New Measures of Broader Outcomes

I find that many proposals for why we should improve education rely on a handful of similar arguments. Some common ones that I encounter:

  1. Appeals that highlight opportunity gaps between high- and low-income students.
  2. Appeals about the importance of education for the U.S. economy.
  3. Appeals about “The Future” or boilerplate about our current era of “high-speed information” and the need to help students adapt to technology.

The economic and opportunity arguments are important and valuable. And while I think that a lot of technology predictions don’t pan out, I certainly want all students to be ready for “The Future,” whatever it may hold. The authors of a paper released last fall make a different appeal. In “Dissatisfied Yet Optimistic,” they argue:

We must be far less patient about expanding our vision of what it means for students to be successful and developing effective ways of supporting and measuring this broader view.

This is an argument about what students should be learning that isn’t bounded by a curriculum. It’s about multiplying an academic curriculum by what the authors refer to as “critical habits of success such as self-awareness, agency, drive, curiosity and empathy.”

I think that the writers—Stacey Childress, Aylon Samouha, Diane Tavenner, and Jeff Wetzler—rightly attribute some of the recent opposition of parents around the country to standardized tests to the narrow focus on math and reading common in many schools. But I think they’re also pointing to big, challenging, and potentially messy work, which is figuring out ways to assess these other “critical skills.” I don’t think that it’s always easy to measure these things, and there’s also a risk that it will initially feel uncomfortable or wrong to measure intangibles like curiosity, empathy, and deep content expertise. But their impatience resonates with me because I don’t think that we can wait for other elements of next-generation education systems to fall into place before digging into this question of what an expanded vision for student success is, and how to measure it.

The authors describe this element of their theory of change as a need for “new measures of broader outcomes.” This expanded vision of student success will certainly require appropriate measures of things like agency and executive function. But I think that this work can’t be left solely to the innovators and early adopters in the education world. Another of the seven “key factors” upon which their theory depends is deep engagement from “students, families, and communities.” They argue that these stakeholders need “a clear and compelling vision of what school can be for their child” and that “in short, they need a compelling reason to change what they are looking for in schools.” One of these things that families might not yet know they can look for is the expanded vision of what student success means, and how to measure it.

So this is one of many important challenges in education innovation: cultivating conversations among educators and with parents about the limited scope of what we mean by a “good school.” The primary measures of “good” that are readily available rely upon the existing narrow focus on math and reading scores.

One of the authors, Alyon Samouha, will be doing a workshop this month with the 2016 Education Innovation Fellows, and I’m eager to see what sort of new measures of broader outcomes they design.

—Andrew Plemmons Pratt

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Reflections on Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools

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This past weekend, we hosted the first Startup Weekend dedicated to school design outside of California—and the first one to be held in more than 18 months. The energy and the excitement of the weekend are still fresh, so I thought we would report out to other potential organizing teams on what we learned.

  1. The demand is there. We had more than 90 people buy $75 tickets to participate in a Startup Weekend dedicated to school design. Educators are hungry for opportunities to engage with colleagues in designing the future of school.
  2. Be clear about what you mean by school design. We wrote a new judging rubric for the weekend that deviates from the universal Startup Weekend judging criteria. This is a really important step. We also learned that five areas of judging is too many—both for participants and for judges. In the future we would work to narrow it down to three.
  3. Coaching is awesome. Our coaches got rave reviews from participants. Participants said that they got their most important insights from exchanges with coaches. One group said they felt like they’d had a graduate-level seminar in 30 minutes.
  4. Make it a community event. Our speakers, our coaches, our judges, and our organizing team were all local. In the end, our participants left feeling like innovation exists in our community and can be driven by our community—we don’t need to fly people in from California to make it happen.

I’ll close with a final personal reflection. We had more than 150 people attend some portion of the weekend. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, our host site, Columbia Heights Educational Campus, opened its doors at 7 a.m. and closed at 11 p.m., and we had teams there at all hours. And to a person, attendees were energetic, optimistic, and grateful for the opportunity.

Innovation in education is going to come from treating students differently and providing very different experiences. People are at the very heart of this movement. The question I keep coming back to is: How are we going to do that if we don’t start treating educators differently—and providing different experiences?

It is our hope that Startup Weekend could be one of those experiences, and it exceeded my expectations.

Thank you to everyone for a fantastic weekend!

Margaret Angell, Director, CityBridge Education Innovation Portfolio

And the winners are…

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Drumroll, please…the winning ideas from Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools!

The teams were lined up, the mic check was done, more than 50 people had arrived to watch, our judges were in place—and our emcee, Caroline Hill, started the slow clap announcing the kickoff to Sunday’s final Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools presentations. It was game time for the ten teams that had wrestled with their ideas for the past two days.

