Virtual School Meanderings

June 18, 2021

Continuing blended learning? Keep these 9 steps in mind for success.

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

K–12 Education Post-Pandemic

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 8:03 pm
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An item from a business professor with little direct experience in education, but who believes free market economic principles are the answer to education’s (and pretty much all other society’s social) problems.

K–12 Education Post-Pandemic

What We Take With Us And What We Leave Behind

As we turn the page on the 2020-21 school year, reflections around what we’ve learned are running rampant. Despite the chaos, many educators have discovered and built new practices that they are eager to hold onto—as well as several that they’d love to let go as soon as possible.

My friend and colleague Michael Petrilli offered his own take on five K–12 pandemic-era practices that deserve the dustbin in this piece for Education Next that I recommend.

And I recently partnered with Outschool, the online learning platform where students can sign up for a wide variety of classes and subjects to learn about their passions, to host a conversation with four K–12 educators from around the country on what they’d like to keep and discard from the pandemic year. You can watch the full conversation, “K–12 Education  Post-Pandemic: What We Take With Us and What We Leave Behind,” here.

A spoiler alert: the list the educators offered contains a couple sharp disagreements with Petrilli’s. And,what the educators said heartened me, as they expressed a desire to lean into practices that would allow us to break out of our current one-size-fits-all schooling system to make sure we serve each individual student with what they need to help them succeed.

All of the educators wanted to lean into competency-based—or mastery-based—learning. As Monica Lang, a principal in Clark County School District in Nevada, said, “educators are ready for competency-based and passion-based learning.” It’s policy, she said, that’s getting in the way of it happening, but she sees some bright lights on the horizon in her state.

Along these lines, two educators offered seemingly contradictory takes, but a deeper dive  revealed some important nuance (that’s all too often missing in the media and in policy conversations) and then significant agreement. Maria Armstrong, the executive director of the Association for Latino Administrators and Superintendents, said it’s critical that educators lean into using data. As she said, “That which gets assessed, gets addressed.”

But minutes later Dan Jennings, the technology and assessment coordinator for the Hagerman School District in New Mexico, said he wanted to move beyond the onerous assessment system.

When I pushed and asked how could we leverage data or move to mastery-based learning without robust systems of assessment that educators, families, and the public could trust, Jennings clarified quickly that he’s not anti-testing—after all, he’s been the assessment coordinator for his district. And testing is critical for learning. What he is against is the current system of summative, grade-level assessments that are not tightly linked to a student’s in-depth exploration of content that take a couple weeks to administer where results only appear well after the fact and are unusable for driving student learning. What he wants is smaller, on-demand, more authentic assessments that could be checked for validity and reliability but that are driving both learning and transparency.

In today’s time-based system, psychometricians (experts in the science of measurement) will tell you that assessments can’t do both. But in a mastery-based system, there are plenty of counter-factual case studies that show we can do better.

And as Jennings said, unleashing this is critical, as it’s time for schools to get away from the flawed notion that “spending 180 hours in a math class [means] now you’re ready to move on to Geometry.” As he said, students typically fall into one of two categories: either they achieve mastery relatively quickly and become bored, or they need more time to master the competencies—and moving them along too fast harms their future learning.

On the policy front, Scott Feder, the superintendent of South Brunswick School District in New Jersey, agreed emphatically what I’ve been arguing: that politicians like New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are wrong to ban the virtual school option for students next year. Although the vast majority of students will both opt to go back to in-person schooling and will do better in such an environment, a significant minority has had a very different experience that’s showed them that a virtual option is a superior choice for them. “Things that stress kids out and distract them were gone during remote learning,” Feder said to explain one reason why virtual schooling works better for some students.

Feder won’t just take the state’s ban for an answer. Besides advocating for change, he’s leaning into innovation. He said his district will find ways to capture the benefits of virtual learning for students, even if they are present in the building.

That spirit of innovation was what all the educators agreed that we can’t let go. Flexibility to try new things, honoring student ownership, focusing on engaging learners, the camaraderie from teachers to meet each child’s needs, and remembering that relationships matter significantly are all things that must remain front and center in people’s minds.

Outschool made for an interesting company to partner with for such an invigorating conversation. Its founder, Amir Nathoo, first came on my radar through an introduction from investor and education entrepreneur John Danner in March of 2018. I left my first conversation with Amir feeling like I had seen one of the most disruptive—yes, actually disruptive—U.S.-based K–12 education business plans I had yet come across.

To that end, Outschool hasn’t disappointed, as thanks to the pandemic fueling its rapid growth, it’s now worth $1.3 billion and has placed the trend of cohort-based online courses squarely on the map by creating a marketplace of teachers offering their expertise for a fee to students—and increasingly schools and districts—on a wide range of topics. The result is dramatically more affordable online courses than the first generation to emerge on the scene a couple decades ago that are also highly engaging with low student-to-teacher ratios. My own children have taken courses ranging from the topic of our Solar System to beat boxing. And I’ll confess, I may have sat in on one or two of the classes myself to learn. If you’re curious to learn more about Outschool, you can also check out this conversation that I hosted with Amir on my YouTube Live channel here back in July of 2020.

And again, if you want to be buoyed by the potential for innovations in our schools, I highly recommend watching the recording of my conversation with these four stellar educators.

ASU+GSV

Finally, before wrapping up this newsletter, I wanted to recommend one education conference this summer: if you’re an education entrepreneur, an investor, or an educator seeking to stay on top of the key trends to advance student learning, the ASU+GSV Summit is the place you need to be. It’s the one conference I’ve never missed—and it’s back in-person this summer from August 9 to 11. I’ll be there—it’ll be my first time on a plane in a long, long time—and, as usual, it promises to be stimulating. You can learn more here.

As always, thanks for reading, writing, and listening.

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June 11, 2021

“Learning loss” is problematic, but so are the solutions it’s generating

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

June 4, 2021

New research: Peer connections reimagined

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

June 2, 2021

Last chance to sign up for June Executive Learning

While not one of their newsletters, the same advice rings true to these “learning” opportunities.  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).

Dear Friends,

The registration deadline for our new Executive Learning course is rapidly approaching. A few spots remain for Disruptive Innovation: From Theory to Practice, running from June 14th-18th. Registration closes on Monday, June 7th.

This course is designed to empower today’s leaders to shape the markets of tomorrow by taking the guesswork out of strategy.

I know I speak for everyone at the Institute when I say that we’re very excited to welcome our first class of Executive Learning participants in a couple of weeks. We would love to see you there.

Looking forward to meeting this first cohort,
Ann Christensen, President and CEO

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