of our work for 2018. We have numerous other initiatives that we will be working on this year—including exciting legislative priorities that seek to advance several recommendations from our fall 2017 policy paper, a third national teacher-powered conference in Boston, several guest speakers on innovative educational topics, exploring new work on teacher preparation, and much more!

Found this useful? Sign up to receive Education Evolving blog posts by email.

0 comments · Leave a comment

Evidence for Student-Centered Learning

· January 2018 · By

For the past 35 years, the prevailing narrative about America's public education system is that it is "broken." Reform efforts have failed to find a fix because they fundamentally misunderstand this reality: the system is not broken. It is doing exactly what it was designed to do—educate the masses in a standardized fashion that completely disregards who students are as individuals.

In this report, author Krista Kaput makes the case for student-centered learning, a schooling design that shifts the model from adult-centered and standardized to student-centric and individualized. Specifically, the learning is personalized to the students’ interests, learning styles, cultural identities, life experiences, and personal challenges.

Drawing from a wide array of research, Kaput examines the history and current context of student-centered learning, and outlines seven principles of student-centered learning with examples of how they look in practice. When these principles are realized, Kaput argues that the result is learning that is equitable, relevant, and rigorous.

To “fix” public education so all students can be successful and have their unique needs met, we must change the design of the system.

A Guide to the Charter Sector of Minnesota Public Education

· November 2017 · By

What are charter schools like? It depends on which ones you mean.

In 1991, Minnesota created the charter option in an effort to create different, more effective ways of providing public education and to offer more choices to families. In its first twenty-five years that option has spawned a vibrant and growing second sector of public education in Minnesota and in much of the rest of the country.

This report from The Center for Policy Design looks at the chartering landscape in Minnesota, and specifically at innovations — in governance, schooling models and instruction, school evaluation and accountability, management, operations, and authorizing — across the charter sector.

This report was researched and written by John Kostouros, a Senior Fellow at Education Evolving, with contributions by Robert Wedl and an introduction by Ted Kolderie.

USDE Approves MDE's ESSA Plan. What's Next?

On January 10th, Secretary DeVos notified the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) that their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability plan has been approved. In the letter, Secretary DeVos congratulated Commissioner Cassellius on the approved plan and “for the important work that you and your staff [MDE] are doing to support the transition to the ESSA and most importantly to lead Minnesota’s students to achieve higher levels.”

The road to creating the plan and receiving USDE approval has been long and involved. According to MDE, over the past two years they have engaged in more than 300 meetings and public events throughout the state to “educate, listen, and receive critical input from Minnesota citizens.” In particular, since August 2016, MDE has engaged extensively with six stakeholder committees to gain input about components of the plan.

However, just because MDE’s plan was approved does not mean that their work is done. MDE will have to fully implement the plan during the 2018-19 academic year and, in order to gain input about improvements and additions that could be made to the plan in the future, they have also formed a new stakeholder Committee. Below are detailed descriptions about the new stakeholder Committee, timeline for ESSA implementation, and a summary of the changes MDE has made to the plan over the past month.

When Will Minnesota’s ESSA Plan Be Implemented?

The 2017-18 academic year is a transition year to the new ESSA accountability, reporting, school improvement, and recognition system. According to MDE, some components of ESSA are taking effect this academic year, "while much of the data reporting, school improvement, and accountability requirements" will not be implemented until 2018-19.

In terms of identifying schools, MDE will identify schools for Comprehensive School and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support in the summer of 2018, and notify them in the fall of 2018. In their executive summary, MDE estimates that they will “identify and support between 300 and 400 schools, much more than under our No Child Left Behind Waiver.”

As a reminder, MDE will use a “funnel approach” to identify the bottom 5 percent (about 50) of Title I schools for CSI. The next cycle for identifying schools for CSI will be in 2021. Additionally, about 167 schools will be identified for Targeted Support, which is any public school with one or more student groups performing similarly to the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools or any consistently underperforming student group. Finally, MDE estimates that about 246 public high schools will receive support for having a four year graduation rate below 67 percent.

What Has Changed in MDE’s ESSA Plan Over the Past Month?

On September 18, 2017, MDE submitted their plan to the US Department of Education (USDE). On December 18, 2017, USDE provided MDE with an initial feedback letter that was mainly positive. In an ESSA newsletter, MDE noted that USDE didn’t have any questions on Minnesota’s decision-making process for identifying schools for support and that their plan had “fewer requested clarifications in the accountability section of the plan than any other state plan that has been reviewed to date.”

Even though the feedback was mostly positive, USDE did ask MDE to provide, among other technical clarifications, further clarification in two primary areas:

  • 1. Exit criteria for schools that are identified for CSI.
  • 2. Reporting of disproportionate rates of students from low-income families, students of color, and American Indian students taught by ineffective teachers.

