new school networks: first hints at the upgrade

When Summit Learning came to Kentucky for the first time at Next Gen a couple years ago, I was completely awe-struck. I told the audience members I felt like we were all driving different versions of Toyota and a Ferrari just drove by. 

In the couple years since, I have not really changed my opinion. There is something particularly special and powerful about this type of network combined with that type of platform that feels very much to me like the future. 

So, since then, I've been even more curious about new networks of schooling. There are a growing number of these networks (although at the price of $0 Summit seems the most popular) and they are expanding into Kentucky. 

None of this, of course, feels particularly different than what Ted Sizer was trying to do with the Coalition of Essential Schools, it just feels like a modern iteration. 

So, this is a bit of a deep dive into my thinking about these networks and how they are hinting at the upgrade of public education we all want so badly. 

This video explains how networks of schools and the related platforms are beginning to reshape schools in Kentucky and beyond.

Boone County & Summit

One of my favorite parts of our job at Next Gen is watching outsiders tell stories about our Kentucky schools. And, earlier this week, it happened again in a 4 part series on the implementation of Summit Learning in the Boone County Schools

Roll of the Student

Roll of the Parent

Roll of a Teacher

Feature of Parent on 2 daughters in Summit

These are awesome. Kudos to the team at Boone County and the hard work of the teachers and leaders making this happen. We at Next Gen are so proud of you! 

Book Launch: Retooling Schooling

My students published a new collaborative book in class:

Retooling Schooling: Leadership, technology, and a deeper learning culture.

They did the writing, curating, editing, and publishing. Our driving question for the PBL was: Can we publish a book that advances knowledge and is useful to educators on the challenging issues of leading technology for deeper learning. The answer ... yes, we can and we did. Hope you find it useful in some small way in your own work.

Link to the Google Doc: http://go.uky.edu/retooling
Link to download ePub: http://go.uky.edu/2GA
Link to download pdf: http://go.uky.edu/2GB
Hard copy available upon request (about $12).

If you want to know more about the process of doing this and why it is a great PBL for P-12 also, let me know. Happy to share.

Prichard Committee: Transforming School Climate & Culture

 The Prichard Committee is a wonderful mix of adults and kids as well as business and educators all representing a diverse set of Kentuckians. 

The Prichard Committee is a wonderful mix of adults and kids as well as business and educators all representing a diverse set of Kentuckians. 

At the recent annual meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky the focus turned to transforming school climate and culture. This focus included a specific desired outcome of culture and climates which specifically promote equity of opportunities.  

Over the course of a day and a wonderful agenda, the Committee and guests heard from students, educators, national scholars, journalists, and a former U.S. Ambassador on strengthening school climate and culture. This focus transforming school climate and culture links to a recently adopted three-year strategic plan adopted at the meeting by the 100+ members of the Prichard Committee.

In an effort to translate this learning into specific recommendations for educators and, in particular, the leaders of schools the Prichard Committee and guests worked hard to identify specific suggestions across a variety of domains of climate and culture in schools. The attendees identified the following 11 domains of the challenge.

  1. More student autonomy/agency

  2. Teacher autonomy & agency

  3. Intentional communication with parents

  4. More authentic project based learning/projects

  5. Nurture and respect educational professionals

  6. Authentic/meaningful teacher administrator dialogue

  7. Collaborative community partnerships

  8. Equal academic/sports emphasis

  9. Equity of opportunity and inclusive excellence

  10. Engaging all students

  11. State accountability of climate

Across eight of these domains, the attendees sought to work collaboratively to identify eight specific suggestions for a total of 64 specific suggestions for educators and school leaders to improve school culture and climate toward equity of opportunity. This task was formatted into Lotus Blossom coordinated through the collaborative use of Google Docs and Google Draw. A picture of the final result is below. In the middle is the core challenge (bright green) surrounded by the 8 domains of the task (yellow). Then, each domain is explored in more detail on the petals of the lotus blossom flower (the yellow box surrounded by mostly green boxes). Finally, the colored boxes within each petal represent our identified practices that we wish to share with school leaders and other educators as the potentially most impactful near-term implementation concepts.

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Full Lotus Blossom (zoom in): http://go.uky.edu/prichard  

Once the 64 ideas were generated, we again worked collaboratively to identify our suggestions for the most impactful concepts that educators and school leaders might employ (the blue, red, orange and purple in the image). The following is the result of those impactful suggestions across the 8 domains examined in the full Lotus Blossom activity.

