Proposing a New High School Way

High school reimagined (and we mean truly reimagined) was the title of the winning entry in the Fordham Institute’s annual policy Wonkathon (asking this time whether graduation requirements need to change). Here is that powerful article (with a nod to Indiana) from two leaders of K12 Inc, an online learning provider:

So what is the purpose of high school in America? We think most agree that it is to train our students up to be responsible and productive citizens. But how exactly do we measure that? Research over the years has shown the numerous benefits of high school completion, how it improves the likelihood of higher wages and decreases the likelihood of being arrested for a crime, for example. This type of research led to a focus on graduation as the ultimate measurement. It’s as though we believed that something magical happened by simply pushing all students to get across the graduation stage in four years.

In turn, while the national graduation rate has soared to record highs from 2005 to 2015, the value of a high school diploma, as measured by median annual earnings, has taken a significant dip over that same time period. The value of the diploma has decreased, even as more students have crossed the stage. Would we say that 84.1 percent of our students, all those who graduated in 2016, are leaving high school prepared for successful lives? Ask ten people and we bet you won’t get a single “yes.” Therein lies the problem we are faced with today.

Where did we go wrong and how do we fix it? First, it’s important to change how we measure success. If we want high schools to ultimately turn out responsible and productive citizens and we agree that not every graduate in America today fits that criteria, then let’s not use graduation rate as our ultimate measure of success. Let’s instead measure the outcomes we wish to see after high school; things like employment rates, median annual wages, job satisfaction, and postsecondary educational program enrollment and completion rates. Are these metrics as easy to calculate and report out for every school and district as the four-year cohort graduation rate? No. Should that prevent us from doing it? No (but it often does).

With our focus firmly planted on student outcomes after high school, we can now begin to reimagine the experience itself. The solution – personalized learning, the educational buzz word that has every school across the nation attempting to better serve each student’s unique needs and goals. All the while the system in which these schools operate has continued its one-size-fits-all model. The right hand is saying, “Every child is unique, has different strengths and weakness and dreams, and should have ownership and agency over his/her learning,” yet the left hand is simultaneously shouting, “But don’t forget you need to ensure he/she masters every single rigorous standard, passes every standardized test, and graduates college-and-career ready in four years.” It’s time we take the hands and align the left with the right (and no, that isn’t a political joke).

To build a personalized learning model that effectively graduates students prepared to successfully contribute to society, let’s do three things:

  • Embrace cross-curricular competency-based learning
  • Personalize graduation paths
  • Realign learning across the preschool to higher education/career continuum

Cross-curricular competency-based learning

Across the country at this very minute, there are thousands of students sitting in classes they could have aced on the very first day of school. An even larger population of students are being dragged along to more advanced concepts before they are ready simply because the teacher needs to cover all of the course objects in the allotted amount of days for the semester.

Our current system based entirely on the accrual of seat time and credits in individual subject areas is incredibly outdated. Instead, our high school “graduation plan” should be a cross-curricular checklist of knowledge and skills that students should master in order to graduate. Education Reimagined is partnering with schools nationwide to make learner-centered education like this a reality. The beauty of this model is that it not only allows a student to advance at his/her own pace, but it opens up a wide range of pathways by which a student can demonstrate mastery, which leads us to our next recommendation.

Personalized graduation paths

It’s time we truly acknowledge that every student is unique and in turn provide fully personalized graduation paths. Career and technical education (CTE) and college preparation programs should be seen as equals, preparing students for the next step they choose to take. For example, if the graduation checklist requires students to be able to write a research paper, let’s give them an option to fulfill that in any course whether that is advanced English Literature or a welding course.

A 2016 CTE Study from the Fordham Institute shows many benefits to a quality CTE program, including an increased likelihood that the student will graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, and be employed with a higher wage after graduation. Every student should be given control to create a path toward graduation that uses his/her interests and future plans as a foundation upon which to add relevant coursework, internships, and life skills training. Indiana seems to be leading the way in this area with recently-approved Graduation Pathways.

Realignment across the learning continuum

Embracing the above two recommendations means a shift in American high schools as we know them. Knowing that, it is important that our last recommendation be to reimagine learning across the entire preschool to higher education/career continuum. Instead of moving students in primary grades with age cohorts, let’s focus on competency-based mastery. Give students who need extra time the time that they need to gain understanding and allow those who are ready to move on the chance to advance.

Instead of labeling a student as a “failure” for not having graduated from high school in four years, set the expectation that students may master all of the competencies required in anywhere from three to seven years. Connect that high school graduation checklist with expectations of colleges, universities, career training programs, and jobs in order to ensure that when students do graduate they are truly prepared to embrace the next step, whatever that is for them.