In response to USDE’s feedback, MDE made changes to their plan and submitted a revised version on January 3, 2018, the USDE given deadline. With regard to the exit criteria, for a school to exit CSI Status, they must now meet both of the following criteria:

  • 1. Must not be identified for CSI again
  • 2. Must show improvement relative to itself on all indicators that led to their initial identification

With regard to reporting the disproportionate rates of students from low-income families, students of color, and American Indian students taught by ineffective teachers, MDE indicated that they will add information to data profiles about whether these student groups have equitable access to effective teachers. This will be measured by examining the percentage of students who are taught by teachers with advanced degrees.

Opportunities for Engagement: MDE’s ESSA Reporting and Recognition Committee

Even though MDE’s plan has been approved, they have formed an ESSA Reporting and Recognition Committee to provide guidance on the “the development of a data dashboard, school recognition process, and possible future indicators or school quality or student success.” Additionally, the Committee is also charged with upholding the stakeholder priorities from previous ESSA stakeholder meetings.

The Committee is divided into three Subcommittees—Data Dashboard, School Quality or Student Success (SQ/SS) Indicator, and School Recognition— that are charged with doing the following:

  • Data Dashboard: Provide input about how to best present importation information about schools and districts in a transparent and useful manner.
  • SQ/SS Indicator: Referred to as the “fifth indicator,” stakeholders will provide input on possible measures of well-rounded education and career and college readiness when identifying schools for support.
  • School Recognition: Provide input on how best to identify and share information about schools and districts that are experiencing success.

On January 17th, the SQ/SS Indicator Subcommittee will meet from 12:30-2:30 PM and immediately after the Data Dashboard Subcommittee will meet from 2:30-4:30 PM. Both meetings will be held at MDE. Read here for a list of all of the meeting dates for MDE’s Subcommittees.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on Minnesota’s ESSA state accountability plan.

Found this useful? Sign up to receive Education Evolving blog posts by email.

0 comments · Leave a comment

Minnesota’s Growing Special Education Teacher Shortage: What to Do?

Last week we wrote about Minnesota’s November budget forecast, which showed that the state is projected to have a $188 million deficit for the final year of the 2018 and 2019 biennium. While the small deficit is hardly a cause for alarm, the forecast did indicate that unexpected cost increases in special education services is one of the biggest drivers of the deficit and E-12 education spending.

In that same post, we wrote about how Education Evolving has long contended that the rate of special education-identified students could be reduced if schools or districts used early intervention frameworks, like Response to Intervention, as a strategy for supporting struggling students, who might otherwise be identified for special education services.

That said, even if early intervention strategies are used, the fact remains that use of special education services is still increasing statewide. This is particularly important when considered in conjunction with the state’s continued special education teacher shortage. The rest of this post will provide an an overview of this problem, as well as how some programs in the state are trying to rectify it.

A Growing Special Education Teacher Shortage

According to a February 2017 report released by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), the teacher shortage in special education is more severe than that in any other area. Specifically, during the 2015-16 academic year, the state issued 707 special permissions, meaning districts had to hire individuals who “lacked the necessary licenses for the subjects and grades levels taught,” to individuals teaching students with special needs. The report noted that the shortage is likely not going to stop anytime soon, with hiring officials predicting that in the next five years one of the most difficult staff positions to hire for will be special education teachers.

The growing costs of special education services, the dire teacher shortage, and projected continued shortage raises the question: What are the state and districts doing and going to do to recruit, train, and retain special education teachers? Particularly since our students with special needs are a traditionally underserved, not to mention federally protected, group of students.

Some Districts Are “Growing Their Own” to Combat the Shortage

In order to alleviate the special education teacher shortage some districts across the state, including Minneapolis and Saint Paul, have started “Grow Your Own” programs that create the opportunity for individuals to receive a special education teacher license or other subject credentials by providing scholarships or tuition stipends to district employees or district affiliated community members so they can participate in a residency program. This program is an innovative way for districts to create their own teacher pipelines.

The legislature and Governor recently recognized the importance and potential of this program. During the 2017 legislative special session, the “Grow Your Own” program received $1.5 million in appropriations for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years (lines 81.10-82.3). Importantly, the student body for the participating school districts must be at least 30 percent students of color. Education Evolving supports the expansion of this “Grow Your Own” program.

CUE Program Also Offers Special Education Licensure

The Collaborative Urban Education (CUE) Program is another program that has the potential to aid in diminishing the special education teacher shortage. The CUE program is designed to address the “wide gap between the demographics of teachers and students” in the state, by intentionally recruiting people of color to become teachers. Currently, two of the state’s four CUE program participants, University of Saint Thomas and Augsburg University, offer special education teacher licensure.

