District 88 Board hears presentation on education trends

NEW ULM – Bob Wedl, a former Minnesota commissioner of education representing a project called Education Evolving, addressed a study session of the District 88 Board of Education Thursday, discussing models of change in education and other trends of timely interest to the district.

Partial highlights:

Discussing the difference between using a “continuous improvement” model and an “innovation/redesign” model, Wedl stressed the importance of redesigning education around accurately-formulated goals.

For example, he noted, instead of stating a goal such as “children will begin kindergarten ready,” a better-stated goal may be, “students will be proficient by the end of third grade.”

In defining “ready,” a district should be sure to use tools of “predictive validity that tell kindergarten teachers whether students are on track to meet “proficiency” targets.

The “early literacy lead person” should be recognized by child-care centers, Head Start, families, etc., as the “curriculum and staff development coordinator” for them. Districts should create a literacy “scope and sequence” from age 3 to grade 3 and include all who interact with pre-K children in professional development.

In another example, instead of stating a goal such as “students will be ready for post-secondary education by the time they graduate,” a better stated goal may be: “By the time students graduate, they will have completed one of the following:

1) one or more years of post-secondary education;

2) a career certificate in a technical area;

3) a work experience program;

4) be accepted into the military; or,

5) other, based on the student’s learning plan.”

No advanced class should be for high-school credit only, Wedl noted.

Stop doing what can done as well, or better, by using different methods such as “the free school,” urged Wedl. Teachers have traditionally been “the font of knowledge” who taught content material, he explained. The role of teachers is changing, however. Instead of teaching material – which students can now learn via other means – for example, using digital platforms for independent learning – teachers are becoming coaches and “validators” of learning.

Districts can develop quality new schools and programs at little cost by chartering them, he added, citing examples in Waseca and Hopkins.

In these examples, district teachers on leave became the chartered school teachers. The districts leased space to the chartered school and sold them finance, human resources, special education, transportation, etc. services. The districts kept the local share of the operating levy, and the charter received the state equalization portion.

Minnesota law provides ways for teachers to redesign and lead schools similar to chartered schools, but within the district framework, Wedl summed up. In this approach, teachers become empowered as they delve into their passion – they decide the program model (with board agreement), who gets to teach at the school, how the money will be used, what work rules will be, etc. If teachers are given autonomy, full accountability is part of the deal. A performance agreement is signed between the board and the teacher team.

Education Evolving describes itself as a “design shop” based in Minnesota but with staff in other states, working nationally to help public education with the difficult process of change.

The group includes individuals with some experience in public life: in public affairs, in politics, in K-12 and higher education. They work in a virtual organization, through “the magic” of modern communications. Formally, the project is a joint venture of the Center for Policy Studies, a non-commercial, non-academic, non-governmental policy studies group formed in 1982, and Hamline University.

Initially, Education Evolving was involved with states on the architecture of the K-12 system. Recently, it has been involved in the redesign of schooling.

The presentation coincided with a strategic planning process in District 88 which involves re-formulation of goals and developing a vision for facilities to meet strategic student and programming needs.

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