In November 2010, in his most important speech, Arne Duncan called for more productivity during this ‘new normal’ period of lower revenue. We just concluded our third ‘new normal’ school year and there’s no end in sight. This morning, USA Today reported that State and local spending is at lowest point since ’80s. Last night ABC reported that States are facing a public pension crisis‎Matt Miller wrote yesterday about how kids are getting screwed by the squeeze and Tom Freidman said we squandered surpluses and now “Getting healthy again will be wrenching for all of us.” Economist Marguerite Roza called this the “Decade of Deficits.”

You get the point, school finance isn’t getting better. Because education in many states relies heavily on property tax it will be a decade before revenues recover and long before that health care, pensions, and criminal justice will have more than eaten up restored funding.

New normal requires education leaders (#EdLeaders) to consider a new double bottom line—more for less. Schools can only afford to do things that will work better and cost less. We’ve never had to think in those terms before but this decade offers no alternative.

This morning at the National Charter School Conference I joined Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Learning, Jonathan Ogelsby, iNACOL, and John Watson, Evergreen in addressing some ‘new normal’ blended learning questions. The first was, “How do we pay for devices and infrastructure?” Our answer had six parts:

  • Don’t try to do it all at once, phase in your blended plan over three years.  John Watson noted that prices are dropping so fast that if you haven’t checked in six months, devices may be cheaper than you think.
  • Like Mark Edward’s Mooresville NC strategy, reallocate a dollar a day for digital from instructional materials, technology, and PD budgets.
  • Use a learning lab to stretch elementary staffing ratios, the strategy that is helping Rocketship take off (also see 10 staffing models that leverage talent with technology at Opportunity Culture).
  • Use a flex model, as discussed in Classifying Blended Learning, for secondary math
  • Use open content; in math consider Khan Academy, NROC, and CK12.
  • Let Kids Bring Devices to School. David Haglund from Riverside says, “Bring what you have, we’ll make sure you get what you need.” They check out devices and make provisions for connectivity for students that need additional help. Updated acceptable use policies help, but more importantly BYOD requires new practices and school cultures to be incorporated successfully.

Lower median income countries like Portugal (subsidized parent pay), Uruguay (OLPC), and Turkey (cheap tabs) developed access strategies—there’s no reason ever state, district, and network can’t figure this out in the next five years.

More challenging than improving access is the shift from chronology to competency.  Jonathan Oglesby, the new communications lead at iNACOL, outlined a rich five part definition of competency-based learning:

  • Students advance upon mastery.
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

With a couple partners, iNACOL launched CompetencyWorks last month, an online community and conversation rich with resources for schools planning to move beyond seat time to personalized learning.

I noted the interesting tension (or at least apprehension) that exists between No Excuses charter networks that have optimized cohort- and standards-based instruction with the opportunity for blended and personalized learning—it’s hard to move away from what seems to work pretty well. But cost pressure and the opportunity to boost achievement on both sides of the curve make the shift to blended and competency-based environments inevitable.

To model competency-based learning and expand options, I mentioned that there are 10 Reasons Every District and Network Should Open a Flex School. I mention Connection’s Nexus, K12 Flex, Miami’s iPrep powered by FLVS, and AdvancePath (where I’m a director).  Flex schools use a digital core to power individual progress (as opposed to matriculation by cohort). It’s a great strategy for running a very small school, a school serving a special population, or a school leveraging a particularly asset or interest.

Times are tough, but new solutions that do more with less are appearing everywhere!

During the session we referred to these resources:

K12 & Connections are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. Tom is a director at iNACOL.

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