During the 2017 legislative session, the legislature allocated $1 million to the CUE program for both the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years (lines 82.24-83.18). Each of the state’s four CUE program participants will receive $195,000 for each year. For the remaining $220,000, the commissioner established a competitive grant process for Board of Teaching-approved teacher programs, including alternative licensure programs, for recruiting, training, and inducting teachers of color candidates.

Could the State’s New Tiered-Licensure System Help?

Looking ahead, the new four-tiered teacher licensure system might help to alleviate some of the licensing barriers that had previously existed for individuals who were seeking a special education license, particularly with those from out-of-state.

The new system replaces the state’s former teacher licensure system, which the Office of the Legislative Auditor’s (OLA) called “complex, unclear, and confusing” in their 2016 report. In the same report, the OLA wrote “While there are many causes for the teacher shortage, legislators and others have identified teacher licensure as a contributing factor.”

The new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB), which replaces the now-dissolved Board of Teaching, will begin operating on January 1. PESLB will be responsible for the implementation and oversight of the new tiered licensure system, which will go into effect on July 1, 2018.

Found this useful? Sign up to receive Education Evolving blog posts by email.

0 comments · Leave a comment

MN Forecast Projects $188 Million Deficit; Special Education the E-12 Cost Driver

Last week, the Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) Office released the November Budget and Economic Forecast for the state, which showed a $188 million projected deficit for the final year of the 2018 and 2019 biennium.

According to the forecast, the deficits are due to a reduced U.S. economic growth forecast and impacts of legislation enacted during the 2017 session. The forecast also noted, “At this time, it is unclear what tax law changes will emerge from the U.S. Congress and how those changes will affect the federal deficit and economic activity.”

This projected deficit is very different from the surpluses that the state has seen in recent years, including the 2017 February forecast which predicted a $1.65 billion budget surplus.

Cause for Alarm? Hardly.

It’s important to keep these numbers in context. With a biennial budget of about $46 billion, the projected $188 million deficit is less than half a percent of the state’s total budget. It's also important to be mindful that these are just preliminary numbers. Shortly after the legislature reconvenes on February 20th, they will receive updated numbers in MMB’s February 2018 forecast.

Additionally, the forecast includes $178 million in additional funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which the federal government has failed to appropriate funding for. In a statement, Governor Dayton noted, “...if Congress refunds the CHIP program, as they must, the projected deficit for the current 18/19 biennium drops from $188 million to $10 million.”

Special Education Costs Higher Than Expected, Drive E-12 Budget Increases

While the overall financial health of the state seems to be alright for now, the forecast did note one important thing: the rising costs of special education services. According to the forecast, “special education drives the increase of $121 million in E-12 education. Spending on special education services by school districts has increased at a faster rate than previously projected. Growth in the number of children receiving special education services and higher costs both contribute to the increased forecast.”

Over the past decade, the number of students receiving special education services has increased from just over 123,000 in 2007 to over 134,000 during the 2016-17 academic year, a 9 percent increase. In that same period, the number of students enrolled in public schools only increased by 2.3 percent, from 837,578 to 856,687. This shows that the proportion of students receiving special education services is increasing at a much faster rate than overall enrollment.

Early Interventions Can Help Struggling Students, Reduce Special Ed Identification

In the light of these dramatic special education budget increases, there are some proven strategies Minnesota policy makers and educators should consider to potentially reduce the need for special education services and do right by Minnesota’s students.

Education Evolving has long contended that if schools put in place intervention frameworks such as Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS)—and use those frameworks both to provide extra support to struggling students and, only if needed, identify them as special education with a “specific learning disability” (SLD)—the rate of special education-identified students can be reduced.

Such an early intervention strategy is in contrast to the current “severe discrepancy” rule, which is still used by some schools and districts to identify students as SLD. Under the severe discrepancy rule, students must struggle and fall significantly behind before they are identified for additional support through special education.

We recognize that intervention reforms around special education is a complex topic and merits further coverage, which we plan to do on this blog in the coming months.

Found this useful? Sign up to receive Education Evolving blog posts by email.

0 comments · Leave a comment

A Teacher’s Reflections on Reinventing America’s Schools

This post was written by Julene Oxton, a founding teacher of Impact Academy, a school in Lakeville Public Schools, and now the Innovation Coordinator for the district.

Last week David Osborne, author of the new book Reinventing America's Schools, visited Minnesota as part of his 28 city nationwide tour to celebrate its release. The reception and discussion of his book gave the audience a glimpse of a new paradigm emerging for public education that fits the realities of the 21st century.

