Deeper Learning Case Studies
By Tim Weldon
MAINE: Proficiency-based Diplomas
By 2017, students throughout Maine will be able to move from one grade to the next not based on spending a required number of hours or days in each subject, but by demonstrating that they understand certain concepts and skills.
Some students may be able to graduate high school in fewer than four years; for others, it may take longer.
More than 20 individual school districts and high schools had already adopted so-called proficiency-based models when the 2012 legislature enacted Legislative Document 1422. It will require all schools to provide proficiency-based diplomas to students who are now in the eighth grade. The legislation allows schools to apply for waivers to delay implementation until 2020.
In a proficiency-based system, some students would move through classes at a faster pace. Once they’ve passed a test, they could move to the next level regardless of how much time they have spent in class. Students will be allowed to repeat tests and assignments as often as required to demonstrate proficiency.
The Maine Department of Education describes the need for proficiency-based learning.
“The system of schools we have today is one in which time is the constant and learning is the variable. Teachers and students are given a fixed period of time in which to cover a fixed curriculum,” the department’s website says. “The result is a model that falls short of meeting the needs of all students. Some students disengage because the pace of the class does not challenge them, while others fail to achieve learning goals because the pace is too fast.
“In a learner-centered, proficiency-based system, students advance upon demonstration of mastery, rather than remain locked in an age-based cohort that progresses through a fixed curriculum at a fixed pace, regardless of learning achievement.”
KENTUCKY: Greater Coordination Between K–12, Higher Education
A common complaint is education policy occurs in silos.
K–12 and postsecondary education policymakers often work in isolation. Legislation and regulation impacts one or the other without bridging the divide separating the two sides. Without collaboration between K–12 and higher education, measures to promote college-readiness are difficult to implement successfully.
Kentucky has created a strong framework linking K–12 and postsecondary education, as well as the Education Professional Standards Board, which is responsible for teacher preparation and licensure issues in the state. In 2009, legislators enacted Senate Bill 1, an omnibus bill that paved the way for college and career readiness by mandating new standards and cross-agency cooperation.
One provision called on the Kentucky Board of Education, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and the Education Professional Standards Board to devise a strategy to reduce college remediation rates. The goal of Senate Bill 1 is to cut remediation rates in half by 2014 and to increase college completion rates among students who enrolled in at least one remedial class in college.
“It's going to require that all the agencies in the state work together, because it’s too big of a project,” Phillip Rogers, then-executive director of the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board, noted during a CSG focus group meeting this year.
Since Senate Bill 1 was enacted, these agencies have created cross-agency work teams that included two- and four-year institutions, among others. These work teams developed goals and action plans, identified useful resources and determined expected outcome measures for each of the strategies, promoting readiness and degree completion. The teams also developed ways to measure progress on each goals established by the bill.
OHIO: Turning Around Cleveland Schools
The Cleveland, Ohio, Metropolitan School District is shrinking.
Since 1996, it has lost nearly half of its student population. It ranks near the bottom of more than 600 school districts statewide in academic performance, and three-fourths of its 42,000 students are enrolled in schools on academic watch or academic emergency status.
Coupled with a $19 million budget shortfall, city and school leaders faced a crisis.
“We had to decide whether we wanted to live in a city or a cemetery,” Ohio Senate Minority Leader Nina Turner said.
In June, the Ohio legislature approved House Bill 525, known as the Cleveland Plan. It is designed to triple the number of students enrolled in high-performing district and charter schools and eliminate failing schools in the next six years.
“During the last decade we have lost 30,000 students,” said Turner, who supports the plan for the Cleveland district. “If we continue that, there won’t be any students to teach. Families are not going to bring their children into a system that will not prepare them to be successful.”
The Cleveland Plan updates employment policies to improve teacher quality and includes a salary schedule to reward high-performing teachers and teachers in high-demand fields. Teachers will no longer be assigned to buildings based on seniority; a team including the principal, parents and teachers at the school must approve their hiring.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sandra Williams, believes the plan can improve Cleveland’s schools.
“I think the legislative process was the vehicle to remove many of the restrictions that were in place,” she said.
Whether the district is able to bounce back may be determined on the outcome of a property tax levy expected to be by the ballot in Cleveland in November. If the levy fails, the school district will not be able to comply with many of the bill’s provisions and will likely be forced to lay off more than 200 teachers in January, Williams said.
WASHINGTON: Encouraging School Innovation
After state education leadership in Washington notified legislators in fall 2010 that 60 percent of the state’s 2,000 public schools were rated fair under the state’s accountability standards, legislators enacted two bills during the 2011 session to encourage and reward innovative practices.
House Bill 1546 directs the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop a review process for school districts to be designated as innovation schools. Schools that focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics or arts and that partner with community, business, industry and higher education, or that use project-based or hands-on learning are given priority status under the legislation.
The legislation authorizes the superintendent and the Washington Board of Education to waive specified laws and rules for schools earning the innovation designation. Waivers can include basic education requirements, student-to-teacher ratios and length of school year.
Innovative schools also will be allowed to commingle state funds for special programs, such as learning assistance and bilingual instruction and granted flexibility over credit-based graduation requirements. Groups of schools in a central area can apply together to be named an innovation zone.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Hargrove, a Boeing employee, understands the need for motivating the next generation of students to fill high-tech jobs.
“The teachers and the parents at the local level know what’s best for their students,” he said. “I just felt in my heart that the ideas that work the best are when the people at the ground level buy into it. They’ll work hard on it and make sure it comes to fruition.”
Also during the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers in Washington enacted House Bill 1521, which requires the state superintendent to develop basic criteria and a streamlined review process for identifying existing innovative schools in the state. It also requires the superintendent to create a website to highlight those innovative schools and to publicize the schools that have been designated as innovative.
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