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Is Being Accredited Really That Important When Selecting a College?

We all hear and read about the benefits of earning a college degree: We make more money over a lifetime; we get better jobs; we receive company-paid benefits; we tend to be happier and healthier overall. However, choosing the right college or university can be quite daunting, and yet it’s terribly important, because not all institutions are alike, and the quality can vary widely. While there are lots of things to consider such as cost, degree programs, scheduling, and the like, one thing many college students often overlook is whether or not the university is accredited.

There are many types of accreditation–you may likely hear terms such as regional accreditation, national accreditation, functional or programmatic accreditation, and sometimes even state accreditation. Each plays an important role in quality assurance for specific programs or an entire institution but here’s a strong recommendation:

Don’t ever take a single course from an institution that is not accredited. Never. Ever.

While no guarantee of perfection, accredited institutions have provided certain levels of assurance to respected bodies within academia that students will be taken care of. Non-accredited institutions have had no one looking over their shoulder, digging deep and looking in various academic or financial nooks and crannies; they can accept your money with absolutely no guarantee that the course or degree that you completed will be worth anything at all.

Plus, if you complete courses from an unaccredited institution, there is no guarantee that those courses will be accepted should you decide to transfer to another university later on. Even worse, if you go the distance and complete an entire degree from an institution that’s not accredited, you may find that many employers or graduate schools will not recognize that degree–in their eyes it will be like you don’t have a degree at all–but you’ll still have those student loans to pay back just the same.

Here is an entertaining yet informative video that clears up some of the confusion:

ASPA 2016 Explainer

You should be able to choose a college or university that fits your particular needs:

  • faith-based
  • public
  • private
  • traditional brick & mortar
  • online
  • non-profit
  • for-profit

Regardless of which you choose, make sure it’s a program that is accredited.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

Professional Dispositions: Essential Traits for Effective Teaching & School Leadership

Thanks for visiting this page.

The content of Professional Dispositions: Essential Traits for Effective Teaching & School Leadership has been incorporated into the following publication:

Key Skills and Dispositions: Essential Traits all Exceptional Teachers Must Have

 

Please click the link to learn more about this important topic. Thanks for being committed to academic excellence!

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in accreditation, quality assurance, teacher preparation, and empowerment-based learning. An accomplished presenter, she currently supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as quality assurance, accreditation, competency-based education, and educator preparation.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Competency-Based Education to Support P-12 Student Success

The competency-based educational (CBE) model has been used successfully in higher education for the past two decades, and it is starting to gain national traction at the P-12 level. Several states, particularly on the east coast, have already come to appreciate its benefits. The Marzano Academy at Lomie G. Heard Elementary School, a new magnet charter school focusing on STEM will open its doors this fall under the CBE model. The state of Illinois currently has 10 school districts that will begin a pilot in academic year 2018-19 under the Illinois’ Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program.

Within CBE, learners must demonstrate what they know and are able to do through carefully designed and calibrated assessments. Expectations are clear and well-defined, and there is thoughtful, purposeful alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

It’s All About Learning

This model is truly learner-centered: Seat time becomes less important than learning time. Students are able to drive their own learning and work at their own pace within structured guidelines. They are supported through meaningful feedback and mentoring.

Parents and caregivers feel more informed about their child’s progress under the CBE model. They know what their student is learning, their learning goals, progress, and their level of proficiency in each skill set. This helps them to partner with teachers to provide additional support at home.

Teachers recognize the positive impact the CBE model has on student learning and development. They are able to easily track the progress of each student on a daily basis, and they know exactly when a learner needs additional support.

School leaders are able to support teachers more effectively when they know exactly what their needs are. With the CBE model, they can provide strategic assistance through forming a mentoring network to support struggling students; through building school-community partnerships; through offering targeted professional development support, and the like.

Before making a decision to develop one or more programs based on the CBE model, educators must consider the following major questions:

  • Would CBE align with our school’s mission and vision?
  • What are the benefits of CBE for our students?
  • What are the challenges and caveats of CBE?
  • What are the basic steps needed to convert our current curriculum to the CBE model?
  • How can we train and support our faculty and staff so they could implement the CBE model successfully?
  • Could our school commit to a pilot lasting at least five years so we can fully measure the impact CBE has had on our learners?

The Bottom Line

Competency-based education is NOT a shortcut nor an easy fix to serious school challenges. However, if built correctly and maintained properly, the CBE model can prove to be a powerful way to increase student learning, achievement, and satisfaction.

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Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national expert in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, institutional effectiveness, competency-based education, and virtual teaching & learning.  Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Meeting the Needs of Learners in Today’s Universities

In a recent piece entitled Survey: American Confidence in Higher Ed is Waning, it appears that only about 25% of the sample thinks the current higher education system is fine the way it is, and among millennials, that number drops to 13%. First of all, why do 75% believe the system is NOT meeting their needs? And of the millennial group, why do they feel even more strongly about the current system? In other words, what do today’s learners need that our colleges and universities are not providing?

We need to take a deep dive into this survey data in order to learn more about exactly what questions were asked, and what the demographics of respondents were. For example, are we reading the results of a representative sample, or were most respondents within a particular age group? Were the questions focused on seeking a first college degree, or did they include advanced studies? That sort of thing…However, just speaking in general terms, I’d say we need to focus on two things:

First, we need to revisit the relevance of curriculum found in today’s college degree programs. Are they workforce-driven? Will what students are learning really help them develop better job skills? I see very little true collaboration between higher education institutions and specific industries; this is essential for modernizing the curriculum and ensuring that what graduates will know and be able to do upon graduation will prepare them to be workforce-ready.

Second, we need to provide more structured support for those who need it throughout their programs, from matriculation to graduation. Mentoring models work wonders–This is particularly true for first-generation college students but really can benefit all learners. The key is to have a formal mechanism in place for continually monitoring and evaluating the progress of each learner, and to provide a safety net for them all along the way. Regular phone calls, emails, academic outreach, and the like can work wonders to help learners stay focused, achieve manageable goals, and attain success.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Competency-Based Education for Educator Preparation Programs

Competency-Based Education

What is Competency-Based Education?

Competency-based education (CBE) is quickly becoming accepted as an effective way to facilitate powerful, authentic learning at all levels. Sometimes referred to as personalized learning, mastery learning, or proficiency learning, students must demonstrate what they know and are able to do, rather than just put in “seat time” and complete a prescribed set of courses. However, designing a solid CBE program is not as simple as it sounds–it requires a great deal of thought, understanding, and know-how.

There are some institutions that implement the CBE model very effectively. At the higher education level, Western Governors University and Capella University use it successfully.

This model supports students’ learning in a rich way. Graduates are able to reach their goals and achieve their dreams because they were in an environment that enabled them to demonstrate what they know at their own pace. CBE, when structured properly, helps educators to personalize learning experiences.

The CBE model will be a major player in the educational arena over the next two decades at the P-12 level as well as at the collegiate level.

Essential Tenets for Educator Preparation Programs to Consider

There are some essential thoughts to consider for educator preparation programs thinking about adopting the competency-based education (CBE) model, and I shared some of those tenets in a commentary published in the Journal of Competency-Based Education entitled, Implications for Educator Preparation Programs Considering Competency-Based Education. 

The model helps students demonstrate what they know and are able to do. This is done within the context of a set of well-articulated competencies.  Teachers measure student learning through high-quality assessments. It’s a great example of academic excellence.

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer, adjunct professor, and educational consultant.

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: Deviantart.com

Alternative Educator Preparation: A Viable Option, or a Non-Starter?

There’s an interesting article about alternative teacher preparation programs entitled Analysis Finds Alternatively Credentialed Teachers Performed Equal to Peers in First Two Years–while the results are inconclusive on several fronts it does present some thoughtful information to consider, including:

  • Are traditional educator preparation programs the ONLY way to train future teachers successfully? Are they BEST way?
  • Can alternative (non-traditional) educator preparation programs support student learning in a positive way, whilst supporting supply and demand challenges faced by multiple school districts across the nation?
  • What are the long-term impacts of educator preparation on our country’s workforce? And, what are the long-term impacts of what we view as an educated society?
  • Will how teachers are prepared impact our standing in the world relative to student achievement?
  • How would we know? What research questions need to be posed?

 

An experienced consultant can help with these questions, and more. Reach out to me for program development, collaboration, accreditation, clinical partnerships, and other matters related to preparing educators with excellence.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Transition Points & Gateways: Stop Gaps Universities Should Consider

Each higher education institution’s program of study, regardless of major, contains specific phases of progression that each student must successfully complete before being allowed to graduate. In other words, there is a planned, purposeful order to completing a program or earning a college degree—an individual does not just apply for admission and have complete autonomy over the courses taken, the sequence of coursework, when/where/if practica or internships are completed, and so on. The institution makes those decisions after carefully designing each given program of study. They decide things such as:

  • Admission and enrollment criteria
  • General education requirements
  • # of semester hours required for graduation
  • Minimum GPA required to pass each course
  • Clinical experiences, internships, practica
  • Exit examinations required for graduation (or state licensure, depending on the program)

Transition points are sometimes referred to as “gateways”—they are specific points at which a student passes from one stage in his or her program to the next. As long as a student meets the stated expectations, the journey continues and he or she moves ahead toward graduation. If the student fails to meet one or more expectations in a given stage, the institution implements a plan for remediation, additional support, or in some case, counseling out of the program.

I have created a Transition Points framework that may be useful to some educator preparation programs. Of course, Transition Points must be tailored to fit each unique program but could include gateways such as:

  • Transition Point I: Applicant to Pre-Candidate Status 
    • Admission to the program
  • Transition Point II: Pre-Candidate to Candidate Status
    • Completion of Block #1 Coursework & Preparation for Formative Field Experiences
  • Transition Point III: Candidate to Pre-Graduate Status
    • Completion of Block #2 Coursework & Formative Field Experiences 
  • Transition Point IV: Pre-Graduate to Graduate Status
    • Completion of Block #3 Coursework & Culminating Clinical Experiences
  • Transition Point V: Graduate to Program Completer Status
    • Pass Required Licensure/Certification Examination(s)

Do you see the progression? When detailed out, a complete Transitions Points or Gateway table should paint a portrait of a student’s journey from matriculation to program completion; the sequence should represent a logical flow with at least some detail relative to minimum expectations.

I hope this has been helpful to you. Need more ideas? Want to collaborate on a project? Feel free to reach out to me.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: www.robertarossfisher.com. 

Educator Prep: There’s a Better Way.

Numerous sources can point to a teacher shortage across the United States, with some areas having a much greater need than others. With some exceptions, Elementary and Social Studies teachers tend to be in greatest supply but in least demand, while the converse is true for Special Education, English Language Learning, Mathematics, and Science teachers. School districts typically have a much harder time filling teaching positions in urban districts, in Title I schools, and in remote rural areas. In many instances, a lack of experienced, qualified teachers in those areas forces districts to fill those classrooms with individuals who may be well-intentioned but lack sufficient training and cultural competence to be successful. Moreover, those districts often fail to provide adequate mentoring and support in the first two years of employment which results in new teachers feeling isolated and without tools to succeed. Consequently, we typically see a high turnover rate in those areas which has a negative impact on students and the local community at-large over time.

Various state departments of education have taken steps to address this problem. California has recently committed $25 million for scholarship money to help alleviate the teacher shortage by using a “grow your own” model. They are distributing this money to 25 school districts and county offices of education to help 5,000 support staff members earn their teaching credentials while continuing to work at their schools. While the idea has some merit, I see big gaps in the approach. Specifically, they are granting funds only to individuals who complete their teaching license requirements at one of the California State University campuses; this severely restricts the type of training these individuals will receive and it only supports the enrollment of those campuses. Moreover, EdSource reports 1,000 eligible employees can get stipends of $4,000 per year over the course of the five-year grant, which could cover all or most of the cost to enroll in those select institutions, depending on how many courses these employees take per semester. Acknowledging it could take up to five years doesn’t make a convincing case that these programs are innovative or cutting edge—in fact they are likely just serving as a feeder into their current programs. So, for continuing business as usual, these institutions are reaping the reward of 1,000 new enrollments and $25 million. The latest initiative proposed in California is to offer teachers who have taught at least 5 years in the state freedom from state income tax. While an interesting idea, I don’t see it encouraging sufficient numbers of individuals to enter or to remain in the teaching profession. Plus, it could have a negative impact on a state already short on cash.

The state of Nevada has attempted to alleviate the teacher shortage, most severe in the Clark County School District located in Las Vegas. School officials in that district, reportedly the third largest in the nation, face the daunting task each year of hiring approximately 2500 teachers. At the time of this writing, there are currently 672 openings for licensed teachers. The Nevada Department of Education approved an Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL) program designed to alleviate shortages across the state but it seems to be only a partial solution in its present form. What’s of equal concern is that once hired, districts struggle to retain teachers for a variety of reasons.

In addition to approaches that focus on state funding and providing paths to licensure through nontraditional means, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recently begun looking at teacher preparation itself; staff have initiated statewide conversations amongst educators regarding how new teachers should be prepared. And of course, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has established itself as a national leader on educator quality and preparation through research and rankings of educator preparation programs.

 So what’s the answer?