  1. More student autonomy/agency

    1. Assume all students can do the best work and have high expectations for all learners

    2. Employ more student internships and work-based learning experiences.  

  2. Increased teacher autonomy & agency

    1. Incentive teacher innovation and creativity through new supports from schools and districts.

    2. Encourage teacher ownership of professional learning communities

    3. Provide teachers leadership opportunities within schools and districts.

  3. Intentional communication with parents

    1. Ensure ongoing positive communication with parents rather than emphasizing the negative.

    2. Co-design a communication plan with parents.

  4. More authentic project based learning/projects

    1. Promote state, district, and school accountability systems that honors this authentic engagement work by students.

    2. Provide iterative feedback and opportunities for growth to both teachers and students engaged in authentic PBL.

  5. Nurture and respect educational professionals

    1. Promote culturally responsive training and support for teachers

    2. Respect educator mental health and personal time

  6. Authentic/meaningful teacher administrator dialogue

    1. More frequent formal opportunities for teacher-administrator dialogue in both 1:1 and group settings

    2. More time flexibility in school schedules to promote dialogue

  7. Collaborative community partnerships

    1. Encourage reciprocal partnership where both schools and community members benefit.

    2. Develop community asset maps to identify key resources for teachers to link to learning

    3. Develop trust and partnership through ongoing authentic dialogue.

  8. Engaging all students

    1. Engage students in high expectation, high yield activities such as leadership development opportunities.

    2. Build relationships with learners by promoting student voice and choice, specifically engaging in suggestions made by the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team across their multiple publications.

These excellent suggestions emerged from a day of learning and an hour of work to make our learning tangible and specific. We think these suggestions are superb entry points for educators and schools looking to improve the school culture and climate for both the adults and children who inhabit these spaces. The progress that we collectively seek as Commonwealth for our schools and children is dependent on institutions capable of strong cultures which minimize institutionalism. We are convinced that such improvements to the schools of Kentucky are possible and we look forward to working with students, educators, and community members to make robust, equitable climates and cultures.  

 

Leaders for less than 3 years ... that's not enough

In Kentucky, 46% of our school principals have been at their school for three years or less. 

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These results from the TELL survey in Kentucky by the New Teacher center are fairly stunning. Alternatively, only 28% of our principals have been at their school for 7 years or more. 

Innovation takes time. As I have watched districts across Kentucky innovate as part of Next Gen, a ballpark range for an average innovation cycle from the initial leader learning to full school implementation of a concept is usually around 3 years. And, remember, that is to the initial implementation not to the mastery implementation ... that takes at least an additional two years. 

So, only about 1/2 the schools in Kentucky have a serious shot at mastery implementation of deeper learning innovations because without sustained leadership such innovations typically fall apart. Now, school-wide innovations can be led and sustained by someone other than the principal but that seems to happen only rarely. 

College Affordability = Dual Credit

Today I spent time at a great Prichard Committee event here in Kentucky focused on College Affordability. There were a variety of speakers sharing a variety of data points. It was very good stuff. Really professional. The best part, even, was that the Student Voice Team released their new report (which you should read ... proud does not begin to capture it). Great day. 

But, let me summarize.

  • State support for higher education is flat to negative. Indefinitely.
  • College tuition and, particularly, housing costs are going up. Indefinitely. 
  • Pell grants help poor families a lot. Kentucky state support helps too, but less. 
  • Lots of kids don't think college is for them & don't go. Cost is an increasing concern. 
  • Lots of kids who do start, don't finish.
  • Rather few kids finish community college. 
  • Some, especially those that don't finish, default on loans and ruin their credit.
  • High schools are not doing enough to advise, especially because of the lack of guidance counselors. 
  • And, inequity is still rampant throughout. 

Let me also summarize the number of serious plans articulated to address this in structural ways ... nada. 

That's not an indictment of anyone. Everyone honestly is well meaning in this space and I enjoyed all the conversations today. But, we seem locked into a pattern here and nothing I heard today (outside of seriously listening to students more which policy folks seem to applaud but not really grasp) seemed to have a real chance at changing the pattern. Some folks I spoke with today, including critical folks with state agencies, even seemed resigned to this unchanging reality including the indefinite inequity.  

Enter dual credit (or dual enrollment, or early college, middle college, etc.). It came up a couple times today but mostly just in passing. That missed the mark, unfortunately. 

In my work innovating in education the past 10 years, few things seem to have the screaming potential that dual credit does ... and few things are harder to actually implement, let alone change. I spent 3 years trying to build a dual credit program at STEAM and it is still not that great. But, it is the key. I'm convinced of that now more than ever before. We need to get serious about implementing large scale models across Kentucky and resetting our expectations around the space between high school and college (i.e. there should very little). 

Jobs for the Future has a summary of the research

The What Works Clearinghouse also recently took a look and concluded ... it works (image at left). 

REL Appalachia even did a serious study of Kentucky dual credit last year. Some of their findings: 

  1. Dual credit programs are an important feature of college readiness efforts.
  2. Program implementation and costs vary wildly. 
  3. Key challenges include
    1. limited availability of high school teachers with appropriate credentials,
    2. limited access to courses and instructors in isolated rural districts,
    3. limited student readiness for college coursework,
    4. financial burden for students and families,
    5. inconsistent standards for ensuring course quality, and
    6. lack of dedicated staff to manage dual credit programs.

