Virtual School Meanderings

February 26, 2021

Plugged In | 2.26.21 New Podcast, Federal and State Policy Updates, and Upcoming Webinars

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 11:59 pm
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An item from the neo-liberals to end the week.

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Aurora Institute - Plugged In
Racial Equity in Education Policymaking
New Episode of the Innovation Spotlight Podcast
A Focus on Racial Equity in Education Policymaking
Nine months ago, the murder of George Floyd galvanized the world, already in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, to reckon with our nation’s legacy of racial injustice. After the numerous statements, protests, and court hearings faded, several states began inquiries into how racism impacts public systems, including K-12 education. Two states—Minnesota and Kentucky—are working on racial equity in public systems to remedy gaps in opportunity and access. Other states have taken noticeable K-12 education measures, too, such as new efforts to diversify the educator workforce, and to improve cultural pedagogy and competency.

We think we are seeing a trend in education policy proposals, illuminating the power of these tragic moments to capture the moral imagination of our country and jolt it into action. In this episode, Aurora Institute Policy Director Fred Jones talked with Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith, Senior Director, US Regions at National Geographic, and Danyika Leonard, Policy Director of Education Evolving, to unpack the opportunity for more states to examine racial equity in education policy.

Center for Policy and Advocacy February 2021 Updates
Center for Policy and Advocacy February 2021 Updates
The Aurora Institute Center for Policy has compiled a resource on the latest developments in federal and state education policy. The February 2021 update includes a look at the federal government’s actions around assessing student learning this school year, CDC reopening guidance, the nomination of Dr. Miguel Cardona as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and the E-Rate program. At the state level, Indiana and Kentucky are considering changes to their accountability systems. Michigan’s state superintendent wants to extend the school year, and Minnesota’s governor wants all qualifying seniors to be automatically admitted to the state universities. The Center for Policy is also watching 12 bills related to personalized, competency-based education and our policy priorities.
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Upcoming Events
Aurora frequently hosts webinars and convenings with the field’s leading experts to explore trends, tackle pressing problems of practice and policy, and share emerging knowledge from research. The following opportunities to learn and network are open for registration.

Exploring Innovative School Models in the Canopy Project’s Interactive National Database

March 10, 2021 |  3 PM ET

Newly released data from the Canopy project provide an overview of how 150+ schools are innovating during the COVID-19 era. In this webinar, we will describe the Canopy Project’s crowdsourced approach to building collective knowledge on a more diverse set of innovative schools across the country. In addition, we’ll share trends in how the most innovative schools are redesigning their models to advance personalization, nurture relationships, build an anti-racist society, and ensure well-being for every student. Join us to discuss emerging trends in school model innovation and what kinds of analyses the Canopy project should prioritize moving forward.

Exploring Innovative School Models in the Canopy Project’s Interactive National Database

  • Chelsea Waite, Education Research Fellow, Christensen Institute
  • David Nitkin, Partner, Transcend
  • Mebane Rash, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, EducationNC
  • Dr. Angie Mullennix, Director of K-12 Academics and Innovation Strategy, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
A Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency-Based Education

  • Tonya Howell, CBE Social Emotional Integration Specialist, Chicago Public Schools
  • Fred Jones, Policy Director, Aurora Institute
  • Eliot Levine, Research Director, Aurora Institute
  • Susan Patrick, President and CEO, Aurora Institute
  • Damarr Smith, Project Manager of CBE, Chicago Public Schools

A Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency-Based Education

March 23, 2021 | 3 PM ET

Schools and districts across the United States are realizing the promise of competency-based education—transforming the culture, structure, and pedagogy of the traditional time-based system into one that is designed to help every student succeed. Attend this webinar to hear reflections on the current state of competency-based education. Gain an understanding of developments happening across the field. The presenters will explore areas of growth for the field, identify emerging issues, and provide insights to inform the future direction of competency-based education. We will also invite your reflections on the field.


Education Domain Blog

Aurora Institute Congratulates Christopher Rush as Next Director of Educational Technology

At a time when technological innovation is uniquely positioned to shape the context for next-generation learning, we are filled with delight and optimism over the appointment of Chris Rush as the Director of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education Office of the Secretary.

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Aurora Institute Congratulates Christopher Rush as Next Director of Educational Technology
Innovation Is Everywhere
Innovation Is Everywhere

As program officers at three national education foundations, we know that educators everywhere are making big changes in teaching and learning. But the education community—funders like us, along with state and federal decision-makers, district and school leaders, researchers, and advocates—has not had a ready source of detailed information about innovators outside established networks or major urban centers. As a result, only a few schools gain widespread attention, and models that are relevant to educators working in a variety of contexts remain under the radar.

