As I began writing, the enormity of the topic sunk in. I realized that those in special education are way ahead in their thinking! They realize better than any other that education is not a one size fits all, but should be customized around the strengths and weaknesses of an individual child. They have firsthand experience in creating Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and implementing this style of customized or what *Aurora calls, Personalized and competency based education. So please do indulge me if I went a little off tangent for a while as it is for the sake of a higher purpose that I do.
Nowadays the background experiences of some of the children which give them the label of "at risk" affects their personalities, behaviors, and even though they may not fall under the traditional category of children with "special needs", they still need to be treated as such. Or else we may lose an increasing cross section of population to delinquency, resulting in a burden to society instead of becoming future constructive citizens. Personalization is crucial to not only their success but can and should be done, for all children (typical and atypical). In other words, an IEP for all, albeit a more simplified version of an IEP for typical children.
You might say, this is too Utopic an idea, given the diversity of students with regard to race, gender, socio-economic aspects, slow learner, fast learner, LGBTQ, and children with special needs, all together in one classroom being taught by a class teacher (with a little help hopefully.) That it is not practical or doable.
Well, the good news is that with the right kind of support and given the fantastic innovations in technological software, what was impossible, is now possible. Harnessing the support of technology would support the teachers in utilizing their time in more enjoyable and useful forms of learning, such as the potential of fantasy, role play, group discussion, project based learning and problem based learning. Thus personalizing learning to each student and understanding and solving real world problems and scenarios which enhance 21st century skills such as critical thinking, team work, collaboration, multiple perspectives, creativity, imagination and not to forget character building and socio-emotional learning, across a broader cross section of students. This is more important to a student’s growth, learning and achieving success in my opinion than being a stickler to traditional and rigid forms of assessment, strict adherence to seat time and an ‘industrialized’ form of education which does not work efficiently in the ‘information’ age of internet globalization and diversity.
Stalwarts in education such as some of the Scandinavian countries for eg. Finland are moving away from silos subjects and towards “phenomenon based” learning in their main stream education. Further, personalization and proficiency or competency based education is already being implemented across the US to varying levels. Please refer to the link for the map below. Also, the benefit of ‘personalization or individualizing an education plan for all’ would have the added benefit of removing the stigma associated with having an IEP for children with special needs.
If you refer to the link of the map of competency based education which facilitates personalization across the US below, you will notice several states with significantly promising state policies and implementation in this area. (Learn more here: https://aurora-institute.org/blog/competencyworks-releases-updated-competency-education-state-policy-map-for-the-united-states/)
The funding needs to be better directed towards shifting to more meaningful methods of assessments, where students will no longer take “fill in the bubble exams,” but demonstrate mastery/proficiency in various ways, such as performance-based assessments. This will require significant attention to and investment in building educator and leader capacity for next generation assessments and allowing for the development of more meaningful accountability with a higher focus on achieving greater transparency and equity with multiple measures of student learning and learning environments.
My reason for giving you a snapshot of what is starting to happen, in fact has been happening for some years across the US as well as in other parts of the world, is to reinforce the importance of customization or personalization in closing the gaps in learning and bringing a love of learning back to our students.
At a time when not only a lot of the states across the US, but also other countries are moving towards personalization of education, so then how can we in Nevada veer away from customization at this nth hour?
Education Innovation Collaborative
I’m grateful to our wise and hardworking EIC team member and recent college graduate, Michelle Alber, for sharing her compelling story in a video-letter to education innovation advocates. (See letter/transcript here).
As Michelle says, young people have for too long been disempowered and disengaged in their learning experiences. Even privileged students like her have felt the imposed stress of the current education system to conform to an outdated definition of success; get all As in courses, strive for a competitive college, compete for high paying jobs, earn enough to own a car, home, and raise a family. But the education rat race has left young people feeling unsuccessful, under-prepared for the workforce, unmotivated, in debt, and struggling to make ends meet in unsatisfying jobs. Michelle spent a year searching for a job that leveraged her expensive out of state BA in political science and anthropology, and then settled for an office manager position that taps into a fraction of her abilities and interests. Michelle’s brother will be graduating from college in June to a likely still-COVID-ravaged economy that will be challenging for ALL graduates - whether high school or college - but even more so for a passionate philosophy major. It seems that both of my children feel the best and only path is to pursue yet another expensive degree - to take on more education debt for a business or law degree that will eventually, hopefully help them make ends meet.