The solution to having an adequate supply of qualified, well-prepared teachers who will positively impact the lives, learning, and development of their students is not simplistic—it is complicated, and that’s why no one has solved it yet. However, I believe one answer lies in how teachers are prepared. While many educator prep programs do a fine job, many do not and new teachers are simply not ready to enter the classroom, hitting the ground running. They have absolutely no idea how to effectively manage a classroom, deal with an angry parent, meet the needs of EVERY learner in their class, and so on. There is an apparent disconnect between what is being taught in colleges of education and the reality of teaching in today’s classrooms. Is one reason because those responsible for preparing those future teachers have little to no current teaching experience themselves? Have they stepped foot in a P-12 classroom in the past five years? Have they cleaned up vomit all over desks and the floor? Have they done before and after school bus duty? Have they had a student arrested in their class? Have they had to bring comfort to a child who is homeless? I think that while credentialed education faculty are well-intentioned, knowledgeable, and experienced, their skills may not be what’s needed in today’s classrooms.

I have been developing some specific ideas regarding how to train new educators some of which challenge the current preparation model. I’m working on creating an educator preparation program that could work for new teachers as well as new educational leaders that has features unique to any other program I’ve reviewed. Some would call it an alternative program, but I really don’t like that word and would love to see it disassociated with education preparation. Want to know more? Interested in partnering with me on a project of immense importance that is built from the ground level up on academic excellence? Let me hear from you…

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at www.robertarossfisher.com 

 

 

CAEP Site Visit Logistics

Preparing for an accreditation site visit is always stressful for university faculty and staff, even under the best of circumstances. Depending on whether we’re talking about a regional accrediting body, a state compliance audit, or a discipline-specific accreditor, there are certain processes and procedures that must be followed. For the sake of brevity, this piece will focus on one discipline–that of teacher preparation–using the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as the sample accrediting body.

There are some important topics to be covered during a pre-visit conference call between the site team lead, the education preparation provider (EPP), and state representatives. By the end of this call, all parties should be “on the same page” and should be clear regarding what to expect in the upcoming site visit. Here are the topics that are essential to cover:

  • Any general questions the EPP has regarding completion of the Addendum
  • Confirm Addendum submission date
  • Review and revise draft visit schedule
  • Travel Details
    • Confirm preferred airport
    • If arrival and departure times coincide, team prefers to pick up a rental car at the airport and provide their own transportation during the site visit.
    • Otherwise, EPP will need to make ground transportation arrangements.
  • Reminder per CAEP guidelines: No receptions, banquets, poster sessions, dinners with EPP representatives, etc.
  • School Visits
    • Not required, but generally requested by the team if there are concerns regarding clinical experiences. Typically limit of 2 (from different grade levels such as 1 Elem & 1 HS)
    • Should not require significant drive time
    • EPP should provide a guide (typically faculty) to drive and serve as host/hostess
    • Usually should take no more than 1 hour on-site at school
  • Work Room at Hotel and on Campus
    • Must be secure and private; lockable.
    • Only site team members and state representatives are to enter the work rooms.
    • Conference table large enough to accommodate all team members and state representatives
    • Printer, secure wifi, LCD or HDTV projector
    • Shredder
    • Basic office supplies (i.e., stapler, paper clips, post-its, note pads, pens, highlighters, etc.)
  • Food/Snacks
    • There should be healthy snacks and beverages (i.e., bottled water, coffee, soda) in the work room at the hotel and on campus.
    • The team will eat breakfast at the hotel each morning.
    • If at all possible, the team will want to remain on campus for lunch, with the ideal arrangement to have lunch catered either in the workroom or in an adjacent room.
    • The EPP should suggest a variety of restaurants within easy driving distance of the hotel for dinner each night.
  • Interviews
    • Generate interviewee list. Examples include:
      • Dean
      • Assessment Director
      • Field Experiences Coordinator
      • Full-Time Faculty
      • Key Adjunct Faculty
      • Current candidates representing multiple programs
      • Program completers representing multiple programs
      • Cooperating teachers from field experiences
      • Clinical supervisors
      • P-12 partners (i.e., superintendents, principals, teachers, etc.)
      • Other:
    • Interview Rooms
      • Depending on final schedule, 3 rooms may be needed simultaneously.
      • Should have a door for privacy
      • EPP representatives should not attend interviews with candidates, program completers, or cooperating teachers
      • EPP should prepare sign-in sheets for each interview.
      • A staff member should be responsible for get all participants to sign in and then leave the room.
      • All sign-in sheets should be sent to the site team lead.
    • Requests for Additional Information or Data
      • All requests should flow from and back to the site team lead.

There will be additional items to discuss but these are the most essential. Remember–advanced preparation is one key to a successful site visit. Do your homework and know what is required. Get organized. Appoint someone with experience to coordinate the event. Start well in advance. And if in doubt, hire a consultant. Earning accreditation is crucial to an institution’s overall success and should never be taken lightly.

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Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, program development, and competency-based education. Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and onsite workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

Comprehensive Student Mentoring

mentoring

Because of COVID, higher education institutions are facing huge financial challenges. Many students have cut way back on the number of credit hours that they’ve taken in the past, while many more have decided to put college on hold for now. There are very few college and university presidents who haven’t lost more than a few nights’ sleep over how they’re going to continue to pay for faculty, staff, and programs when Full Time Enrollment (FTE) numbers have dropped significantly. 

 

Open Door Policy Can Lead to a Revolving Door Student Body

In order to keep the doors open, some institutions have tried creative ways to boost enrollment. One common way is to move to an open-enrollment model. Essentially, institutions are laying aside many of their traditional admission requirements in order to make it easier for new students to gain entry. Examples include passing entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT as well as high school GPA of at least 2.0. 

This decision can be effective from a recruitment and enrollment perspective because it can give enrollment a “shot in the arm” when an institution needs it most. The upside is that employee furloughs or layoffs are reduced and in some cases even eliminated, and programs don’t have to be cut. However, the consequence is that those institutions admitted a sizable number of students who were not equipped for success. 

Anecdotally, professors report decreased student participation–particularly in their online courses. In addition, the quality of work being submitted is noticeably lower than in previous semesters. When students aren’t actively engaging in their classes or perhaps not even logging in for days or weeks at a time, they likely aren’t going to be successful at the end of the semester. Subsequently, students who fail courses don’t continue to receive federal financial aid for very long. That means they aren’t able to pay for college and thus drop out, likely never to return. 

 

Struggling Students Also Cause Institutional Challenges

Not only does this have a devastating impact on those students’ lives, but it also has long term effects on those colleges and universities that enrolled them. In order to maintain their accreditation and thus be able to receive federal financial aid, colleges and universities must collect data on metrics such as satisfactory academic progress, retention, persistence to graduation, and student satisfaction.

When institutions adopt an “open enrollment” policy that lasts more than a semester or two, it can have a lasting impact on those metrics. Consequently, when it comes time for an institution’s annual reports or next accreditation site visit, the damage caused by temporary stop-gap policies can potentially be devastating. 

 

One Solution: Comprehensive Mentoring

I recently recommended to one university that they should consider adopting a comprehensive mentoring program to support students who aren’t able to demonstrate a propensity for success upon admission. 

When they hear the term mentoring many people think it’s the same as academic advising. That’s simply not the case. I look at a comprehensive mentoring program to be academic advising on steroids: It must contain that important traditional academic advising piece, but it adds an important layer of support that helps students in a variety of other ways. For example, trained mentors can help students: 

  • Stay on pace and complete their coursework on time
  • Navigate through the institution’s various departments or bureaucracy
  • Locate social, economic, or emotional support resources
  • Achieve their academic goals and attain success

Just having a strong mentoring program in place doesn’t mean all students will succeed in school. But it’s important for institutions to be able to quickly identify at-risk students and provide them with the kind of support they need. These safety nets can come in many forms, including remediation and intervention. To the greatest extent possible though, I believe a proactive support model is far better than waiting until a student is struggling to reach out to them. 

 

Four Essential Mentoring Components

I just finished reading Dr. Jill Biden’s doctoral dissertation on Student Retention. Those who really know me should not be surprised to read that this brings me joy and I considered it “pleasure” reading! While it’s a bit light on statistical methodology and there are a few APA errors (my eyes always seem to land on them), the dissertation is very well written. The biggest takeaway is that relative to her conclusions, SHE IS RIGHT. While Bidens’ research focuses on the community college level, her recommendations are equally appropriate for four-year institutions. A recent article the Chronicle for Higher Education encapsulated Biden’s findings into four major categories: 

  • Deep Advising Relationships: The old saying is true – people remember how you make them feel. It takes both time and effort to build a relationship based on trust and mutual respect, but this is a crucial aspect of an effective mentoring program. 
  • Faculty Mentoring Programs: As I previously stated, a comprehensive mentoring program involves a whole lot more than just traditional academic advising with a staff member. There’s an important role that faculty can and should play. It’s also important to remember that all mentors need their own training and support in order to help students attain success. 
  • Mental Health Services: Even under the best of circumstances, many college students struggle adjusting to a new environment, developing into adulthood, and making good personal choices. However, starting college during a pandemic amplifies student stress exponentially. Having the support of caring, competent mentors can help. 
  • More Deliberate Thought to Student Pathways: At the P-12 level, teachers devote considerable attention to setting students up for success through appropriate curriculum, instructional methods, and assessments. Higher education is still in its infancy with regard to designing programs that are relevant, meaningful, and appropriate for student success. Historically, the approach has been to demand that students conform to an existing program model. As a result, we see high numbers of students who struggle and often drop out. We as an educational community need to greatly advance our thinking in this area. 

 

Tracking Student Success is Essential to Effective Mentoring

Once an institution admits a student, it then takes on the responsibility for that student’s academic success. As I have tried to emphasize above, a comprehensive mentoring program can provide the kind of support at-risk students need to help them experience success and achieve their goals. However, just putting those four major components that Biden recommends in place doesn’t guarantee that students will be successful. In order to know for sure, we must have a way to track their success. That requires quality data. 

In his commentary about using data to support student success in a competency-based education (CBE) model, Kurt Gunnell detailed his institution’s data-driven approach to carefully tracking student success. Western Governors University is not only a CBE institution; it’s also completely online. It’s one of the nation’s largest universities with more than 120,000 students, many of whom are first-generation college students or come from under-represented populations. While recruitment and enrollment aren’t challenges for WGU, faculty and staff work very hard to retain those students and support them from the point of admission to graduation. WGU can tout a first to second year retention rate of 86% for first-time, full-time students. That’s impressive, and it’s due in no small part to the institution’s mentoring program. But a successful mentoring program doesn’t just happen organically. It depends on an effective way to identify at-risk students, track their progress, and measure the impact of various types of support. Gunnell’s commentary details his institution’s new data tracking model. 

 

The Time is Right to Consider Mentoring

As higher education professionals, we know that some students will always struggle more than others. Adopting a “sink or swim” policy has never been a good idea, but until recently many have given little thought to metrics such as student retention and persistence to graduation. Perhaps in this Age of COVID, at a time when colleges and universities are being forced to reexamine what they can do to adapt and survive, it would be a good idea to give serious consideration to a comprehensive mentoring program. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an adjunct professor, and educational consultant. She specializes in CAEP accreditation. 

Email her directly at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

Top Graphic Credit: Clay Banks on Unsplash

 

Teacher Shortage: Grow Your Own

Teacher Shortage

Across our nation, school superintendents and building principals continue to experience a nationwide teacher shortage in areas such as math, science, English language learning, and special education. It will only get worse unless state department of education officials are willing to pilot innovative ideas.

Teaching is a demanding profession and the classroom can be a tough place to be. Gone are the days when individuals go into teaching just to “have something to fall back on” and to work the same hours as their children. As a result of increasing demands placed on teachers, low pay, long hours, and little respect, teachers are leaving the profession in droves and are choosing a different career path. Moreover, decreasing enrollment in university teacher preparation programs confirms that fewer men and women are even considering entering the teaching field. So, how can school district officials make sure there is a highly-qualified, caring, and competent teacher in every classroom?

 

Tackling the Teacher Shortage through “Grow Your Own” Programs

 

California’s STEP UP and Teach Program

California education officials recognize this critical teacher shortage, and they are committed to finding a solution.  One initiative approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) focuses on increasing the number of qualified mathematics teachers. At the district level, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is trying to increase its supply of special education and other hard-to-find teachers through its STEP UP and Teach program. This program provides mentoring as well as financial support to qualified candidates, often those who are already employed in the district as paraprofessionals and who have strong ties to the local community.

Paraprofessionals work with students either individually or in small groups under the supervision of licensed teachers. They may provide some tutoring in math or reading. They may help a special needs student get from one class to another throughout the day. Some paraprofessionals may work in before-school or after-school programs. They typically have earned at least 60 college credits toward a bachelor’s degree. Paraprofessionals often make the best teachers, because they are typically mature adults and often parents of students in the school or district. They are able to build experience and confidence in their teaching skills.

In California’s STEP UP and Teach program, principals are able to observe paraprofessionals working directly in the school throughout the year, which makes them known commodities as positions open up.

 

Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR) Program

Another “grow your own” approach is the Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR) program. The program is based on the premise that teachers are best trained on-site. Moreover, KCTR interns practice under the careful mentoring of experienced teachers in real-life situations. It’s also competency-based in many respects, because pre-service teachers must demonstrate what they know and are able to do on a daily basis and they have regular opportunities to improve their skills.

 

New Mexico “Grow Your Own Teachers Act”

The state of New Mexico is funding its own program designed to address teacher supply and demand challenges. The “Grow Your Own Teachers Act” seeks to provide opportunities for paraprofessionals (educational assistants) to pursue careers in teaching in New Mexico. The Act provides scholarships to attend a public university in New Mexico to earn a bachelor’s degree in education.

 

Minnesota’s GYO Grant Program

Likewise, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has recently released the details for its Grow Your Own teacher grant program. This program is unique because it provides two funding pathways. Pathway 1 is for paraprofessionals who have made the decision to complete their bachelor’s degree and earn their teacher licensure. Pathway 2 is for high school students who want to explore teaching as a possible career choice.