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Featured Resource

Join the Leading Change PLC

Join the Leading Change PLC

The Leading Change PLC is a free, virtual educator-driven group facilitated through the KnowledgeWorks Personalized Learning Community, an online community that connects personalized learning practitioners from multiple states. The Leading Change PLC will help members:

  • Connect and learn with other classroom, school, and district leaders at various stages and levels of transformation to personalized, competency-based learning
  • Celebrate educators who are seizing every opportunity to accelerate change and innovate for sustainable equitable practices
  • Develop a support system to lean on in your work to build belief in the vision and sustainable systems and structures
  • Get peer feedback, insights, and ideas to help with specific challenges and strategies to advance change
  • Share resources and examples with your peers across the country
  • Reflect on what it takes to lead transformation and consider personal growth goals
Learn More

Plugged In Headlines: News About Education Transformation



Future of Education

3 trends that will drive education forward in 2021
District Administration

A New PK-12 Education Ecosystem Framework for a New Normal
Harvard Social Impact Review

What Works in Advocating for Change in Education

Innovative School Models

2020 vs. 2021: Notable trends in innovative school practice nationwide
Christensen Institute

Will Shift to Online Classes Speed Progress Toward Student-Centered Learning? Survey Hints at Some Ways Forward
The 74


States Still Must Give Standardized Tests This Year, Biden Administration Announces
Education Week

U.S. Department of Education COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools
U.S. Department of Education

White House Unveils New Money to Aid COVID-19 Testing in Schools, But Says More Is Needed
Education Week

A look at SEL’s evolving importance during and after COVID
District Administration

Biden Trims Ambitions on School Reopening Pledge
The New York Times

New Resource Tracks School System Reopening
Education Week

Educational Equity

In Navajo Nation, a Star Superintendent Draws on His Ties to the Community
Education Week

How school funding can help repair the legacy of segregation

Schooling the Session
Santa Fe Reporter

Educator Workforce

New UCLA Research Effort Aims to Increase Diversity of Educators in California

You, us, we…

Join Our Community
Our Center for Policy  leads the multi-stage evolution of policy necessary for the growth of effective student-centered learning models toward the goals of high-quality learning and equity. Our policy priorities are designed to ensure the nation’s education system is fit for purpose and help move states forward from their current state of education to future systems.
CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to K-12 competency-based education. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators, we share knowledge through a practice-focused blog, research reports on emerging issues, policy advocacy, and resources curated from across the field.
The Aurora Institute hosts a resource library containing more than 200 materials. Working collaboratively with diverse experts in the field, the Aurora Institute produces reports, books, policy briefs, blog posts, webinars, and related resources on key topics and tough issues that equip and empower educators and leaders to catalyze and scale personalized, next-generation learning models.
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The mission of Aurora Institute is to drive the transformation of education systems and accelerate the advancement of breakthrough policies and practices to ensure high-quality learning for all.

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Ready to be an anti-racist school? Here’s a must.

As I say each week…  From the neo-liberal, educational privatizers masquerading as an academic body – so the term research here is used VERY loosely (as none of this actually represents methodologically sound, reliable, valid, or empirical research in any real way).

Check out this week’s highlights from the Christensen Institute. 
Christensen Institute · 92 Hayden Avenue · Lexington, MA 02421 · USA

Hybrid Teaching: People, Pedagogy, Politics

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 8:03 pm
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An update from the folks behind this book.

Simulteaching stresses teachers and isn’t great for students either

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.

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Simulteaching stresses teachers and isn’t great for students either


A recurring theme of DLC blog posts, and elsewhere, is that pandemic-induced remote learning typically uses different methods than online learning as practiced by experienced online schools and course providers. In particular, we have noted the extent to which synchronous video is frequently used during remote learning, while online schools and courses tend to rely primarily on asynchronous tools.

Another common aspect of COVID instructional practice has been teachers instructing some students face-to-face in a classroom, while at the same time also instructing students who are joining remotely from home. We have not seen data on how common this is, but given how often we hear about this approach, we’ve decided it deserves a name: simulteaching.

(A very quick Google search demonstrates that we’re not the first to come up with this term, which has been used as least as far back as 1992. It was used in the context of what was then called interactive television, which for the kids among our readers–anyone under age 50—is like a TV version of the Internet.)

We’ve not seen much media and policy attention to this type of teaching, however, which is why a recent Washington Post article is notable. “More teachers are asked to double up, instructing kids at school and at home simultaneously” describes one teacher’s routine as follows:

“With third grade back in the building, Meghan Foster was teaching math one recent morning to two classes at once: 14 students who filled her classroom on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and another six children logging in from laptops at home.

To make it work, the veteran teacher from Caroline County used a desktop computer, a laptop and a document camera, adjusting for glitches as she went along. She strove to meld the in-person with the virtual, to strike a balance between children who are near and far.”

The article goes on to suggest that supporters of this approach:

“say it reduces staffing problems, minimizes disruption by keeping children with the same teachers and allows for a relatively seamless reversion to total distance learning, if a class or school sees an outbreak of the coronavirus.”