Each team had five minutes to present their school design, followed by Q&A from the judges (including Jennie Niles, Deputy Mayor for Education; Bobbi MacDonald, Executive Director of City Neighbors Foundation; Tracy Foster, Principal of Randle Highlands Elementary School; and Abreham Gebre; graduate of Columbia Heights Educational Campus and current student at Georgetown University). And then, during an agonizing 45 minutes, the judges selected the three winning teams.

And those winners are…

FIRST PLACE: SUSTAINABLE FUTURES

Concept summary: Competency-based, project-based school for over-age, under-credited students, coupled with a flexible schedule.

Strength of concept:

  • The school concept was built on a clear student need, and it articulated why existing schools do not serve those students. The clarity of the concept grew from this excellent problem identification.
  • The combination of competency-based learning, project-based learning, and other program attributes has not been attempted for this student demographic before, making it truly innovative.
  • The school is designed for students who are disenfranchised and offers an alternative model for those that are not served by the current system.

Opportunity to improve concept:

  • It was unclear how all the pieces of the learning program would come together seamlessly for students.

Prize: A one-year membership to 1776; fees waived to 4.0 Schools programs, including Essentials

SECOND PLACE: FUTURE NOW!

Concept summary: A school serving students grades 6–12 that would focus not on some hypothetical future course to success, but on tapping into student passion today and supporting students in learning how to pursue life with purpose. The core of the model was “creation courses” and “passion projects.”

Strength of concept:

  • Problem identification: The articulation of why school needs to be fundamentally reframed was compelling.
  • Learning program: The creation courses and passion projects were some of the most exciting ideas presented.

Opportunity to improve concept:

  • Learning program: It was unclear why there was no need for a building—that concept felt core and yet unfinished.
  • Equity: It was unclear how this would push the conversation in the city around equity.

Prize: NBC Universal 21st Century Skills prize of three tickets to SxSWEDU; Fees waived to 4.0 Schools programs, including Essentials

THIRD PLACE: SMITHSONIAN SCHOOL

Summary of concept: A partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the school would serve students grades 5–12 through a combination of foundational academics taught through playlists and projects, internships, and experience-based learning throughout the network of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest network of museums in the nation.

Strength of concept:

  • The richness of the program was compelling; the use of technology to do the heavy lifting on basic content and then leverage the various institutions and museums for projects would be a great combination.

Opportunity to improve concept:

  • The concept of tapping into exemplary local institutions for K-12 education has been tried many times. What is different about this attempt? Why now?
  • It was unclear how this concept addressed inequity explicitly.

Prize: Fees waived to 4.0 Schools programs, including Essentials

Low cost prototyping, or, what can educators learn from bulgogi tacos?

passers-by checking out a prototype school model

Thanks to Matt Candler at 4.0 Schools in New Orleans, we have a new mental model for prototyping ideas in education. Drawing from his extensive gastronomical experience, Matt urged the participants of Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools to start thinking about education prototypes like pop up dinners and food trucks:

It makes sense. Instead of the typical new school design process that takes many years, millions of dollars, and an extensive strategic plan gathering dust as soon as kids walk through the doors, why not start today with an idea and take it directly to families and students?

Start small like a pop up restaurant. Run a sample class at a community center or inside an existing school. If you are ready for the next level of investment, think: food truck. What next level of infrastructure or materials can you prototype out on the road? Multiple sites or multiple groups of students?

TaKorean, a local D.C. food purveyor, has food trucks and a stand at Union Market. They have grown by proving their concept each step of the way.

The teams at Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools will be judged on Sunday by their prototyping today. It’s time to get out of the building and road test your ideas.

Could you be the TaKorean of schools?

That’s how SWEDU it! How do you do it?

—Margaret Angell

And go … Pitch Night rocked at Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools!

student pitching at startup weekend ed d.c.: next gen schools

Eight Startup Weekends kicked off last night across the world. Here at ours in D.C., 30 intrepid individuals stood up to pitch their ideas to a packed room. But instead of business or tech ideas, we heard pitches for next generation school ideas. Instead of a conference room, we were in the cafeteria at Columbia Heights Educational Campus. Instead of coders, we had educators.

We heard about interdisciplinary studies, arts integration, teacher-organized schools, and service learning. We heard about Maslow’s hierarchy, the need for student voice, testing beyond reading and math, and making use of community resources outside of school walls. We had classroom teachers, charter school leaders, folks from the federal Department of Ed, and—for one of the highlights of the weekend—a high school senior.

Everyone voted on the best ideas and ten teams formed. They now have 54 hours to develop their idea. On Sunday afternoon, they will present to a panel of judges.

If you had 60 seconds to summarize how school can be different and serve all students, what would you pitch?

—Margaret Angell

Come (Google) Hang Out With Us and Learn About the 2016 Fellowship Application

We will host an informational webinar about the 2016 Fellowship application this Thursday, October 22, from 5-6 p.m.

The webinar will be a Google Hangout—to participate, just visit the official event page to indicate you’d like to attend, or just head to the page this Thursday at 5 p.m.

If you have any questions about the application, or you just want to learn more about the Fellowship experience, come join us!