More than 2,000 education leaders and policymakers meet in New Orleans, LA October 21-24, 2012 for Virtual School Symposium (VSS), hosted by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), to collaborate on critical advances in education that will boost innovation.
“It’s about reimagining what’s possible,” said Susan Patrick, President and CEO of iNACOL. “No matter [students’] zipcodes or backgrounds, they can have access to a high quality education. Today we come together to learn and expand a network of innovators to redefine education.”
Patrick introduced Stacey Childress, Deputy Direction of Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for a panel discussion on rethinking the education systems over the last several decades to a future with Common Core State Standards, proficiency-based learning, blended learning, technology, and more.
“The focus over the last few years on students and personalized learning as a lever in generalized improvement is different than the last two decades,” said Childress. The last couple decades focused on charters, teacher development, and institutions, which have developed a great foundation but will not take us to the next level in education.
Competency and proficiency based learning, assessment, and credit systems will change learning environments from the last 20, 30, or even 40 years, says Childress. “We have the ability to create meaningful learning systems.”
“The opportunity technology gives us to create learning environments for students that get better as students learn – not only are students learning – but the systems themselves learn,” said Childress. “Those are things we just didn’t have a decade ago.”
We gained a great deal of accountability and responsibility from the last several decades of institution-based growth. Yet, it’s a powerful idea that schools should be held accountable for student outcomes and parents should have choice of where their students learn, said Childress.
“We’ve got 46 states implementing the Common Core … and people thinking really differently about accountability,” said Patrick. We’re rethinking the way that we assess students based on standards, performance, and accountability to individualize instruction for students — a game changer, she added.
“As soon as [students] learn it and demonstrate it, they should get credit for it — and move on,” said Childress. She added that credits shouldn’t be tied up in time measurements, but rather gain credit seamlessly as they achieve new knowledge. This in turn helps students regain control of their learning experience.
“Caring adults, meaningful, strong interactions are important for kids — especially for students in low-income schools,” said Childress in regards to critiques about online learning limiting face-to-face interaction and personal relationships. Patrick added that online learning and proficiency based learning helps students become agencies of their own learning.
Patrick and Childress point to blended learning as an effective model for the future. Childress said that the Gates Foundation has seen promising results that point to the effectiveness of technology in improving learning outcomes. Still, she pointed to the value of professional development, personal relationships, and quality content in the shift to digital and restructuring of the way we think about education.
When moving forward with new ideas, Childress warned, “What I call ‘boosterism’ keeps me up at night.” Everyone thinks about how online and blended learning are going to save the education system, yet many do not distinguish what’s going to work best for each individual students and his or her needs. Tongue in cheek, Childress said that if you don’t determine the value of a digital learning tool and it turns out to be a poor fit for a particular students, a New York Times investigative reporter will expose those challenges for you.
Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White said that he’s concerned that the reforms will not enact the change we’re hoping for. Yet rather than approaching with fear, we need to create new systems that will develop the meaningful learning outcomes we’re looking for. He added that we need a new era of policymaking in the future — as education is a civil right for every student in the United States.
“It’s continuous formation; it’s continuous formation,” said White on education reform. We need to say irrespective of what side you’re on, we need to say we’re not on the right track. We’re in the bottom of the pack of national math assessments and we’re the only nation where our graduation rate is actually digressing, said White.
“The problem isn’t that our education has gotten worse,” said White. “The problem is our education system hasn’t changed at all.”
White attacks seat time, classroom structures, and other current paradigms of education today. Education reform is more than the implementation of technology to White, which needs preparation independent of education reform. He added, “The greatest challenge is the system we’ve arranged for ourselves.”
“We have a system that is built to be resistant to change,” said White. All of the technologies and innovations we’ve thought up are going to be very hard to mobilize across the entire education market. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way, he added, and New Orleans is an exceptional example.
New Orleans, impoverished by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina of 2005 has had to reimagine its schools from the ground up. Since the tragedy, students have increased performance outcomes nearly 20 percent with charter school systems. Arise Academy Elementary for example decided to introduce a new program to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each student, starting at four years old and up. The city is shifting its schools to provide what meets students’ needs best.
“We need a system of empowerment. We need a system of entrepreneurship. We need a system that says if you have a good idea, let’s put it to the test,” said White. He argued that we need to put the decision making power in the hands of individuals who are closest to students. Creating a vision, he said it will be simple, logical changes that take our education system to the next level.
With an optimistic future for change, Patrick, Childress, and White emphasize that we need to move forward thoughtfully and with innovation to improve learning — with students primarily in mind. “We’re in the moment of great directional authority,” said White. “We have the opportunity to make profound instructional changes.”
View the webcast at http://kzosites.com/inacol/vss/ and follow the buzz at VSS on Twitter at #VSS12. Next year iNACOL will celebrate its tenth year of VSS with more than 4,500 members.