Some of that may be true. But we believe the challenge of connecting with some people—students or otherwise—face-to-face while others are at a distance is extremely difficult. We’re not the only ones who think this way:

“It is not humanly possible to engage kids in person and online at the same time with the attention that is needed,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Teachers are very, very, very frustrated by this.”

Granted, teachers unions have had much to say about the negative aspects of teaching during the pandemic. But we agree with this quote 100%, in that not only is simulteaching extremely difficult, but it also appears that the degree of difficulty is under-appreciated.

Part of our appreciation for this challenge comes from having been involved in meetings, and now DLAC planning, which attempt to engage some people onsite and some people online, at the same time. It’s very hard and we always plan to have multiple people involved, so that one person can focus on each audience. For DLAC we are planning to have A/V support that will cost hundreds of dollars per day per room—obviously far more than schools can pay. We are also going to have moderators in each room being live streamed, creating a connection between onsite and online attendees which is difficult for a single presenter—or teacher—to create.

An additional challenge is in the hardware and software needed to implement this approach well. Arizona State University has also been offering a version of simulteaching, which it calls ASU Sync. Here’s a description of technology available in what ASU calls the “Zoom enhanced classroom”:

“Two full high-definition (1080p) cameras featuring full pan, tilt, and zoom controls from a touch screen. One camera focused on the instructor, one focused on the student seating area. One-touch camera control presets for the lectern and whiteboard areas.

Complete room audio coverage with multiple intelligent, steerable microphone arrays (some consisting of 100 microphones within a 2’ diameter housing) to capture instructors and students. Larger classrooms will be equipped with additional wireless lavalier microphones to enhance audio quality.

Digital whiteboarding – A 24” touch display and stylus will provide a digital, writable surface that can be shared into Zoom for remote participants and in-room students to view simultaneously.”

That is the best of three options that ASU has for its sync classrooms, but even the other two options are far more technologically advanced than what most K-12 schools can offer. In addition, that same ASU page links to far more professional learning and supports for instructors than most K-12 schools can provide.

The bottom line: If simulteaching can be done well, it requires far larger financial and time investments than most K-12 schools can make.

Of course, it’s clear that instruction during the pandemic has been difficult and there’s no perfect solution. Most school leaders and teachers are working incredibly hard to do the best they can under incredibly challenging circumstances, and it’s too easy—and not useful—to simply sit back from afar and toss out criticisms.

But the WA PO article also suggests that the use of simulteaching may increase:

Simulteaching is “about to get ramped up in dramatic fashion. Under pressure from President Biden and governors, and facing mounting evidence that schools can reopen if safety measures are followed, districts in the Washington region and nationwide are embarking on the difficult mission of returning hundreds of thousands of children to classrooms that have been shuttered for nearly a year.

Even as the vaccine rollout continues, not everyone will go back to school. Many families are choosing to keep their children home, deeming the health risk too great. Schools may limit in-person days to allow for adequate social distancing, making for a hybrid approach that combines virtual and in-person learning.”

In other words, according to the Post, many districts are planning for more simulteaching, and this could extend even beyond the current school year.

Simulteaching as an emergency strategy a year ago, and as implemented during parts of the current school year, may have made sense. Again, it’s too easy to criticize from afar, without acknowledging all the pressures that school and district leaders face. But any national, state, or district leaders who are considering simulteaching to be a key part of their school year 2021-22 strategy should reconsider and instead look to the examples of districts that are planning for more effective online and hybrid strategies.
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Valuing vs. Acknowledging Diversity in Education

A newsletter from a US-based K-12 online learning program.

The Digital Backpack: Your Resource for Online Learning | Powered by Michigan Virtual
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Hi Michael,

The Digital Backpack — powered by Michigan Virtual — is your resource for everything online and blended learning, including  tips, tricks, & the latest research on supporting online K-12 students and, more broadly, using technology to innovate learning.


On occasion, we also dive into other topics relevant to Michigan’s educational community, such as social emotional learning, restorative practices, literacy, student-centered learning, and more!


This week, we’ve got some great stuff packed up for you. Check it out below!

Valuing vs. Acknowledging Diversity in Education

By Nikki Herta, Wednesday, February 24, 2021 3:56 PM


There’s a difference between acknowledging diversity in education and valuing it. In this article, we talk to Joy Taylor, a special educator at the Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education who shares her experiences personalizing learning for students left behind by the traditional system and posits a vision for education that goes beyond lip service to truly value diverse perspectives.



Podcast: Learning like an Innovator with The Henry Ford

By Michigan Virtual, Tuesday, February 16, 2021 10:53 AM


In this episode, we talk to Phil and Luice from the Learning and Engagement Team at The Henry Ford. We discuss research that indicates that humans are innately innovative, especially in difficult situations. Yet innovation tends to happen in clusters in specific locations in the U.S. So why is that? Is there a key that… Read more



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