This should have been discussed today in more detail. We need serious attention here, especially with the Kentucky Secretary of Education announcing last week that he wants all students to do a dual credit experience while in high school. Kudos to Hal for having a broad vision here. That's the kind of vision we will need to reset the status quo ... followed up with a great deal of leadership to make the vision a reality. 

DMWb_euWsAMBb94.jpg

Ultimately, if we are serious about resetting the status quo we could just make the Associates Degree the end point for high school (rather than, or in addition to, the high school diploma). At first blush it sounds crazy, but it is less crazy than you think. Both the money and the time required for this are largely already within the P-12 model. If we made it a P-13 model, we could get a majority of kids to the Associates. A lot would have to change to make it happen, but mostly it is changing norms rather than markets, laws, or architectures. In short, if we wanted to do that for Kentucky kids, we could reasonably achieve it within a moderately short period of time. Certainly, the kindergartners of today could be in a P-13 system that gets them an Associates if we wanted to do that. Even if we missed the full target here, we would still get lots more kids to College and more would finish. I do not see the downside to trying.  

If we just keep having the same discussion we had today simply acknowledging the patterns, however, those kindergarteners tomorrow will face the same (or worse) situation than our college entrants today. Thus, if we are discussing making college seriously affordable and changing the current patterns, we necessarily must be discussing dual credit programs.

10x can be easier than 10% ... seriously

Make no mistake what I am personally going for at STEAM ... I want a 10 times better high school experience for kids, not just a 10% better high school experience. Most of the innovation I see in schools are people looking for a 10% better solution. They are mostly trying to maximize the efficiency out of existing models. There is nothing wrong with that at all. That is extremely valuable work, but it can also be draining as we try to squeeze more and more out of a model designed for a different time. 

I really love this article from Google X's thinkers (and passed along by Scott McLeod) on how it can actually be easier to go for 10x than 10%.

 
Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog.
— https://www.wired.com/2013/02/moonshots-matter-heres-how-to-make-them-happen/

I very much agree with this notion and my experience over the last 4 years developing STEAM confirms for me that not only are 10x opportunities possible within public schools, we can deliver them.

Take for instance the number of hours spent in internships in high school within Lexington. Last semester our kids (around 200) spent over 15,000 hours collectively. Pick any other random 200 high school kids in Lexington and they would be lucky to have 1,500. In fact, our small high school achieves more internship hours while in school than the rest of the city's public high schools combined. Honestly, it was actually easier to rethink our assumptions around when and how kids can leave the building than for a traditional public school to try to squeeze another 10% internship hours. At STEAM, we are going for similar 10x gains in dual credit courses, 10x fall in discipline rates, 10x project based learning opportunities. We are not actively trying to get those 10x gains, but when you are willing to get to the level of questioning assumptions and first principles ... those kinds of gains are possible. 

The key is in the assumptions. Every model (including our new one) is based on core assumptions. It is in those assumptions that opportunity truly lies because the assumptions that worked 20 years ago or 100 years ago do not necessarily work today. Many of them may still work, but some will not. Yet, those outdated assumptions are locked into the models we operate in schools. Once you start to see the assumptions (which I call the "code") they are absolutely everywhere. We make assumptions about how teachers spend time, what makes them qualified, how they should grade, how they should teach. We make assumptions about structures from the size of a classroom to the timing of the schedule. And, of course, we make assumptions about kids. Those can be the most infuriating. If you really want to know where the achievement gap lives, it is not in the mind of the child (which is equally, beautifully intelligent) it is in the assumptions of the adults.  

Getting beyond the assumptions requires a different kind of thinking ... one that does not come as naturally to us. No company in the world more clearly exhibits this trait right now than those of Elon Musk (Tesla and Spacex, we have a 10x better electric car, a 10x better battery, 10x better solar panels, and 10x better rockets). The key to getting those world-changing technological solutions time and again is that the people working in those companies reason from first principles, not from analogy. Elon (not the best speaker, be patient with him) explains below. 

Interview by Kevin Rose The benefit of "first principles" thinking? It allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists. 

When you apply this same reasoning to schooling ... finding and achieving 10x solutions is actually not that hard. Of course, it takes lots of time and communication and hours and hours of modeling, testing, adjusting, remodeling, etc. ... but if you stick with it at some point you look back and realize that you've achieved something for kids in your context that has never been achieved before. Not even close. Your are not 10% better for the learners than it was before, you are approaching 10x better. It can be done and much more easily than people realize.

Now, a 10x solution is not the same things as a "magic bullet" and it is also still making incremental improvements overall ... but we will leave those connections for another day.