 

Are Grow Your Own Programs the Answer?

Which of these Grow Your Own programs is most effective at meeting teacher supply and demand challenges across our nation? The verdict’s still out.  School district officials may be able to recruit and hire teachers more easily. However, until we raise salaries and elevate respect for the teaching profession, it’s likely we’ll continue to have a national teacher shortage.

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant.

Twitter: @RRossFisher

 

Top Graphic Credit: iup.edu

 

Competency-Based Education: Curriculum

Competency-Based Education

Competency-based education (CBE) is gaining traction in K-12 schools and higher education institutions across the United States, but it’s a very different way of approaching teaching and learning. Educators need to be aware of that before they commit to the CBE model. 

What is Competency-Based Education? 

Before we can understand what competency-based education is, it’s important to know what it isn’t: 

Competency-Based Education

Seat Time vs. Proficiency

Students attend class for a specified length of time in a traditional time-based model. In most K-12 schools it’s an academic year. In most colleges or universities, it’s for a semester lasting 15 weeks. Students attend class, participate and complete their assignments, and earn grades. At the end of that term, they receive a final grade and move on to the next grade level or next course. It’s very different with competency-based education. 

First, because students learn at different rates, seat time has very little relevance. Some can grasp material very quickly and are ready to move on, while others need more time to learn at their own pace. 

Second, competency-based education requires students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Learners earn credit and move on when they have shown they’re proficient in clearly defined competencies. Students demonstrate what they know through assessments. These assessments are closely aligned to learning objectives. 

Major Pillars of Competency-Based Education

There are six major pillars that anchor a solid competency-based education program:

  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Faculty Training & Support
  • Student Orientation & Support
  • Parent/Caregiver Orientation & Support (for P-12 Schools)

Educators must plan for all six of these pillars when building a competency-based education program. If not, student learning will suffer and as a result, school officials will likely abandon the model before really giving it a chance to succeed. 

 

Curriculum Basics in Competency-Based Education

There’s a reason why curriculum is the first pillar of CBE: It serves as its foundation or core, and it drives every other aspect of the model. Curriculum is the “what” of education. It’s what we want students to know—sometimes referred to as their knowledge base, their content knowledge, or their scope of learning. 

We have learned over the years that curriculum should be standards-based in order to provide students with a coherent, cohesive, and sequential body of content over time. However, not all states use the same standards. 

Elementary and Secondary Curriculum Standards

Some standards commonly used by P-12 schools include:

 Higher Education Standards

Colleges and universities typically rely on state-specific content standards or specialty professional association (SPA) standards such as those from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for science teachers, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) standards for nurses, or other industry-specific standards such as the Microsoft Technical Certification standards.

 

First, the Standards. Then, the Competencies. 

After selecting the standards, educator develop the competencies. Similar to learning objectives, these competencies clearly define what students should know or learn and what we want them to be able to do with that knowledge. Competencies must be specific enough to be measurable. 

 

Competencies are the cornerstone of the entire curriculum ultimately. It’s important to get them right. 

 

Educators must first make sure that the curriculum is solid before moving on to the next pillar, that of instruction. In other words, it’s similar to building a new house: A contractor must take great care in laying the foundation, because the success of everything else depends on it. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

 

 

Top Graphic Credit:  education.ky.gov 

One-Room Schools May Be What We Need Today

One-Room Schools

I’ve always been fascinated by the old one-room schools. I think it all started when my younger sister and I would walk up our country road and play for hours on the site of an old school, long since abandoned. That school must have educated every boy and girl for miles around, and those children grew up to be postal carriers, soldiers, bankers, farmers, and teachers.

One-Room Schools Help Students Apply What They’ve Learned

In that school and others like it, students from multiple age groups and grade levels worked and learned together. In many instances, older students taught younger ones, with the teacher providing guidance as needed. Classics frequently served in the place of textbooks, and students applied what they were learning in the context of what was relevant to their lives. They developed a body of knowledge, but even more importantly, they learned how to apply that knowledge to solve problems.

It was a simpler time, and yet many of the methods found in those one-room schools were ahead of their time. Today we often hear about new techniques and methods for helping students learn. We talk about concepts such as competency-based, proficiency-based, and personalized learning.

The Birthplace of Competency-Based Education

As an extension of the home school environment, one-room schools were the birthplace of competency-based education. And the new performance assessments that are gaining so much attention? Students in one-room schools had to demonstrate what they knew through projects. For example, students planted an herb garden appropriate for local soil. They raised goats for meat and dairy and made apple butter. Students built a machine shed that could stand up to wind while others demonstrated first aid techniques. 

Like the competency-based educational model, Simousek points out that most one-room schools adhered to the “time is variable/learning is constant” mantra, whereby learners worked until they could successfully demonstrate their proficiency before moving on. In other words, what students learn is more important than how quickly they learn it.

 

One-Room Schools in the US Today

There are actually still a few hundred one-room schools in the United States today. Many are located in very rural and remote areas. However, educators in Gainsville, Florida started a charter school in 1997 specifically with the one-room school model in mind. Focusing on meeting the needs of high achievers, the One Room School House Project (ORSH) serves students through eighth grade. In addition, some modern-day homeschools are perfect venues for the one-room schoolhouse model.

Recognizing the benefits of larger schools today, we should consider the advantages of smaller schools designed around the one-room schoolhouse model. Even in our fast-paced, mobile society, we still need schools that serve as community anchors. In times of crisis such as the one we are currently experiencing with COVID-19, a return back to a simpler structure such as one-room schools may be worth a second look. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                        

 

Top Graphic Credit: Pixabay

 

The Time Has Come for Competency-Based Education.

Competency-Based Education

Due to COVID-19, education in the United States has been turned on its ear, and it may be time to seriously consider the competency-based education model for K-12 and collegiate levels. For example: 

  • Students, parents, and school officials have endured sudden school closures as well as a mad scramble to convert to online learning platforms. 
  • Most states have opted to cancel high-stakes K-12 achievement tests. 
  • Several colleges are eliminating the ACT or SAT requirement for entrance in the fall. 
  • Some state departments of education are temporarily forgiving student teaching and licensure examination requirements for pre-service teachers who are slated to graduate from college this year so they can land jobs in the fall as fully certified teachers. 
  • Several schools have decided not to award letter grades of D or F but opted instead for a Credit or No Credit scale. 

Fall 2020 Faces Uncertainty

Higher education institutions such as the University of California and Harvard have already stated they likely won’t reopen the doors in the fall, with many more to decide after June 1. At the K-12 level, school district officials will strive to hold classes onsite, but the reality is that we simply don’t know what the 2020-2021 school year will look like, or for any school years in the near future for that matter. 

Status Quo No Longer Fits

Educators have structured our American way of learning to fit a time-based model. By and large, students attend classes, make passing grades, and then they move on. With a few exceptions, everyone in a class moves forward together at the same pace. Because of COVID-19, educators need to re-think how students learn and how their learning should be measured. The competency-based educational model is worth serious consideration. 

Competency-Based Education: Not Easier, Just Different

Competency-based education isn’t an easier way to learn or to earn a college degree–it’s just different. Rather than just sitting in a class and earning attendance points, learners really have to demonstrate what they know and are able to do through high-quality assessments. That approach doesn’t water-down expectations–in fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

Carefully Built on Solid Curriculum

Competency-based education is standards-based education. A house must have a solid foundation in order to stand over time. Likewise, curriculum must be based on standards. From those standards educators create competencies, learning objectives, and assessments. As industry standards change, school faculty must ensure relevancy and currency.

Competency-based education is carefully planned and developed. It is not a simple matter of schools deciding on a whim to switch to a CBE model. Faculty, administrators, and curriculum directors must give a great deal of thought and planning to the process. Simply put, it is not realistic for administrators to believe one or two faculty members can tackle a project of this magnitude. It requires systemic commitment and long-range strategic planning.

Self-Paced Learning is Essential Right Now

Self-paced learning is a cornerstone of the CBE model. Educators now acknowledge that lockstep teaching and learning does not meet the needs of individuals. This approach neglects the needs of students who are struggling, and it neglects the needs of students who have already mastered those skills and are ready to move on. One of the best aspects of competency-based education is that it is based on a self-paced learner model: Students work at their own pace, taking as much or as little time as they need to understand, apply, and demonstrate their proficiency in the stated competencies and learning objectives. Learners are less frustrated; they feel empowered and more in control of their own progress. Plus, CBE isn’t limited to a particular age group or grade level; it works equally well with elementary students as it does with those working on their doctorate. 

Competency-Based Education and Online Learning

The competency-based model lends itself well to online learning. CBE certainly can work well in traditional face-to-face learning environments. However, it can work equally well in distance learning models. There are different nuances to consider in the planning stage, but educators can build CBE to fit all learning environments. 

Assessment Quality is Paramount

The quality of a competency-based program is heavily reliant upon the quality of its assessments. In a competency-based model, learners demonstrate what they know and are able to do relative to specific learning objectives. They demonstrate this through a variety of high-quality assessments, frequently in the form of internally-created objective examinations, performance assessments, field-based assessments, and proprietary assessments. If the curriculum is the home’s foundation and instruction serves as the walls, then assessments represent the roof. 

Competency-Based Education: It’s Time to Take the Next Step. 

Competency-based education is NOT a shortcut nor an easy fix to serious school challenges during this difficult time. It’s also not a short-term solution but one that requires a long-term commitment. However, if educators design it carefully the CBE model can be a powerful way to increase student learning, achievement, and satisfaction. It’s time for them to take the next step. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                   

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: Annie Spratt

 

Teacher Preparation Programs Need to Step Up

Teacher Preparation

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, teacher preparation programs across the nation have been forced to scramble at breakneck speed to shift all their traditional face-to-face coursework to online learning platforms. That includes education methods courses, early field experiences, and even the culminating student teaching clinical experience. Problems are already starting to emerge. 

Teacher Preparation Varies from State to State

Each state’s department of education determines what is and isn’t acceptable practice during COVID-19. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) continues to work with state legislators to address clinical practice and other teacher licensure requirements during this challenging time; their website provides links to state departments of education that have revised their guidelines. In addition, AACTE maintains a repository of current research, best practice articles, and webinars for teacher preparation program staff. 

Some states have been more definitive than others when it comes to guidance for teacher preparation programs. For example, Missouri’s Governor Mike Parson waived the requirements of remaining culminating clinical experiences and internships for the spring 2020 semester. That means student teaching has been taken off the table. He also waived qualifying scores on exit exams, which includes the Performance Assessment (MEES or MPEA) and Content Assessment (MOCA) for candidates currently enrolled in a culminating student teaching or internship experience.

This means Missouri candidates in their last semester won’t have to complete student teaching and they won’t have to pass their culminating exit examinations required for state licensure. Upon graduation, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will simply issue teaching certificates to program completers based on the institution’s recommendation. 

California’s Commission on Teaching Credentialing (CTC), on the other hand, is holding the line on teacher licensing requirements in its state and provided specific guidance regarding clinical practice for pre-service teachers:

 

Teacher Preparation

 

A Real-Life Example: What Absolutely Must Be Avoided 

Someone recently sent me a video clip of an elementary education major who is now taking an education methods course online. Her professor assigned her to write a lesson plan and then teach it at home. She then had to record the lesson and submit the video for grading. Bless her heart—this young teacher candidate did her very best and I would award her an “A” for effort, but her “students” were her stuffed animals. She taught the lesson in her bedroom and was trying to teach those critters fractions. She broke them up into small groups and gave them a worksheet.

As she “circulated” around the room, she stopped beside each one and asked them questions or offered words of praise. Our teacher candidate then transitioned back to whole group work after her “students” had completed their worksheet. Shen then continued to demonstrate, question, redirect thinking, and conclude the lesson. Just before turning off the camera, I heard a quiet voice say to herself with a nervous laugh, “I’ve never felt so awkward.” 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I sat in horror as I thought: What a poor way this is to train our future teachers. We know this is a crisis situation and colleges had to scramble quickly to move things online, but come on. Just imagine how ill-prepared this candidate may be for her student teaching. My heart breaks for her and for all those other young teacher candidates out there.

It’s Time to Step Up Your Game, Teacher Preparation Programs. 

While it’s still early, some institutions are already signaling that they may stay the course (pun intended) and put all their offerings online again in the fall 2020 semester. Teacher preparation program staff should be working diligently to make sure their candidates receive a quality educational experience in fall 2020 and beyond, despite COVID-19. That includes methods courses, field experiences, and even student teaching. Here’s how: 

Tap Into Your Partner Network 

Many P-12 schools are also teaching their students online right now and most educator preparation providers have formalized partnership agreements with at least one school district, and in some cases, multiple districts. This allows teacher candidates to complete their field experiences and student teaching in those schools. Why not allow teacher candidates to complete their field experiences or methods lessons online with “real” students? While it may not be ideal, this would be far better than “teaching” stuffed animals. 

Build New Partnerships

There are lots of K-12 online schools right now. Many are accredited and authorized to operate in multiple states. Teacher preparation program staff should consider partnering with some of those virtual elementary and secondary schools. If set up correctly, it could be a win-win. Teacher candidates could complete their field experiences with live students regardless of where they live. Practicing teachers could potentially become new graduate students enrolled in a master’s degree program. The teacher preparation program could offer virtual professional development webinars or online conferences. The possibilities are endless. 