For less advantaged students, which are the bulk of our population, higher degrees are seen as impractical and out of reach. Even if they get scholarships and Pell grants, today’s young adults know how many of their peers have failed to earn any degree (on average, only 55% of freshmen complete a degree at a Nevada university - and community colleges are even lower). The bulk of education debt is carried by incompleters who also struggle to access jobs that can pay it off. Clearly it’s not our young people who are failing. It’s our non-adapting system of schooling that is failing to meet new needs. The system must update criteria of “readiness” and “success” in today’s world. Instead of diploma factories for yesterday’s jobs, schools need to start fulfilling their core role in serving a rapidly changing society.
I hope we can all agree that that role, simply put, is to prepare every learner to thrive for life.
I hope we can also agree that today’s systems are not designed to develop and uplift each and every learner to thrive - to honor their glorious uniqueness, unleash their strengths and full genius, or empower their highest contribution to a better world.
While shifting our education system to serve this higher purpose is a daunting challenge, COVID-19 is forcing us to action. Education is the slowest social system to innovate - to integrate new technologies to optimize efficiency and effectiveness - to adapt to the new reality of what citizens need to be successful in our increasingly complex world. As education is the most foundational system to society, its products - high performing self-directed lifelong learners - are crucial to enabling the high functioning of all other social systems;
The education system has been the most bureaucratic of all social systems - slow to leverage new technologies to empower the end-users; to enable learners to be in charge of their own learning. If we act quickly and collaboratively, Nevada has a unique opportunity to leapfrog and transcend the outdated goals, assessments, policies, politics, methodologies, inequitable funding, entrenched politics, and misguided promotion criteria. How? By adopting the EIC mission: to reimagine education to empower every learner to thrive to their potential.
After years of seeking pathways to realize this essential and urgent mission, the fog is slowly lifting, and we are seeing the bridge to our brightest future. EIC’s team is now working with innovators in several Nevada counties, including Churchill, Washoe, and Pershing, to host student Design Clubs. These small teams of forward-looking students and coaches will work on two key PROJECTS to envision the future:
In this great video by master teacher John Spencer, Why Journalism is the Subject of the Future, investigative story-telling in and with the community is revealed as a profound and powerful learning methodology. Please visit our website to learn about our vision and plans for nurturing community-based Learning Lab Ecosystems based on the common principles behind journalism, scientific inquiry, and entrepreneurialism to solve community needs.
As student Design Club members guide us in re-imagining education, we’ll necessarily need some re-languaging:
1. Moving from student to learner to Selfpreneur; designer-creator of one’s best life
2. Moving from teacher-instructors to coach-cheerleader teams who guide Selfpreneur teams through “collaborative action research and design” project investigations in the real world.
Does this paradigm shift sound scary, essential, and fun at the same time?
Please join us to unleash ALL young people to explore their world - to discover their gifts and passions on their hero’s quest to their most fulfilling place and contribution to their community and world.
GIVE GENEROUSLY to make 2021 an amazing year for Nevada students.
SIGN UP to learn more and co-create with us!
Mary Alber, PhD, MBA
Founding Director of Education Innovation Collaborative
Here's the Situation;
Here's the Solution
The Education Innovation Collaborative (EIC) was created to solve these problems - through transforming the system. EIC has a plan to turn this crisis around and position Nevada as a leader in the new paradigm of student-powered learning. We believe that enabling all children in Nevada to become independent and collaborative learners, online at home and in enhanced schools and community places, is the path to success for education in Nevada - and beyond. Our team of experts has been working with Nevada’s vanguard of innovators and leaders to design a roadmap to a future in which ALL students thrive to their full potential.