So with three simple recommendations we have successfully turned the entire high school system on its head.

Report: Competency Focus Mostly on Adults

Three states considered bills that would have enacted competency-based education policies in 2016 and five considered such bills in 2017, according to a new report from the Education Commission of the States.

A number of states (including New Hampshire) and districts (including Chicago) are using or contemplating competency-based learning in K-12 schools. A group of prestigious private high schools recently began pushing for colleges to accept competency-based high school transcripts, which highlight students’ skills and accomplishments instead of more-traditional grades.

But the state legislatures seem to mostly be contemplating how to use competency-based education to serve adults. Lexi Anderson, the report’s author, notes that states’ competency-based education bills mostly target the growing population of people over 25 who are enrolled in postsecondary education.

“[C]ompetency-based education serves to award credit/degrees to students for meeting specific skill competencies agreed upon by faculty, industry leaders, and workforce representatives,” she writes. “This innovative delivery model could create greater access to postsecondary education for returning adults, low-income students, and working adults needing additional skills.”

Senate Puts Its Mark on State Budget Bill

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley (R- Noblesville), primary drafter of the Senate version of the budget, has now put his touches on the House-drafted version. After a concise explanation and short discussion in committee, HB 1001 was passed unanimously (although the Democrat leadership expressed mild discomfort with some particulars) and now goes to the full Senate.

A few highlights of the $32.14 billion budget package include:

  • a 1.7% increase each year in K-12 education funding – $348 million over the biennium
  • $4 billion to higher education
  • $5 million to the governor’s office for substance abuse prevention, treatment and enforcement
  • $500,000 for homeless veterans
  • a 24% salary increase for state police officers
  • $6 million to double-track the South Shore Line

The budget will maintain an 11%, or $1.8 billion, reserve. But there is a lot still to be determined about how the final negotiated budget will shape up. Unresolved at this point is the fate of the House’s desire to direct all the sales tax collected on gasoline to road funding and an increase to the cigarette tax – both of which could impact the budget. And finally, it must be recalled that the budget-makers will receive an updated revenue forecast in a couple weeks; that too could change the picture some. So, while the Senate has spoken, the last word is still a few weeks away.

Chamber Endorses Jennifer McCormick for Superintendent of Public Instruction

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is backing Dr. Jennifer McCormick in the race for state superintendent of public instruction over incumbent Glenda Ritz. The organization has very rarely stepped into statewide races and this marks the first time ever to endorse a challenger in one. McCormick is the current Yorktown Community Schools superintendent.

“Our volunteer leadership voted to take this unusual step because we can’t have four more years of divisiveness and dysfunction from the Department of Education. It’s time to hit the reset button,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“We need a state superintendent who understands the importance of having a productive working relationship with the stakeholders engaged in the state’s education policy. Glenda Ritz has proven she’s incapable of doing that and has over politicized the system.”

In contrast, the Indiana Chamber notes McCormick’s “positive relationships with both educators and the business community. She will be the constructive, get-things-done type of a superintendent that we need in today’s climate.”

States Dr. McCormick: “I am honored to receive this support from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Over the last two decades, I have served at every level in our state’s K-12 public education system, as a classroom teacher, principal and superintendent. I am running for this office because Indiana deserves the best Department of Education in the nation.

“I look forward to working with our state’s dynamic business community and all stakeholders as we strive to put students first and prepare them for careers in our great state.”

The Indiana Chamber has long been involved in education policy because businesses need good, qualified talent to thrive.

“We are well aware of the current workforce challenges that must be addressed by business leaders and educators working together,” Brinegar explains. “We need a superintendent who will roll up her sleeves, and work in tandem with other state agencies and organizations to make the needed progress. That is exactly what we expect Jennifer McCormick to do.”

When it comes to specific policies under Ritz that are of concern, Brinegar is quick to cite several.

“Maintaining the education policies that have improved student outcomes in recent years is at risk,” he states. “Whether that’s our assessments, school and teacher accountability or parental choice of which school is best for their children. Ritz is in favor of none of that.”

Her clear opposition to any type of accountability may be the most troubling for the Indiana Chamber.

“The accountability aspect is so vital because this is what tells parents, students and the community at-large how well their schools and teachers are performing, so that parents can make informed decisions about what school their child attends,” Brinegar stresses.

“Jennifer McCormick believes in the importance of accountability and she demonstrates it every day as a successful superintendent who leads a team in her schools and focuses on what’s best for student learning.”