It’s time to think outside the box because we don’t know what the future will hold. It just, however, can’t include teaching fractions to stuffed animals. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                     

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: dillydallyfarmingdale.com

Educational Leaders Promote Academic Excellence

Educational Leaders

We know that effective educational leaders play a vital role in a school’s success. Both the academic community and the public make judgments about schools when we look at key factors including student enrollment, attendance, retention, satisfaction, and achievement. We also look at the quality of teachers, and how long those teachers stay in the school. If we pay close attention, we can spot effective educational leaders pretty quickly. 

Educational Leaders

 

The Primary Role of Educational Leaders

Most of the time, when we think of academic leaders we think about cutting edge curriculum and instructional methods. We think about a well-stocked technology lab or about the latest press release about an innovative program. However, educational educational leaders play a different primary role. 

An educational leader motivates and inspires others. He or she models research-based methods and consistently uses ethics and integrity when making decisions. A real leader consciously works to facilitate leadership development in others. In addition, true educational leaders work with faculty and other staff to create a vision for the future, develop a strategic plan, and set high but attainable expectations. 

Leadership vs. Management

There’s a difference between management and leadership. Typically, managers oversee a specific department, or a specific project. It’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure that department or that project is successful.  Managers are accountable to a leader. In the case of P-12 schools, examples of managers would be a science department chair or a technology coordinator. In higher education, managers often carry the title of department chair, online learning director, and the like. 

A leader must be an effective manager, but from a macro level. A leader is the point person to drive the institution’s vision, mission, and strategic goals. He or she is often the “face” of the school, meeting with the public, potential donors, the press, or politicians. A leader must be able to see the big picture while at the same time have a working knowledge of the details. However, delving too much into the weeds of a project can cause unexpected problems. When leaders micromanage departments or projects, it signals a lack of trust to managers; it breeds confusion and suspicion and ultimately reduces efficiency and success. Leaders hire the right people and then trust them to get the job done.

The Absolutes: 8 Essential Skills All Effective Educational Leaders Must Have

 

All educational leaders must have some essential skills in order to be successful: 

The 4 Cs

  1. An effective leader must be truly committed to academic excellence. By setting high expectations for ethical practice and academic outcomes, a leader can inspire others to achieve great things.
  2. An effective leader must be an exceptional communicator, both verbally and in written form. It’s not enough to have great ideas—one must be able to communicate them to others to have those ideas come to fruition.
  3. An effective leader must be competent. We cannot all be experts in everything, but if we are to lead others, we must have a solid command of the subject matter or the field. Educational leaders must stay current with relevant literature, research, patterns, and trends.
  4. An effective leader must have confidence. It’s difficult to lead others when we don’t communicate that we truly believe the path being taken is the right one.

The Last 4: No Catchy Title, But Just As Important

  1. An effective leader must be an exceptional listener. When one person is doing all the talking, he or she rarely learns much from others in the room. By actively and purposefully listening to others, a leader shows respect to others; gains a better understanding of a given issue; receives suggestions for tackling a problem; and builds a stronger sense of trust.
  2. An effective leader must ensure proper recognition of managers and other team members for their contributions, particularly in the context of a significant or particularly challenging project. It’s necessary to motivate and inspire, but we must also show appreciation and recognition.
  3. An effective leader must be fair. Showing favoritism, even the suggestion of it, can quickly diminish team morale and motivation. A leader must treat all members of the team equally.
  4. An effective leader must be prepared to make tough decisions. There are times when institutions must face difficult budget shortfalls and steps must be taken to reduce expenditures. A prime example is the COVID-19 crisis we’re living through right now. There are also times when one or more staff members are not performing up to expectations. An effective leader must be willing and able to make the tough decisions that may not always be popular.  However, when leaders fail to make those tough decisions, they’re not doing the job they were hired to do.

The Bottom Line

Whether we’re talking about P-12 schools or higher education, success depends on leadership. We must have powerhouse educational leaders who are committed to academic excellence. In times like these it’s essential to our nation’s future. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                     

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: topleadersinc.com

 

Online Learning: The Future of Higher Education

online learning and higher education

Bloomberg reports that 2.4 million undergraduate college students took all their coursework online last fall–a mere 15% of the total number of students pursuing a baccalaureate degree at the time. Another 3.6 million took at least one online course in addition to taking classes on campus in a traditional face-to-face learning environment. That figure doubled in approximately two weeks. 

Online Learning: 300 and Counting

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, college and university presidents across the United States have been scrambling to provide alternatives to traditional coursework. Currently, almost 300 higher education institutions have either shut their doors entirely or have transitioned to a distance learning format. That’s impacting nearly 4 million students. What’s more, the number could certainly go higher.

While many have resisted distance education for the past two decades, university administrators are transitioning to online learning at lightning speed for two reasons (1) so students can continue to meet degree requirements and (2) so they won’t have to refund tuition and fees, thereby placing their institutions in dire straits financially. 

Higher Education Teetering on the Edge

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, many higher education institutions were already struggling financially. Small, liberal arts colleges have been particularly hard hit due to a combination of factors such as (1) an increased emphasis on workforce development in STEM areas, (2) a strong national economy, and (3) lackluster state funding

USA Today reports that Moody’s credit agency recently downgraded its 2020 outlook for higher education from “stable” to “negative.” Even prior to COVID-19 30% of all public and private institutions were already operating in the red, and now this. Nicht gut. 

Fortunately, higher education institutions aren’t alone. The USDOE, regional accrediting bodies, and state departments of education have essentially granted carte blanche to colleges and universities. That’s helpful in the short term, but it can’t be a long-term strategy. 

Higher education institutions should start planning their future now. 

Is higher education in the United States as we know it a thing of the past? Are colleges and universities doomed for failure? No. While it’s true that higher education leaders need to focus on getting students through this semester in the short-term, they also need to be eyeing a long-term strategy for the future. 

Experts can continue to have their ideological differences regarding traditional face-to-face vs. online instruction, but today it’s a moot point. The fact is we are where we are, and we need to be pragmatic. In all reality, this won’t be the last time we are faced with a regional, national, or global crisis. Administrators need to get through this crisis, but they also need to think through a different lens moving forward. 

Online Learning: Not Just a Strategy of Last Resort 

Traditional higher education doesn’t have to end. Not by a long shot. However, college administrators need to avoid making rapid-fire decisions out of desperation. 

Revisit short-term and long-term strategic goals. 

If you don’t have a clear plan for dealing with crisis situations like the one we’re going through now, build one. If you don’t already have an innovative programming committee, create one. Being proactive rather than reactive is the better approach any day of the week. 

Create a thought leader sandbox. 

Every institution has a least one “out of the box” thinker–one who tends to speak up in meetings and challenges administrative decisions. Deans and department chairs often view these faculty or staff members as a pain in the neck. However, despite them coming across as negative or challenging every decision, those are the very people who should be tapped to lead a sandbox for thought leaders. They are the creative thinkers, and they should be tasked with building their institution for the future. 

Hire distance learning experts who understand and believe in quality. 

Let’s face it: Many institutions simply haven’t properly funded their distance learning departments. In some cases, a single person serves as the entire online learning staff. He or she creates the course shells, trains faculty, serves as Helpdesk support, and more. Moreover, those individuals may or may not even be trained in distance learning andragogy–they simply have strong technical skills to get things set up behind the scenes. That’s just not good enough. 

During this time of crisis, institutions are creating online course shells feverishly en masse, and most faculty have never taught an online course and are trying to teach themselves how to use online learning tools such as Zoom, Blackboard, and VoiceThread

An Opportunity for Higher Education Institutions

As strange as it may sound, this is actually a time of great opportunity for higher education institutions. College and university presidents should look at online learning as a way to build for the future. 

For example, from this point forward each semester staff should automatically create an online course shell for every traditional face-to-face course. Moreover, those staff should populate the shells with current syllabi and learning resources. Professional development in effective online teaching techniques should be offered for all faculty every semester.  The nonprofit organization Quality Matters is an excellent resource institutions can use to train faculty and ensure online course quality. 

For those institutions still on the fence about distance education, administrators could consider adopting a hybrid model whereby courses are offered as a mix of both face-to-face and online instruction. Then, if a crisis should occur, it would be simple to transition courses to an exclusively online model. 

Regardless, college leaders should work tirelessly to make sure that their faculty, staff, and students are never placed into such a stressful situation again. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                     

 

Top Graphic Credit: educationaltechnology.net

 

COVID-19 & Higher Education

COVID-19

Note: This article was updated on March 24, 2020 to reflect current closure data. 

Nearly 300 colleges and universities across the United States have announced the decision to either shut their doors or transition their spring semester courses to an online format due to COVID-19 concerns. The number is rising, and quickly. It seems the most current list is being maintained by educator, researcher, and futurist Bryan Alexander, rather than official government agencies. Information is being crowd sourced and isn’t guaranteed to be accurate. 

Normally, higher education institutions must get formal approval from their regional accrediting body in order to make such drastic changes. Staff must file a substantive change application; it’s thoroughly reviewed by the accreditor; and then a final decision is made by accreditation council members. This process can take 6-12 months. However, great latitude is being granted to institutions given the uncertainty and a landscape that seems to be changing daily. 

Institutions Receive Unprecedented Approval

The US Department of Education released a letter “… providing broad approval to institutions to use online technologies to accommodate students on a temporary basis, without going through the regular approval process of the Department in the event that an institution is otherwise required to seek Departmental approval for the use or expansion of distance learning programs.” The Department has also permitted accreditors to “…waive their distance education review requirements for institutions working to accommodate students whose enrollment is otherwise interrupted as a result of COVID-19.” While this broad latitude has a shelf life and there are some limitations, this step is unprecedented. 

And there’s more. For those institutions that may not already be well-equipped to move their face-to-face courses to a distance learning format, the Department says they may also enter into temporary consortium agreements with other institutions so that students can complete courses at other institutions but be awarded credit by their home institution. 

It appears that even residency requirements that stipulate students must complete a certain number of credits at their home institution have been waived with the approval of the institution’s regional accreditor.  

But Are They Ready to Deal with COVID-19? 

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the flexibility granted to colleges and universities by the USDOE and regional accreditors is huge. Without it, their hands would be tied and they’d be forced to close their doors leaving students in a lurch. However, that’s only the first step in what may seem like a marathon. 

Granted, many institutions have been utilizing distance learning tools for several years and so while it may be challenging to transition and scale up quickly, they will be able to do so fairly successfully. However, for those institutions that up to now have only offered a few courses or even a single program online, they’d better be prepared to paddle upstream, and at lightning speed. Those 300 institutions currently slated to make the transition have a combined enrollment of approximately 4 million students. 

Essential Factors for Higher Education Administrators to Consider

In order to make the best decision possible for students, university administrators should ask some essential questions before deciding whether to transition to a distance learning format, enter into a temporary consortium agreement with a sister institution, or close the doors completely until the Center for Disease Control gives the “all clear” sign for COVID-19. Examples include:  

COVID-19

If the answer is “yes” to each question above, then leaders can feel fairly confident they will be able to successful weather the COVID-19 storm. If no, then administrators need to find another option. And quickly. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

Top Graphic Credit: rawpixel.com

 

 

Zoom: A Useful Online Teaching Tool

Zoom for online teaching

It’s safe to say that these are challenging times for educators. Regardless of whether we teach at the P-12 level or in higher education, the COVID-19 crisis is impacting us all. Many states have shut down their schools for at least eight weeks, while some governors are announcing that face-to-face instruction will be halted for the rest of the academic year. As more and more schools move instruction online, faculty are scrambling for practical information. One suggestion is to use Zoom as an online teaching tool. 

What is Zoom? 

Educators and business owners use Zoom as a tool for online meetings, webinars, video conferencing. It brings people together quickly, either one-on-one or in groups. The groups can be both small and large. There are several pricing structures, but their basic plan is free. 

Normally, the company has a 40-minute time limit on its meetings under the free plan. However, they lifted that time limit during the COVID-19 crisis. As long as you sign up for a free account using your work email account, your meetings may be any length.

Getting Started: Zoom for Online Teaching

Zoom experts are offering free and interactive live training webinars each day. They say even faculty members who are new to distance learning can get up to speed and be able to use the tool in about an hour. 

Zoom-Produced Video Tutorials

If you need a “crash course” in learning how to use Zoom quickly, consider these YouTube videos produced by the company:

User-Produced Video Tutorials

After viewing the videos that the Zoom company has produced, you may wish to consider these user-produced learning resources. Keep in mind that these may not necessarily be educators. However, they are general population users that offer some helpful tips:

Other Options

I have used Zoom many times for webinars and video conferencing and have found it to be user-friendly and seamless. However, there are other companies that offer similar tools such as GoToMeeting and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, and I’ve used those with success as well, both in my work as an educational consultant and in my role as an online faculty member when conducting live online class discussions with my students. Regardless of what tool you decide to use, video conferencing can be a wonderful way to bring students together during challenging times. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                        

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: tefl.net 

Online Class Discussions: Practical Tips

Online Class Discussions

As more and more schools move instruction online because of COVID-19 concerns, faculty are scrambling for practical information. For example, Sheri Popp offered some practical suggestions for P-12 teachers and higher education faculty who are new to the world of distance learning, including the value of online class discussions. These can be facilitated through a written discussion board format where students participate asynchronously, or faculty can provide synchronous instruction by conducting discussions in live class sessions using video conferencing tools. 

My Own Online Class Discussions

Since my online courses are set up in Blackboard, I use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (BCU) for my weekly live class sessions. This tool allows me to hear and see my students, and we are able to engage in meaningful, substantive conversations each week. BCU also lets me add files, share my desktop, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact with my students. What’s more is that when I grant moderator status to my students, they can share their own desktop and files. That’s important because I require them to come prepared each week to our sessions with some type of visual aid–it could be a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation; it could be a simple Word document, etc. This makes the experience much more participatory.