What’s the key to this future? Empowering every learner, of every age, to design and own their learning as self-directed masters - as Selfpreneurs* of their best life. These passion-driven learners will be highly collaborative, creative, compassionate, and ready to make the world a better place to live.
To achieve these critical, challenging shifts, we envision Power Learning Labs in every community -- virtual and physical spaces and resources where students engage in REAL learning challenges that build their capacities to thrive in a rapidly changing, unpredictable world.
Power Learning Labs will enable the shift by:
Here’s How You Can Help
Sponsor students to join Design Clubs where they collaborate with community members to design and prototype a world class Power Learning Lab. Our budget is $200,000 for each site.
During this holiday season, we count our blessings to have caring community members and generous donors like you. Thank you for your support!
P.S. We are seeking high impact partnerships. Call us to learn more!
*Selfpreneur: Designer-creator of one’s best life.
Why has it been so many months since I last wrote an EIC blog post update?
Two main reasons:
With Nevada's education budget shrinking daily (Las Vegas is feeling like a ghost town), schools don't know how they will possibly cut MORE from their budgets when they have already been operating on razer thin budgets for years before COVID. Many students still do not have adequate computers or connections at home. Kids are falling behind more every day - especially children of color and economic disadvantage who don't have quality of support at home or quality of learning programs through their teachers.
On the bright side, NV leadership is taking action to support innovative initiatives such as ours. Superintendent Ebert and her hardworking staff are doing a heroic job of supporting districts with educator professional development for remote and digital learning and teaching programs. Dr. Ebert launched a Blue Ribbon Commission for education innovation last week that I am honored to be invited to sit on and optimistic about the direction in which the group is moving - supported by forward-looking students and leaders from schools, districts, states, and non-profit organizations - and facilitated by KnowledgeWorks.
Further feeding my optimism is an emerging partnerships with UNLV College of Education - as new interim Dean Danica Hayes and team see how Learning Labs can be a host for learning sciences and advanced technologies (AR/VR/AI Interaction & Media Sciences Lab) for demonstrations, research, and development - putting Nevada on the map as a true leader in education innovation.
Yet another promising development last week that has inspired me to write this update, is a conversation with Kelly Young, President of Education Reimagined and then reading her compelling article today (published by Getting Smart) entitled The Time to Redesign is NOW! You will see Education Reimagined's references throughout EIC's website (in process of overhaul) as ER's A Transformational Vision for Education paper was a key inspiration for our writing of the XQ SuperSchool grant way back in 2016 - which got us to semi-finals!
Having spent 18 months of participatory research by a large group of diverse stakeholders years ago, Kelly and team's vision remains as relevant as ever - and more urgent! As this table indicates, the logical education paradigm for a networked world is one that is learner-centered; highly personalized, competency-based deep learning experiences supported by a stable and supportive relationship network of adults and peers who engage in self-directed discovery together:
As Kelly and I were discussing with our team members, and she wrote so eloquently in her article today, COVID is forcing us to move NOW to manifest this inevitable and essential paradigm shift.
In 2020, we now have the technology tools and platforms to make this vision a reality - as Kelly details in her article. All we need is the generosity of innovation-minded private funders and employers in each community and region along with the collective WILL to collaborate to prototype the new systems. We are confident that with a smart and talented core team, we can scale a learner-centric system quickly and cost-effectively through a Learning Lab prototype program led by student design teams starting in the Spring.
The truth is, we don't have the time to make this transition slowly - over three to five years as the traditional change cycle would indicate. Why? Because doing so would advantage the students who get these rich and powerful experiences in the first year while disadvantaging those who are relegated to years 2 and after.
Does this ambitious and urgent opportunity to transform education light your fire - as it does mine?
Are you ready to put Nevada on the map as a leader in transformative learning ecosystems in which EVERY student-learner-citizen thrives to their full potential?
Then join us to make it a reality NOW!
To learn more about our vision, mission, and strategy, check out the first section of EIC's Journey to Transform slide deck (a collaborative working draft - welcome your input).
Thank you so much for your vision, talents, compassion, and collaboration!
Founding Director, Education Innovation Collaborative