To highlight this new system, Osborne provided examples where this is already happening—Denver, Washington D.C., and New Orleans—and explained that the new system relies on school autonomy, accountability, and choice.

As a long time educator, ambassador of teacher-powered schools, and Innovation Coordinator for the suburban district of Lakeville, MN, I find this structural shift more than intriguing. It brings me hope. I am inspired by the ideas, was honored to be on the panel at this event, and am excited to share a few further reflections in this blog post.

Accountability Without Autonomy Doesn’t Work

Since starting my teaching career in 1984, one year after the A Nation At Risk report was put out by the Reagan administration, all I have known is the continued emphasis on increased rigor, standardization, and teacher evaluations.

As I watched autonomy for teachers and school leaders decrease, and accountability on schools increase, I saw teachers slowly relinquish the power to meet the needs of their learners. Although the intent behind the national effort was to raise achievement, it didn’t happen. Failing schools and the achievement gap still remain. Why? Primarily because in the industrial, bureaucratic model of American schools, teachers are not the primary decision makers.

Accountability without autonomy doesn’t work. As Osborne states in his book, “Being relatively powerless, people become invested in being victims. To avoid any sense that they are responsible, they blame others for all the problems.” Teachers and students become the victims within an old system that wasn’t designed for every learner to succeed. It was designed to deliver knowledge in chunks, at certain times, and in the same way for all students. That made sense in the Industrial Age.

However, now as teachers are being asked to prepare an increasingly diverse student body for a changing 21st century world, this model no longer makes sense. The Information Age model described in New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Denver empowers teachers and school leaders with full autonomy to “row” or operate the school, while the district central office, superintendents, and school boards focus on “steering” by setting the direction and ensuring that schools deliver the results desired.

Autonomy Unleashes Creativity and Makes Accountability “Real”

Seven Lakeville teachers, including myself, recently experienced the creative power that can be released through autonomy, as we designed and launched a new school model within our district.

We created that school, Impact Academy, to be learner-centered. Our team reallocated resources and created new ways to utilize personnel, schedules, technology, standards, and space, so we could better meet the needs of our individual learners. Our goal was to use our autonomy to create the conditions for students to gain agency and be empowered to own their learning. Now, two years into full school implementation, the entire teaching staff are striving to fully “row” their school. Teachers are no longer working in isolation, but instead are finding solutions together. This model attracts teachers and students, which is evident in the 98 percent staff retention rate and student enrollment waitlist.

I’ve also observed high levels of accountability emerging within the teaching staff, as they become the primary decision makers in areas of operation. There is no longer a need to get ‘buy in’ from staff. Instead, high functioning collaboration and laser focus on a common purpose has created internal accountability. The powerless blaming has given way to taking responsibility for the decisions the teacher leaders are making. This has created a culture where teachers feel accountable to each other, to do well for all students.

Dividing Up “Rowing” and “Steering” Duties Enables Efficiency

Another benefit of delineating who is rowing and who is steering, from what I have observed as a teacher leader working at the district level, is efficiency. When the central office and school board try to both steer and row, it is difficult to focus on their core purpose of creating conditions for their customers (learners and families) to get an equal shot at a high quality education. I have experienced, as part of a district office, getting pulled into “rowing” activities soon to find a school is also “rowing”, thus duplicating efforts or complicating the focus for the staff.

Clear roles enable efficiency. The ideal role for districts is “steering” rather than “rowing”. As Osborne argues, “In an effective 21st century system, those steering play four key roles: authorizing, regulating, managing resources and speaking up for the needs of families and children.”

A Win-Win for Students, Families, and Unions as Well

Releasing autonomy to the teacher leaders of individual schools and freeing up the central office to steer the district also creates a win-win for students, families, and the teacher unions.

Students and families gain because teachers use autonomy to design schools for the unique student populations they serve, and families can choose schools that best meet their needs. The variety of choices offered within a district creates healthy competition, much like in the charter sector. This competition, combined with family demand for education to be adaptable in the Informational Age culture, creates an ecosystem of excellence.

My experience as an empowered teacher leader and member of the local teachers’ union in Lakeville, leads me to believe this new paradigm is also a win for the teaching profession. Teacher unions constantly strive to increase the professionalism of their members. What could meet that goal more than an autonomous, teacher-powered school where teachers make decisions as true professionals?

It’s critical that all stakeholders that have an investment in the education of the future generations take a long look at the system we are under. Unless we radically change our archaic system of public education, it will continue to produce the results it was designed to produce. Let’s trust the teachers at the school sites to do the rowing and free up the district central offices to steer the American schools toward learner-centered environments to address our issues of quality, equity, and choice for all students.

Found this useful? Sign up to receive Education Evolving blog posts by email.

0 comments · Leave a comment