What’s more is that my students gain valuable practice in making virtual presentations. I’ve even started appointing a different student each week to lead the online class discussions; this helps them to build their confidence and develop their leadership skills. 

Online Class Discussions: Offer Students a Choice

While I hold them accountable for the same level of performance, I don’t require all my students to participate in live online class discussions; I offer it as an option. Why? There are two reasons: (1) Not all students will have access to high-speed Internet connections that are necessary for video conferencing; and (2) some students may just prefer to complete their class discussion requirements in the traditional written form. I like it when I’m given choices in life, and my students like it as well. Having the choice of either synchronous or asynchronous instruction empowers them to make important decisions about their own learning.  

How to Evaluate Student Work in Online Class Discussions

Regardless of whether they complete their requirements in a written discussion board forum or through a live class session, I hold my students accountable for the same level of performance. I do this through an analytic rubric that contains criteria categories that are applicable to both. This approach allows for all students to be evaluated fairly and equitably. In addition to their scores on the rubric, I always provide students with substantive feedback about their work designed to point out their strengths as well as specific areas they need to focus on for improvement. 

Teaching online may feel scary at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as it took time to develop your skills as an effective face-to-face educator, it will also require time to hone your skills (and your confidence) as an effective online educator. But you are not alone. We’re all in this together, and there are many people who can help. Don’t be afraid to ask. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: SlideShare

CAEP Data Collection & COVID-19

CAEP Data Collection

According to the most current COVID-19 information we have, there are now almost 4 million college students in the United States whose institutions have either transitioned quickly to an online learning environment or have shut their doors entirely for several weeks. While definitely a challenging undertaking, it’s doable. Most students will be able to weave their way through the bumps in the road to successfully complete the spring semester. However, Colleges of Education faculty grapple with how to maintain quality assurance during the COVID-19 crisis. The nation’s only accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  A major aspect of CAEP’s expectations is data collection. 

CAEP Data Collection: Continuous Program Improvement

CAEP requires continuous program improvement based on ongoing data review and analysis. Institutions must look for patterns and trends over time in order to identify specific strengths and weaknesses within each teacher licensure program. Once gaps are determined, action must be taken to shore up those weaknesses. 

Continuous program improvement is dependent upon reliable data that have been harvested from valid assessments. That’s why educator preparation providers (EPPs) must select key assessments for each licensure program. They must then gather, review, and analyze data from those assessments per an established cadence or periodicity. 

CAEP’s Three Data Cycles

CAEP requires three cycles of data for analysis in preparation for an accreditation site visit. While CAEP leaves it up to each EPP to define, institutions often count one academic year as representing one cycle of data. Other institutions count a cycle as one semester. A few institutions have “rolling registrations” meaning they enroll new candidates each month. Those institutions sometimes define a cycle as being the equivalent of 8 weeks or perhaps a six-month term. Regardless, institutions must collect data regardless of circumstance–and that includes exceptional circumstances such as COVID-19.

The Dilemma COE Faculty Face with CAEP Data Collection

College of Education faculty and administrators are grappling with how to continue collecting the kind of data they need for CAEP’s continuous program improvement model. For example, what happens when local P-12 school districts close, and teacher candidates are unable to complete their required observations or early field experience requirements? Even worse, what if candidates are unable to complete their student teaching? In addition to completing required observations, reflections and lesson plan designs, what will happen if teacher candidates are unable to complete video clips of them teaching a lesson? These are all very real concerns, and faculty must come together to address them. But what are best practices in situations like this, and what should be avoided? 

Knee-Jerk Reaction #1: This is Beyond Our Control, So We’re Off the Hook

A very common reaction to situations like COVID-19 is to give in to the circumstance and throw our hands up: 

This is beyond our control, so we’re going to do nothing. Surely CAEP will understand and give us a pass. Wrong. So very wrong.

While your challenges are difficult and frustrating, keep in mind that all other Colleges of Education are experiencing the same thing. While that should bring some level of comfort, it does not come with a “free pass” from CAEP. This accreditor cannot (and should not) lower expectations, even in times like these. Why? Because like all difficult situations, this too shall pass--and those teacher candidates will eventually complete their programs and graduate. They will land their first teaching job where they will embark upon a career of shaping young lives. Will watering down teacher requirements be fair to those young students? 

Knee-Jerk Reaction #2: Just Collect Some Data–ANY Data

Some faculty will be tempted to act out of desperation to just “collect some data” for the purpose of checking a box to say they have completed their CAEP data collection requirements. It may not be useful for monitoring the quality of programs or making improvements, but it’s collected anyway just so they can have something to report for this cycle.

For example, if the local P-12 schools are shut down and candidates are unable to teach a required lesson, some faculty may go so far as to allow candidates to “teach” the lesson to their pets, or to a cooperative audience of stuffed animals. Candidates would then view their video and write a reflection of their “teaching”. Think I’m kidding? Think again.

To have candidates quickly throw together a video or complete an exercise just for the sake of checking off a box doesn’t make sense. What possible insight can candidates glean about the experience? Moreover, what insight could faculty members surmise about the strength of their program using such practices? 

A Reasoned Approach to CAEP Data Collection & COVID-19

 As experienced, highly trained educator preparation providers, we know the futility in making knee-jerk reactions, and we know CAEP will maintain high expectations. But, what’s the best approach to take? The logistics will vary from institution to institution, but here’s a rule of thumb that applies across the board: 

Any effort to collect data that doesn’t result in something useful is a wasted effort. 

We must always return to the purpose of our policies, procedures, and practices: Why are we doing this? What’s the intended end result? If the purpose is to identify strengths and weaknesses, look for patterns & trends, and make continuous program improvements, then we must make sure those policies, procedures, and practices will help us to achieve those goals. 

In challenging times, COE faculty should put their professional hats on and look at this as an opportunity for creative problem solving. They should consider other data collection methods that would yield reliable results. 

Who knows? They may be able to come up with some CAEP data collection methods that they hadn’t even thought of before. Those methods that may be far better than the ones they are using now. However, they won’t know unless they are willing to solve this problem together, as experienced, highly competent professional educators.  

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: membersuite.com 

Implications for Educator Preparation Programs Considering Competency-Based Education

No matter where they live or how much money they have in the bank, all parents want the very best education for their children. And they know that this requires having teachers and school leaders of excellence.

We’d love to think that everyone who completes a preparation program at a college or university would graduate “classroom ready”–meaning they are ready to hit the ground running on Day #1. However, we also know that sadly this is not always the case.

Being an effective teacher or building principal requires much more than simply enrolling in a college or university and completing a series of courses. It’s also more than getting high grades and being a good test-taker.

Being an effective educator requires proficiency or competency in three key areas: (1) content knowledge, (2) pedagogy, and (3) clinical practice. For those interested in learning more, I offer additional thoughts in a commentary published in the Journal of Competency-Based Education.

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Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, institutional effectiveness, competency-based education, and online teaching & learning. Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site: www.robertarossfisher.com

 

 

Building a Solid Workforce through Competency-Based Education

All students deserve an educational experience that is relevant and meaningful to their career path. They need to be able to see how what they’re learning connects to their future. They should be empowered to move at their own pace, taking extra time on key skills if needed, or accelerating if they come to the table with a solid foundation. Competency-based education is an example of empowerment-based learning. In a CBE classroom, seat time becomes less important than learning time.

From Unknown to Mainstream

While competency-based education was pretty much considered an unknown a decade ago, it has garnered enough national attention that several state departments of education are now including it in state regulations. For example, the New Hampshire High School Transformation initiative supports the development and implementation of high school course-level competencies. Ohio approved a Credit Flexibility Plan that allows students to earn high school credit by demonstrating subject area competency, completing classroom instruction, or a combination of the two. Missouri has introduced a bill in its 2019 legislative session that if passed, would allow school districts and charter schools to receive state school funding under the foundation formula for high school students who are taking competency-based credits. And, competency-based education is not limited to secondary education. At the higher education level, Western Governors University, which now touts more than 110,000 currently-enrolled students and 100,000 graduates, is built exclusively on a CBE model.

CBE Requires Specialized Skills

Designing a competency-based educational program is quite a complex process. It requires considerable planning, knowledge, and experience to produce a high-quality educational product. Essentially, curriculum and instructional designers must start out asking three simple, yet essential questions: (1) What do our learners need to know? (2) What do they need to be able to do? (3) How will we know they are proficient in what they’re learning? From there, designers build an instructional map that contains three major elements: Content Knowledge, Application, and Assessment.

Content Knowledge: What Do I Know?

Typically, the content knowledge piece is based on a set of industry-based standards. For example, if a flight school is training pilots, the content knowledge might be based on FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS). For high school math teachers, it would likely be based on standards approved by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in coordination with specific licensure requirements adopted by a state’s department of education.

Application: “What Can I Do?”

The application piece connects what learners know and what they can do. It allows students to demonstrate their proficiency. No matter what career path we choose, being able to put our skills in action is essential. A pilot who has memorized all the parts of an aircraft but can’t take off and land safely has not yet demonstrated that she’s competent in those skills. A nurse who’s passed his written exams may possess solid content knowledge, but the real “proof in the pudding” lies in whether he can put that knowledge into practice by providing quality patient care.

Assessment: How Well Can I Do It?

Competency requires teachers to evaluate student performance in specific skill sets, using clearly defined performance indicators. One way to measure performance is through a rubric. Students must demonstrate how well they are able to apply what they’ve learned. If they demonstrate competency, they move on. If they don’t, they must go back, revisit concepts, brush up on their skills, and try again.

Building a Solid Workforce: Using CBE in High Schools and Community Colleges

As with any educational approach, competency-based education may not be appropriate for all students. However, it certainly can be viable for vocational or workforce development programs. Ideally, high schools or community colleges would partner with regional employers in fields of high demand. Within those partnerships, standards and specific skill sets would be identified, and a program would be designed based on the competency-based model. Paid internships or apprenticeships could play an important part in helping students to demonstrate their proficiency in key skills. By working closely with employers, high schools and community colleges could create a pipeline of workers who were job-ready on Day #1. This in turn would lead to increased business production, less turnover, and a more stable industrial base.

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Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, program development, and competency-based education. Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and onsite workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Higher Education & Political Views: There’s More Common Ground Than You May Think

About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say the higher education system in the United States is going in the wrong direction, according to a new 2018 Pew Research Center survey. Political party affiliation seems to have an impact on their perceptions in many respects, but not in all. Here are some highlights:

How we think about politics shapes how we feel about higher education. 

  • Nearly 3/4 of those with conservative views believe that higher education is headed in the wrong direction:
    • Republican leaning: 73%
    • Democrat leaning: 52%
  • There’s a big difference in the viewpoints regarding faculty influence: Professors are bringing their political and social views into the classroom, and it’s having a negative impact on higher education.
    • Republican leaning: 79%
    • Democrat leaning: 17%
  • Conservatives think there’s too much emphasis on being politically correct: Colleges and universities are too concerned about protecting students from viewpoints they might find offensive.
    • Republican learning: 79%
    • Democrat leaning: 31%

 

Our age influences how we view higher education faculty. 

Regardless of their political affiliation, more older Americans place blame at the feet of faculty for problems in higher education. However, those who are more Republican-leaning feel more strongly than their counterparts:

  • 65+ years (Republicans 96%, Democrats 32%)
  • 50-64 years (Republicans 85%, Democrats 15%)
  • 35-49 years (Republicans 73%, Democrats 10%)
  • 18-34 years (Republicans 58%, Democrats 19%)

 

Most agree that higher education needs to do a better job of preparing graduates for the workforce. 

  • Regardless of our political party affiliation, Americans recognize the importance of a well-rounded education that includes career readiness: Students aren’t getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. 
    • Democrat learning: 73%
    • Republican leaning: 56

 

We all agree on one thing: Going to college costs too much. 

  • There’s lots of common ground when it comes to affordability: Higher education tuition costs are too high.
    • Democrat learning: 92%
    • Republican leaning: 77%

 

So what does all this mean? 

Most would agree that the United States has some of the best colleges and universities anywhere in the world. Students from all around the world come to the US to attend our institutions because they want the benefit of an American education. However, despite all the positives we can place in the “plus” column, we know we can do a better job in providing exceptional learning experiences. Specifically:

  • We’ve got to find a way to reduce costs. Yes, there are some expenses that just keep rising, such as the cost of healthcare, utilities, or construction. However, there are areas where costs could be reduced, such as offering students the option of purchasing digital textbooks rather than hard copies, or groups of colleges partnering up to gain more negotiating leverage with publishers. We can also look at innovative ways to cut or freeze tuition and expand work study programs. Paid internships sponsored by workforce partners would be of tremendous value in making college more affordable.
  • Once they’re enrolled, the focus should be on helping students succeed. Colleges and universities should be truly committed to partnering with each student they admit–perhaps even to the point of a memorandum of understanding or part of the acceptance process–to support that learner’s success. Institutions should embrace the WIT model–Whatever It Takes–to help each student thrive and graduate. Students are achieving their goals in a timely way without incurring a lifetime of student loan debt. When that happens, college retention, graduation, and satisfaction rates all increase, which keeps accreditors happy. It’s a win-win for all concerned.
  • A well-rounded education includes workforce development. We must continue to provide a high-quality liberal arts education in our colleges and universities. However, there’s also a real need to connect theory and application so when a learner graduates, they should be workforce ready–meaning they should have received a broad preparation in a variety of subjects; they should have developed important communication, critical thinking and problem solving skills; and they should have had multiple structured opportunities to apply what they were learning in the context of their chosen profession.