One of the Indiana Chamber’s top objectives for the 2017 legislative session will be expansion of state-supported pre-K to more students from low-income families.

“Jennifer McCormick realizes that the at-risk group needs to be the focus and she will make effective use of the state’s scarce resources,” Brinegar offers. “We can count on her to administer this important program properly. We can’t risk having what happened to ISTEP happen with pre-K.”

Indiana’s K-12 Education Standards Debate — Nearly Settled

UPDATE: On Monday, April 28, the State Board of Education approved new academic standards.

Monday is the day the State Board of Education votes on the draft K-12 academic standards. It’s the final hurdle in putting in place new standards for Indiana schools.

The origins of this standards debate were rooted in concerns about federal control. The Common Core academic standards, actually developed by governors and state superintendents, were viewed as a federal intrusion because President Obama and his Secretary of Education supported the standards – and they used federal “Race to the Top” grants to help entice states to adopt the standards.

Indiana selected the Common Core as its standards back in August of 2010  – a full four months after withdrawing from the Race to the Top grant competition. Nonetheless, federal intrusion theories took hold.

So just as the state Legislature mandated and Gov. Pence promised, a process was developed to assure – with absolute certainty – that Indiana had control over its standards. Indeed, no set of standards in Indiana’s history has ever engaged so many Hoosiers and provided for so much public input. They are Hoosier developed, Hoosier adopted and Hoosier controlled.

Ironically, those who pushed the hardest for this review process are now unhappy with the outcome. That’s because, as it turns out, Hoosier educators actually liked the Common Core standards (no surprise to us!) – even when compared to Indiana’s old standards and to other well-respected models.

So, yes, the new standards look a lot like Common Core. But it’s also important to note that Indiana’s old standards were a primary source in the development of Common Core, and Indiana policy leaders were actively involved in that development.  In reality then, the outcome of this review should come as no surprise to anyone.

In the end, Indiana’s new standards are consistent with the process that was demanded by some and promised by others; it has produced a set of standards that Hoosier educators have identified as the best standards for Indiana students. And wasn’t that the original goal of those who opposed Common Core in the first place?

Like it or not, Indiana has identified its own standards; we are adopting them voluntarily; and we have asserted and will maintain complete control over the future of those standards.

 

Ready Indiana Gets New Leader

A former Indiana Department of Education employee who has spent her career exploring successful post-secondary opportunities for students has joined the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in a newly-defined role. Amy Marsh is now the organization’s director of college and career readiness initiatives.

Marsh will oversee Ready Indiana and Indiana Skills. In addition, she will be a key part of the Indiana Chamber’s expanding workforce development efforts.

An Indianapolis native, Marsh is a graduate of Butler University with a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in school counseling.

Previously, she was an independent consultant focusing on career pathways, school counseling, career and technical education and curriculum development. She has worked for the College Board (the company that administers the SAT) as a senior educational manager in the K-12 division. Prior to that, Marsh worked for the Indiana Department of Education as the state coordinator for advanced placement, international baccalaureate and dual credit and as the assistant director of college and career readiness.

Marsh has also been a school teacher, school counselor and director of high school counseling – all at Indianapolis schools.

The Budget and Education: What You Need to Know

During Monday’s Statehouse debate on the budget, Sen. Connie Sipes (D-New Albany) made an impassioned plea that "money should follow the programs." The former educator added that the "money following the students sounds really good," but it doesn’t work.

Chamber education expert Derek Redelman tackled that issue (funding on a district vs. student perspective) and much more in a recent comprehensive overview of K-12 as it relates to the budget. Read here for a much clearer understanding of these key topics.

K-12 Testing Just Doesn’t Measure Up

The subject is testing in Indiana’s K-12 schools and their effectiveness. The short responses include:

  • Nate Schellenberger, ISTA: "We have a hodgepodge of things and they don’t correlate together. I think it’s an area a lot of time and money is spent on, and I don’t think it’s nearly as efficient as it should be."
  • Vince Bertram, Evansville Schools superintendent: "We would take ISTEP and not have results back for months. So it was never designed to be useful data in terms of forming instruction."
  • Derek Redelman, Indiana Chamber: "We’ve had a terrible testing system in Indiana." The state, he adds, has recently started to take advantage of technology advancements. Looking back and then ahead, he summarizes, "I think it’s been pretty awful, frankly, but I think we’re on the verge of having something that’s pretty neat."

This was just one of the subjects in a spirited BizVoice roundtable discussion. Read the full story, including the length of school days and years, district consolidation, dollars to the classroom, teacher quality and more.