 

So, let’s agree to work together on this. 

While it’s certainly true that politics can influence how we view higher education, it’s also true that there are actually many areas where we can agree. Let’s start there. Let’s work together to strengthen our higher education system through reducing costs, supporting student success, and ensuring graduates are workforce-ready.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, institutional effectiveness, competency-based education, and virtual teaching & learning. Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, & on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Is Charter School Expansion the Answer?

Charter School Expansion

Updated on May 21, 2020: Lawmakers again attempted to advance charter school expansion and school choice initiatives in the 2020 legislative session but those efforts failed.

 

Depending on where you live, the term charter school may or may not be familiar. Charter schools have been in existence nationally for almost three decades and started in Missouri in 1998. Currently, charter schools operate only in Missouri’s urban areas, but some lawmakers want to allow them to operate statewide. Exactly what are charter schools? How do they compare to local public schools? What would charter school expansion would mean for all Missourians?

What are Charter Schools?

According to Missouri state statutes, charter schools are independent public schools. This means they receive state funding like traditional public schools, but operate with more freedom and less red tape. In other words, charter schools are publicly financed but are privately operated.

In addition, national management organizations and private boards often operate charter schools rather than locally-elected school boards. Proponents say charters offer parents the option to send their child to a different public school, which is tied to the notion of school choice and vouchers – also currently being promoted in Missouri.

Right now, charter schools are allowed only in the state’s major metropolitan areas – St. Louis and Kansas City. They are typically sponsored by a university that has a state-approved teacher education program. These sponsors approve the school’s curriculum, provide guidance, and serve as the gatekeepers for academic quality.

 

How Do Charter Schools Compare to Traditional Missouri Public Schools?

If you visited a charter school, you may not think it was very different from a traditional public school. At first glance, they’re not – you’d likely see third-graders reading in small groups, middle school students solving math problems, or high schoolers in a science lab. But under the hood, there are some pretty significant variations. For example:

Teacher Qualifications

In the traditional public school system, all teachers must be state-certified (licensed) in the subject and grade levels they’ve been hired for. For example, a high school biology teacher must have a valid Missouri Biology certificate for grades 9-12, while a kindergarten teacher must possess a state license in early childhood education (Birth – Grade 3). Within the charter school system, only 80% of teachers must be appropriately certified to teach in Missouri. The remaining 20% are considered qualified if they are certified in another state or foreign county.

While that’s not necessarily a cause for alarm, it’s important to note that licensure requirements vary greatly from state to state, and even more so internationally.

Student Enrollment

Traditional public schools accept all students regardless of their ability level, special needs, native language, or other factors, but charter schools have the option of being more selective. This can have a big impact on test score averages, graduation rates, and the like.

Academic Freedom

Charter schools can write their own curriculum and choose to focus on a particular field of study such as the performing arts, college prep, science, leadership, and language immersion. Traditional public schools must provide instructional programs of study across all subject areas as required by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

 

A Push for Statewide Charter School Expansion

Three bills have been introduced in the Missouri 2019 legislative session that promote charter school expansion – HB581, SB51, and SB292. If lawmakers approve it, new schools could be established anywhere in the state. Charter officials must seek the approval of a district’s local school board. If approved that board would serve as the charter school’s sponsor.

However, failing to receive approval from a local school board would not actually prevent a new charter school from opening – as long as officials could provide documentation of sufficient community support, they could appeal to the Missouri Charter Public School Commission which would have the authority to (1) approve the charter school’s application and (2) serve as the school’s sponsor.

 

Potential Implications of Charter School Expansion

 

Competition Against Traditional Public Schools

Charter school proponents are quick to point out that if our traditional public schools were doing a good job, there wouldn’t be a need for alternative educational programs. It’s market-driven, they say. They point to the fact that many public schools are struggling to maintain their accreditation and some have low graduation rates. They talk about overcrowded classrooms, discipline problems, and the need for more individualized instruction. And in many instances, they’re right.

The truth is, we have many public schools that can and should be doing a better job educating students. However, at least some of the problems those schools have stem from a lack of sufficient funding – money to buy new textbooks, maintain working technology, and keep class sizes manageable. We hold traditional public schools accountable for meeting state-mandated levels of performance, regardless of how much funding they receive. Some have even been forced to cut back to a four-day school week just to save money on utilities and transportation.

Since charter schools receive state funds, statewide expansion will make the funding problem even worse. There will be more schools drawing from the same pot of money. Traditional school superintendents say this isn’t the path to school improvement, particularly in districts that are already struggling to pay the bills.

Non-Profit to For-Profit

Right now, charter schools in Missouri must be non-profit organizations. Operating as a non-profit requires a certain level of transparency, oversight, and accountability. However, as the wheels of expansion continue, it’s quite possible in the future Missouri could see charter schools run as for-profit businesses. Other states have opened this door with some very mixed results.

Cyber Learning

Most charter schools operate under the typical “brick and mortar” model where students travel to and from campus. However, some operate virtually – meaning students complete their education online. Teachers live in that state, or they could be located across the country or even abroad.

Across the nation, many virtual charter schools operate as for-profit businesses while still receiving state funding. Recent research studies have found that virtual charter schools in states such as Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida failed to perform as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts – meaning that they let down the students they served and the parents who sent them there.

 

Is Charter School Expansion the Answer to Improving Education in Missouri?

It’s true that not all public schools are performing as well as they should. There will always be room for improvement. We must keep a watchful eye on local school districts. We need to make sure they are providing our children with the best education possible. However, they also need our support.

Simply allowing more schools to draw state funding without sufficient accountability is not the way to improve our neighborhood schools. It will starve them down until our public education system is no longer able to function. This will open yet another door – the one leading to privatization. Is that really the choice Missourians want to make?

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

School Choice and Vouchers: A Common-Sense Approach

We hear a lot in the news about school choice and vouchers. These terms are often tied to national or state education reform. Many state legislatures have already passed bills affirming the need for school choice by approving school vouchers, while others are actively considering them.

But what do these terms mean? What is their impact on student learning? And, what’s the best way to develop common sense school choice solutions?

 

School Choice

Laws vary from state to state, but in Missouri students are allowed to enroll in school at age 5 and are required to start by age 7. They must continue to attend school until 17 or until they’ve completed 16 credits toward high school graduation. The basic concept of school choice is to let parents and guardians decide where and how they want their child educated. Under current law, they have three options:

  • Enroll their child in the local public school at no charge;
  • Pay tuition to send their child to an area private or parochial school; or
  • Take on the role of educating their child at home.

 

In most instances, these options are sufficient for meeting the needs of students across Missouri. However, some parents want additional flexibility when it comes to educating their child. Perhaps they want to send their son or daughter to a private school but can’t afford the tuition — maybe it’s not feasible to homeschool – or there’s another public school close to where they work, and it would be more convenient to enroll their child there. In Missouri most would agree that personal freedom is a vital part of who we are, including having a say in how and where our children are educated.

The challenge lies in how to best implement school enrollment options.

 

School Vouchers

Proponents often suggest vouchers as a solution to navigating the waters of school choice options. Similar to a coupon, a school voucher is a “transfer ticket” – thereby allowing a student to transfer from one school to another. A school voucher could conceivably be used across traditional public schools, public charter schools, private and parochial schools, or virtual schools.

One method for implementing school vouchers is through state and/or federal tax credits. Currently under consideration in the Show-Me State are two bills (SB160 and HB478) known as the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, which would allow parents who live in any county with a charter form of government or in any city with a population of at least 30,000 to take advantage of state tax credits for sending their child to the school of their choice. However, in their current form these bills remove all educational oversight from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and place this authority into the hands of the state treasurer. In other words, while their passage would certainly pave the way for greater school choice, they could also jeopardize educational quality and risk hurting the students they were trying to help. While the state treasurer is well qualified to manage the fiscal details of tax credits and disbursements to schools, the responsibility for ensuring academic quality should be left up to those with expertise in that area—namely, DESE.

 

Important Considerations

An obvious benefit of school choice is personal freedom for parents and students. However, we must also consider potential drawbacks before legislating a voucher system. For example:

Student Learning and Achievement: Before we make any decision involving education, the most important question we must ask is, “What will be the impact on student learning and achievement?” If we’ve done our homework and can be confident that students will benefit, then by all means we should proceed. However, if we simply don’t know the impact of a decision, then we must proceed cautiously. The fact is, more quality research studies need to be conducted to determine what long-term effect school vouchers have on student learning. However, the current results suggest in the short term, elementary and middle school student learning has actually dropped in many states, particularly in math. On the other hand, high school graduation rates tend to be greater for students who participate in a voucher program. So right now—we simply don’t know enough to conclusively say that a voucher program is an effective way to advance student learning. The takeaway: Before passing any school choice legislation, lawmakers should consider what the current body of educational research says about the impact of voucher programs on student achievement.

Funding Impact on Public Schools: Public schools receive state funding based on a foundation formula, and average daily student attendance plays a big role in how much school districts receive each year. Simply stated, when student enrollment drops schools receive less money to operate. In districts where businesses and industry are plentiful, local tax revenues are typically higher and therefore schools are less dependent on state funds. In poorer districts where property taxes are lower and less commercial revenue is generated, schools are very dependent on the aid awarded by the state each year. Fewer students means there is less money to develop curriculum, to buy new textbooks, and invest in technology. Fewer students means there is less money to pay for highly-qualified, experienced teachers. And in an increasing number of rural schools, districts are being forced to cut back to a four-day school week in order to save on essentials such as bus transportation, meals, and electricity. The takeaway: While we want to promote personal freedom, we must be careful not to place additional financial strain on local public schools, which in turn could have a negative impact on student learning.

Regulatory Impact on Participating Voucher Schools: Under the proposed voucher system in Missouri, participating schools would receive funding for each transfer student as disbursed by the state treasurer. Given the fiscal challenges that many private and parochial schools commonly face, the program could provide a much-needed financial boost. However, if those schools accept state funds, they risk losing considerable autonomy and could be held accountable to the state for student achievement. The takeaway: Non-public schools will need to carefully consider the impact of receiving state funds before they elect to participate in a school voucher program such as the one currently being proposed in Missouri.

 

A Common-Sense Solution

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to offer parents greater freedom when it comes to educating their child. We can all agree that our children deserve an exceptional education – one that will meet their individual needs and help them to reach their fullest potential. However, it’s important to carefully think through the details, considering potential benefits and pitfalls before moving forward with public policy decisions.

The Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program could be viable, with some modifications:

1.)    Establish the Program as a 5-year pilot, renewable as long as it proved to be fiscally feasible and educationally beneficial to students.

2.)    The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) should serve as the regulatory body responsible for ensuring the academic quality of schools participating in the Program, while the state treasurer should be responsible for fiscal oversight and management of tax credits and payments to participating schools.

3.)    DESE officials should collaborate with qualified educational researchers to design and implement a comprehensive research study to determine the short-term and long-term impact of the Program.

4.)    A panel of stakeholders representing the state treasurer, DESE, parents, participating schools, and the general public should be formed to monitor the ongoing success of the Program. A set of metrics should be agreed upon and reviewed at established intervals in order to make recommendations regarding continuation, modification or if needed, discontinuation of the Program.

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Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

Top Graphic Credit: drrichswier.com

One-Room Schools in Today’s Classrooms

One-Room Schools

Note: This is an update of One-Room Schools: Outdated, or Ahead of Their Time? (January 29, 2018).

One-Room Schools from Childhood

I’ve always been fascinated by the old one-room schoolhouses. I think it all started when my younger sister and I would walk up our country road and play for hours on the site of an old school, long since abandoned. That school must have educated every boy and girl for miles around, and those children grew up to be postal carriers, soldiers, bankers, farmers, and teachers.

In that school and others like it, students from multiple age groups and grade levels worked and learned together. In many instances, older students taught younger ones, with the teacher providing guidance as needed. Classics frequently served in the place of textbooks, and students applied what they were learning in the context of what was relevant to their lives. They developed a body of knowledge, but even more importantly, they learned how to apply that knowledge to solve problems. Sounds to me like those teachers may have influenced the thinking of Benjamin Bloom as he developed his Taxonomy that’s still alive and well today.

Ahead of Their Time

It was a simpler time, and yet many of the methods found in those one-room schools were ahead of their time. Today we often hear about new techniques and methods for helping students learn. We talk about concepts such as competency-based, proficiency-based, and personalized learning. I would argue that besides a homeschool environment, one-room schools were the birthplace of individualized instruction.

And the performance-based assessments that we often use today? Students in one-room schools often had to demonstrate what they knew through projects such as planting an herb garden appropriate for local soil; raising goats for meat and dairy; making apple butter; building a machine shed that could stand up to wind; or providing first aid.

Like the competency-based educational model, Simousek points out that most one-room schools adhered to the “time is variable/learning is constant” mantra, whereby learners worked on topics and skills until they could successfully demonstrate their proficiency before moving on. In other words:

 What students learn is more important than how quickly they learn it.

 We also know that students are more actively engaged and achieve more when there is a community of learners. Moreover, we know they excel when teachers and parents work closely together. This requires strong relationships, communication, and trust–none of which develop overnight—they take time. That’s another benefit of the one-room school model: Students remain with one teacher for multiple years, allowing rich bonds to form between teacher, pupil, and families. Quite frankly, it’s something that’s often missing in schools today. However, the concept of “looping” has been introduced in the past few years as a “new” instructional practice designed to foster learning. The basic premise? To enhance student learning and development by working with the same teacher 2-3 years in order to build trust, communication, and relationships. Not really a new concept after all.

One-Room Schools Today

There are actually still a few hundred one-room schools in the United States today, many located in very rural and remote areas. However, a charter school in Gainsville, Florida was started in 1997 specifically with the one-room school model in mind. Focusing on meeting the needs of high achievers, the One Room School House Project (ORSH) serves students through eighth grade. In addition, some modern-day homeschools are perfect venues for the one-room schoolhouse model.

While I recognize the benefits of larger schools today, I have to wonder if perhaps we need to reconsider the benefits of smaller schools designed around the one-room schoolhouse model. Even in our fast-paced, mobile society, I believe there is still a need for schools that serve as community anchors; that can truly provide individualized instruction and support for all learners; and that prepare students to interact with others in a positive way. Maybe an old-school approach is worth another look today.

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer, educational consultant, and adjunct professor. 

 

Top image credit: Lena Road Schoolhouse

 

The Dominoes That Didn’t Have to Fall: Vatterott College, the ECA, and Others Like Them

Vatterott and the ECA

Vatterott College couldn’t have found a better partner than the Education Corporation of America (ECA), according to its president Rene Crosswhite. In a press release, she stressed that schools under the umbrella of Vatterott Educational Centers “…will be strengthened through this partnership for the benefit of our students. We believe the acquisition will provide a bright future for VEC, and it should be relatively seamless for faculty, administrators and students.”

That was January 11, 2018. The acquisition didn’t happen, and Vatterott closed its doors without warning on December 17th.

Most of the students, faculty and staff at the 17 Vatterott campuses located across the Midwest learned of their school’s closing when they arrived on campus; others heard about it from friends and colleagues as the news began to spread like wildfire. They weren’t the only ones who were caught off-guard – VEC notified the U.S. Department of Education and various state departments of higher education of the immediate closures on that same day.

In its notification letter to students, Vatterott officials laid the blame at the feet of the federal government citing, “…the U.S. Department of Education recently decided to significantly increase the restrictions on Vatterott’s participation in the federal financial aid programs.”  The letter went on to say that as a result of the USDOE’s decision, Vatterott was unable to continue to operate, and was prevented from completing its planned sale to the ECA.

But there are two problems with Vatterott’s version of the story.

 

First, despite repeated warnings over several years, they lost their accreditation due to poor academic quality and financial instability.

Effective December 5, 2018, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) voted to withdraw Vatterott’s accreditation. However, this came as no surprise to Vatterott administrators – they had been well aware of their accreditor’s concerns for quite some time. VEC leadership had been given a formal warning by the ACCSC as early as December 2016 due to excessive turnover in management and student achievement outcomes across multiple programs that continued to be below that regulating body’s benchmarks.

A system-wide warning from the Commission was issued in February 2017, followed by another notice of continued warning in August of that same year. Based on abysmal student graduation and employment rates, the ACCSC made the decision in November 2017 to force the Vatterott Berkley, Missouri campus to stop enrolling students in one program and to cap the enrollments of four others. Effective December 31, 2017, the St. Joseph, Missouri campus closed. In each case, the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the departments of higher education in each of the states where Vatterott Educational Systems, Inc. operated were notified of the accreditor’s concerns.

By May 2018, the situation had worsened to the point that the Commission made the decision to move the entire Vatterott system from “warning” to “probation” status, citing continued low student achievement, high management turnover, and financial instability concerns. On June 8, 2018, two campuses in Iowa and Kansas closed.

Finally, the decision was made to withdraw Vatterott’s accreditation during the ACCSC’s December 2018 meeting. According to the notification letter sent to the institution, Vatterott administrators could have chosen to appeal the decision and get serious about making necessary improvements. Instead, they decided to cease operations and blindside their students, faculty, and staff.

Vatterott and the ECA Lose Their Accreditation

Second, the Education Corporation of America (ECA), which was planning to purchase Vatterott, lost its own accreditation at nearly the same time, was denied initial accreditation by another agency, and suddenly shut down its campuses, leaving approximately 20,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff out in the cold. The reason? Poor academic quality and financial instability.

The ECA was a parent company of Virginia College, LLC, which operated 69 campuses in 18 states as Virginia College, Brightwood Career Institute, Brightwood College, Ecotech Institute, and the Golf Academy of America; all had been accredited under the Virginia College, LLC umbrella by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), a regulatory body that specializes in putting its seal of approval on for-profit institutions. It should be noted that this body has faced its own set of challenges, with the Obama administration removing federal recognition of ACICS as an accrediting agency due to lax and non-compliant quality assurance practices, although Education Secretary Betsy DeVos permanently reinstated its federal recognition in November 2018.

Because the future of ACICS was in jeopardy, the bottom line of institutions accredited by that agency would be negatively impacted, meaning at some point students enrolled in their programs would be ineligible to receive federal financial aid. Very few students enrolled in the various entities owned by the ECA could afford to attend without receiving significant financial aid and ECA was dependent on those tuition dollars to keep the doors open and the lights on. To that end, ECA made the decision to seek accreditation through another quality assurance agency that serves for-profit institutions– the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET). However, that effort was unsuccessful and resulted in ACCET denying ECA’s initial accreditation, citing the institution’s non-compliance in 19 standards covering a broad spectrum pertaining to academic quality, financial procedures, and organizational structure.

Two months later, ECA leadership received a show-cause directive from its original accrediting body ACICS, after it learned of the company’s dire financial problems that had resulted in lawsuits and possible bankruptcy. After being unable to make a convincing argument that it was financially stable, ECA’s accreditation was withdrawn by suspension. The next day, the ECA notified the USDOE that it planned to close its doors at all campuses by December 18.

Similar to Vatterott, in his notification letter to students ECA President & CEO Stu Reed blamed the company’s woes on added requirements placed upon it by the USDOE, although he did not elaborate on what those additional requirements were. He went on to say that those requirements, “…resulted in an inability to acquire additional capital to operate our schools.”

 

Vatterott and the ECA: Two Failed Companies, Many Similarities

Through its acquisition by the ECA, president Rene Crosswhite stated that Vatterott’s programs would be strengthened, and that its students would benefit. After all, their programs, procedures, and organizational structure were alike in a lot of ways, making it a relative seamless transition for all. It turns out that the two for-profit entities shared other similarities: Poor management, high turnover rates, low academic quality, unacceptable student success rates, and roller coaster-like financial instability.

There is rarely a single reason for the kind of systemic failure experienced by Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America. Managing campuses in multiple states can be challenging for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is complying with programmatic and quality assurance practices required within each state entity. Regulations across state departments of higher education can vary widely and are subject to change as new laws are written and statutes approved. However, both institutions willingly made the decision to operate multiple campuses across multiple states. Furthermore, along with every other institution of higher education in the nation, they were responsible for monitoring, understanding, and complying with federal regulations which are also subject to periodic review and change.  In other words, laying blame at the feet of the federal government is not a viable excuse for the failure of VEC nor ECA.

Red Flags

In addition to similar concerns cited by their respective accreditors, these two institutions shared something else in common:

Vatterott and the ECA

 

President Crosswhite:  According to Vatterott President Crosswhite’s LinkedIn page, she has a master’s degree in Health Administration and is a licensed CPA. Ms. Crosswhite worked primarily in financial oversight for various hospitals before joining Vatterott Educational Centers in 2013 as its Chief Financial Officer; she held that post until March 2016 when she took over as President. Ms. Crosswhite described her role by stating, “As President, I am responsible for all aspects of the college including Academics, Operations, Marketing, Regulatory, Compliance, Financial Aid, Information Technology and Finance.”  As stated previously, Vatterott received its first formal warning from its accreditor in December 2016, three years after Ms. Crosswhite joined the company’s leadership team.

CEO Reed:  ECA’s chief executive Stu Reed holds a master’s degree in management. He joined the Educational Corporation of America in October 2014 as Chief Operating Officer and served in that capacity for four months before transitioning to CEO in January 2015. Prior to that, Mr. Reed held positions at IBM, Motorola, and Sears. His LinkedIn page lists Management, Process Improvement, and Customer Satisfaction as his top skills.

So, Who’s to Blame?

 

Executive Level Leadership

President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk in the oval office with a message as applicable today as it was during his administration. That sign said, “The Buck Stops Here.” Thus, the responsibility for any institution’s success or failure lands squarely on the shoulders of its executive leader. While numerous faculty and staff may be tasked with specific roles within an organization, the president or CEO is the person ultimately responsible for that institution’s overall performance outcomes. However, there are other entities who could have done more to support both Vatterott and the ECA as problems began to be revealed.

Accrediting Bodies

The primary role of accrediting bodies such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), and Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET) can be summed up with two words — quality assurance. By granting an institution accreditation, these bodies are placing a seal of approval on that institution’s programs, faculty, financial stability, and outcomes. In essence, accreditors serve as consumer watchdogs to protect students and to ensure that institutions provide high-quality educational experiences by meeting specific standards. It is the responsibility of accreditors to hold institutions accountable when those standards are not met.

In the case of Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America, it appears as though ACCSC and ACCIS accountability mechanisms were not effective in protecting students and ensuring high-quality educational experiences. These institutions were allowed to operate for years despite significant concerns and as a result, thousands of students trying to make a better life for themselves and their families now find themselves deep in debt with credits that may or may not transfer to another school. Betrayal of trust seems to be an understatement in this context.

Federal and State Departments of Education

Governmental and regulatory agencies must also share responsibility for the failure of these two institutions and others like them. After all, it is those very agencies that grant authorization to operate after an institution submits an application and completes a lengthy review process. Earning state program approval requires yet another layer of scrutiny. Typically, state departments of higher education and the U.S. Department of Education require annual reports that provide updated information about an institution’s programs, such as enrollment, retention, and graduation rates; employment data, and student performance on examinations required for state licensure or certification.

What accountability measures did the USDOE and each state department of higher education have in place to monitor the quality of Vatterott College and all the various colleges operating under the ECA umbrella? Since each was approved to operate by those entities, do they share no responsibility in protecting students who enroll?

 

USDOE’s Recommendations

Per the directive of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the USDOE recently published two white papers targeted at accreditation and higher education. However, in Rethinking Higher Education, many of the department’s recommendations may actually do little for quality assurance – some focus on empowering institutions and innovators to an even greater extent, such as:

  • Provide regulatory relief by removing overreaching regulatory burdens, revising costly or ambiguous regulations, and providing a greater understanding of Department expectations concerning regulatory compliance;
  • Carefully construct accountability measures that take into account the unique mission of an institution and the needs and goals of its students;
  • Ensure that accreditors evaluate institutional quality in the context of the students an institution serves and the institution’s unique mission;
  • Reform the accreditation system to promote change and innovation, to allow accrediting agencies to accommodate educational innovation, and to reduce the cost of quality assurance; and
  • Identify new ways to expedite approvals for new programs and program modifications in order to keep pace with changing technologies and employer demands.

While the students at most colleges and universities could benefit from such reforms, predatory institutions where turning a profit is the top priority could take advantage of the latitude offered by the USDOE in these recommendations.

 

Common Sense Solutions Needed

Unfortunately, very little can be done to help the thousands of students who put their trust in the schools run by Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America. The USDOE may or may not forgive their student loans, and the various state departments of higher education may or may not assist them with finding other schools who will accept their credits for transfer. For now, the extent of support seems to be mostly limited to posting a fact sheet about the school’s closure along with referral to numerous links and phone numbers for students to wade through on their own. One state site encourages these students to “explore their options for continuing their education” while another provides a link to that state’s Attorney General’s office if students wish to file a formal complaint. This is unacceptable, but a few common-sense steps could start to make a difference. For example:

Learning from Those Who Are Most Impacted

Lawyers, governmental staffers, accreditors, and political leaders should not be making regulatory recommendations and decisions without truly understanding how the lives of students, faculty, businesses, and communities will be impacted. Instead, a “best practice” recommendation is to host an ongoing series of roundtable discussions about student and workforce needs, academic quality indicators, consumer protection, etc. These discussions need to involve all stakeholder groups, and their input should be taken seriously. In many instances, those “in the trenches” often have the best insights and solutions.

Identifying the Root Cause

Since 2016, approximately 173 colleges and universities have shut their doors; 75 were for-profit institutions. We can and must do a better job of ensuring the fiscal health and academic quality of our colleges and universities. In order to do that, we’ve got to take a serious look at each institution and determine the reason(s) for their failure. After identifying patterns of failing institutions, agencies can create a set of red flags to identify at-risk schools. For example:

  • Does the school have enrollment quotas?
  • Are there open enrollment policies that accept almost all applicants, regardless of whether students demonstrated a propensity for success?
  • What are the student retention and graduation rates? If the rates are poor, are they across all programs, or specific to certain ones?
  • On average, must the school’s graduates have to take their state licensure examination more than twice before passing?
  • Has the institution had continued high rates of faculty and/or leadership turnover?
  • From an employer perspective, does the school prepare its graduates well for their chosen career?
  • From an alumni perspective, does the school provide a high-quality educational experience that is relevant and meaningful to their chosen career?
  • How much prior experience do executive leaders have working within a similar institution?

 

Triaging the Wounds of Vatterott, the ECA, and Others Like Them

Accreditors and governmental agencies should do more to hold institutions accountable. Going through an accreditation review or state approval process can be rigorous, but submitting an annual report containing basic information without follow up is simply not effective, as evidenced by the fate of Vatterott and the ECA.

No institution should be allowed to continue to operate poorly for months or years. That approach helps no one – not the institution, not businesses counting on a skilled workforce, and certainly not students. When there are concerns about an institution’s performance, accreditation staff should establish a system to provide guidance and support as needed. A triage model could be implemented based on the level of concern: Cuts and scrapes are easy to take care of, but an institution should never be allowed to digress to the level of intensive care or hospice without significant intervention.

Shared Responsibility, Shared Accountability

Simply stated, all entities should be working together as partners toward achieving successful outcomes. Institutions are responsible for innovations, operations and data-driven decision making with the goals of continuous program improvement. Federal and state departments of education serve as the umbrella for authorizing those institutions to operate, while accrediting bodies must set high expectations, ensure standards are met, and provide assistance to institutions that are struggling. Each entity shares in an institution’s success and likewise, in its failure.

 

Vatterott and the ECA: KEY EVENTS

 

Vatterott and the ECA: RELATED RESOURCES

 

OTHER IMPORTANT SOURCES

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in accreditation, online learning, educator preparation, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

 

Top image credit: lapertenencia.wordpress.com

A Gentle Nudge to CCSSO: What Do We Really Mean by Competency-Based Teaching and Learning?

Competency-Based Education (CBE) has really started gaining the attention of P-12 school districts, colleges and universities, and state departments of education in recent years. CBE emphasizes demonstrated learning over traditional seat time, and it offers a more flexible way to support students achieve their educational goals.

We can talk about the benefits of CBE and we can describe its attributes. However, it seems that there are numerous definitions of the term that while well-intentioned are lacking or are not always hitting the mark. For example, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) developed a working definition of the term competency in 2011; that definition identifies five major components that must be present in a competency-based educational model. While I congratulate the CCSSO for their work in this area I would encourage them to revisit what they mean by competency. Given that this organization leads policies and practices of departments of education and P-12 school districts across the nation, it is important to have a current, accurate, and clear definition. I’ve taken the CCSSO’s definition and have offered a few questions as food for thought in order to advance the conversation:

  1. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
    • Advance in what way? To the next assessment? To the next chapter or unit? To the next course?
    • How is mastery demonstrated? Through what form(s) of assessment?
    • Is demonstrating mastery really the same as demonstrating competency?
  1. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
    • Do competencies truly include learning objectives, or are those LOs created as a measurable subset of the competencies?
    • How are learning objectives transferable? Transferable to what?
    • What do competencies that empower students look like? How would we identify them, as compared to competencies that do not empower students? Empower in what way(s)?
    • From what source(s) are competencies derived?
  1. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
    • Meaningful to whom? Learners? Educators? Parents? Educational agencies?
    • Meaningful in what way(s)?
    • Must all assessments be deemed as positive learning experiences for students?
    • What benchmark(s) should be used in order to judge each assessment’s merit in this regard?
    • How are educators able to ensure that assessments are of high-quality?
  1. Students receive rapid, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
    • What is the definition of rapid support? Is this truly intended to be time-bound?
    • What would be the source of this support? From a teacher or designee? From a software application or AI device?

 

  1. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.
    • Should learning outcomes that comprise competencies represent each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, thereby requiring students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do at each cognitive level (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation, synthesis)?
    • How might learning outcomes include the development of dispositions? What might that look like in measurable terms? Which dispositions?

 

This is just a partial list of questions that must be answered by the CCSSO as they revisit what they mean by competency-based education. Their definition will steer how CBE is implemented in school districts and state departments of education for years to come and it’s important to get it right.

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Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Funding Missouri’s Schools = Advancing Missouri’s Future

School funding is not a particularly exciting topic, but it’s extremely important. All of us—each educator, legislator, employer, and parent—should be well-informed when it comes to how our P-12 public schools are funded. While it’s true that money doesn’t always guarantee success and high performance, it’s very difficult to make substantial progress without adequate fiscal support. Here are some important facts based on 2017 state rankings and 2018 school statistics estimates of school statistics data:

  • There are 556 operating school districts in Missouri, ranking 10th in the nation.
  • Missouri ranks 34th in the nation for its number of high school graduates.
  • The average salary for public school teachers in 2015–16 was $58,064 in current dollars (i.e., dollars that are not adjusted for inflation).
  • In constant (i.e., inflation-adjusted) dollars, the average salary for teachers was 1% lower in 2015–16 than in 1990–91.
  • Ranking 41st in the nation, the average Missouri teacher salary in 2017 was just over $48,000.
  • School funding per enrolled student in Missouri actually went down in the last fiscal year:
    • 2016: $12,551 per pupil (26th in the nation)
    • 2017: $12,069 per pupil (30th in the nation)
  • Likewise, school funding per student in average daily attendance also went down:
    • 2016: $13,074 (29th in the nation)
    • 2017: $12,578 (31st in the nation)
  • The bulk of funding for Missouri’s schools comes from local government sources and remained about the same over the last two years:
    • 2016: 58.6% (4th in the nation)
    • 2017: 58.5% (4th in the nation)
  • Only about a third of the funding for Missouri’s public schools comes from state government sources, which is far behind what most other state governments contribute:
    • 2016: 32.7% (48th in the nation)
    • 2017: 33.0% (47th in the nation)
  • Even federal government funding for Missouri’s public schools dropped in the last two years:
    • 2016: 8.7% (28th nationally)
    • 2017: 8.4% (27th nationally)
  • Missouri is in the middle of the pack when it comes to per-student enrolled expenditures, and it remained almost flat over the past two years:
    • 2016: $10,784 (27th in rank)
    • 2017: $10,826 (28th in rank)

2018-19 Projections

Based on trend data, Missouri will not fare well during the 2018-19 academic year:

  • The number of teachers will drop by 6.5%.
  • The number of all instructional staff will drop by 6.5%.
  • The average teacher salary will increase by 1.2% to just over $49,000. It is should be noted though that when calculating for inflation, teacher salaries are projected to show a 4% decline between 2009-2018.
  • Federal revenue receipts are expected to drop by 9%.
  • Meanwhile, expenditures per student enrolled are expected to rise by 1.7%.

 

So, what’s the takeaway? What does this mean for Missouri schools and for our state?

  • We have a lot of school districts operating the state.
  • All these districts must share a pot of money that’s shrinking each year.
  • State funding is woefully inadequate, near the bottom of all 50 states, and federal funding is less than 9% of what school districts receive.
  • That lays the bulk of responsibility to keep school doors open on the shoulders of local government. If this trend continues, property taxes must continue to rise to make up for the state and federal shortfall.
  • Missouri school districts are having to make very tough choices in order to operate within their limited budget. As a result, updating textbooks, buying microscopes, repairing technology, and the like have to be put on the back burner.
  • Missouri is losing its teachers. Some are retiring; some are moving to other states; and some are leaving the profession for more pay. This will lead to an even greater teacher shortage and will reduce the quality of instruction. Remember that research has proven time after time that teacher quality is the #1 factor in student achievement. If we fail to properly invest in our teachers and provide them with the kind of ongoing professional support they need to be successful, we are ultimately turning our backs on our state’s students.

 

Being a Part of the Solution: What Can We Do?

The state of Missouri offers endless opportunities for technology incubators, economic growth, cutting edge healthcare, tourism, and the like. Our residents are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and tackle the hard jobs. We can address the challenges that our P-12 public schools are facing, and we can work together to make wise choices for the future.

Rather than the bulk of decisions being made by lawmakers who are influenced by lobbyists representing special interest groups, it’s important to receive input from those directly impacted: School administrators, teachers, community members, workforce representatives, parents, and of course, students. And, input needs to be much more than a hearing or two held in Jefferson City–these groups need to have a seat at the table and actually play a role in influencing decisions, allocations, and public policy. We need greater transparency and greater communication; a school superintendent should not have to learn of a funding cut through the local newspaper or on television. These stakeholders must be treated with respect and their insights should be taken seriously. Lawmakers should be out in their districts on a regular basis, not just for photo ops or fundraising, but for sincere listening and collaboration.

If lawmakers in Jefferson City are truly interested in promoting academic excellence in our state, they will create a structure in their districts to encourage active collaboration with constituents. It wouldn’t be that difficult, and I suspect they wouldn’t have any problem getting participants. I’ll start by raising my hand to be a part of the solution–who else is with me?

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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The Four-Day School Week: Not a Bandwagon We Should Jump On

Four-Day School Week

Public schools have long been a backbone to our nation. As a cornerstone for local communities, public schools have helped prepare a skilled workforce essential for manufacturing; they’ve also produced doctors, lawyers, academics, and others essential to a healthy and thriving society.

The first public school of record was the Boston Latin School, established in 1635. Still in existence today, it is currently ranked the #1 high school in Massachusetts and #48 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.

While we have an educational system that has led the world in many arenas, our public schools often face stiff challenges: Their budgets are stretched too thin while costs continue to rise. Expectations and accountability continue to remain front and center in an ever-changing political climate. There aren’t enough highly-qualified teachers, particularly in shortage areas such as math, science, special education, and English language learning. As a result, some school districts have been forced to find ways to serve students and yet remain fiscally solvent. Enter the four-day school week.

Which Schools Use a Shortened Week the Most?

Approximately 560 school districts in 25 states have moved to a four-day school week. Most of the schools are small and are located in rural areas. Within the past few years some larger urban districts have begun experimenting with a shorter school week, but those numbers are small compared to rural counterparts. In five states (Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico) at least 20% of schools within each of those five states have adopted a shortened school week model.

However, if we look at the actual number of school districts, then the state leaders for four-day weeks are Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon. Colorado has the largest proportion of public-school districts with one or more schools on a four-day week at 98. Missouri currently has 28 schools on a four-day schedule.

How is a Four-Day School Week Implemented? 

The most common model is to adhere to a Monday through Thursday schedule. Most states require a minimum number of days and instructional contact hours in each school year; schools that have adopted a four-day week simply reconfigure their schedules to fit the required contact hours into a shorter time span. This can make for a very long school day, particularly for students who have a long bus ride to and from home. In some instances, students have a 90-minute bus ride each morning and again each evening.

How Big are the Savings to School Districts?

According to a report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), national finance data concludes that the actual savings for districts that moved to a four-day week were between 0.4% and 2.5%. Depending on the size of the district, savings on bus transportation, building utilities, and custodial services could be significant enough for superintendents to seriously consider this model, particularly in states that have cut funding for P-12 schools. However, no savings are noted for staff salaries and benefits, given that staff must still work the same number of hours per school year.

What’s the Impact on Teacher Recruitment & Retention?

Based on a perception study conducted by Turner, Finch, & Ximena, school staff tend to like the convenience of a shortened work week despite a longer work day. This could potentially serve as a drawing card to attract applicants particularly in high-demand areas such as math, science, special education, and English Language Learners. However, very little formal research has been conducted on four-day school weeks, so the long-term impact on teacher supply and demand remains to be seen.

But What About Impact on Students?

Health & Safety

While some stay-at-home parents/guardians indicate they like having one day per week to schedule doctor appointments and run errands, those who work outside the home often feel frustrated by having to find childcare for one full day per week, plus the cost of paying for such care. In many instances when proper adult care isn’t available students are left home alone unsupervised, putting their health and safety at risk.

Nutrition

The vast majority of students in those 28 Missouri districts that have opted for the shortened week qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family’s low income. In many cases, the only nutritious meals those students eat are eaten at school.

Juvenile Delinquency

When students are not in school and unsupervised, crime rates tend to rise, particularly vandalism. In their research, Fischer and Argyle (2018) analyzed crime reports in Colorado and found a 20% increase in juvenile crime.

Student Learning and Achievement

Very little quality research has been conducted on the long-term academic impact of a shortened school week, so the field is ripe for study. State departments of education should be very cautious when approving requests for a shortened school week and should monitor performance closely over time. A starting point is to focus in on one state at a time and track various data points longitudinally. To that end, some insights can be gleaned about the 28 Missouri school districts that have elected to adopt a four-day week schedule based on an analysis of data publicly available from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

  • Out of the 28 Missouri school districts on a four-day schedule, only 1 received full accreditation with no sanctions during their last Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) accreditation site visit.
  • Five out of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 1 sanctions, meaning officials must adopt a District Improvement Plan designed to improve key areas of concern. State education department officials will closely monitor Annual Performance Reviews (APRs).
  • Three of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 2 sanctions, citing a higher level of concern by MSIP teams. Level 2 schools are under even greater scrutiny to demonstrate growth and improvement.
  • Thirteen out of 28—that’s more than 46%–of the school districts on a four-day schedule received District Improvement Level 3 sanctions – the most severe of all sanctions while still maintaining accreditation. In these cases, the last MSIP accreditation review revealed numerous serious concerns relative to program quality, student achievement, and other related indicators.
  • Of those 13 districts earning Level 3 sanctions, only two exceeded the 2018 Missouri per-pupil expenditure average. The remaining 26 school districts all are currently spending less than the state average per pupil. While not conclusive, these data suggest there is a correlation between the amount of funding school districts receive and student achievement.

So, what’s the bottom line?

A well-educated society is essential to a healthy, thriving culture. Without a solid educational foundation our skilled workforce will diminish, and entrepreneurs will look elsewhere. Our pool of thought-leaders and problem solvers will decrease, and over time the strength of our nation will be challenged.

Given the important role that our public schools have played in our nation’s success, it’s imperative that we continue to recognize the need to fully fund them. School officials shouldn’t be forced into making tough choices that could jeopardize learning. Every single student in the United States deserves an educational experience that is second to none, regardless of the color of his skin, the native language spoken in her home, or the zip code in which they live. Every. Single. Student.

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant.

 

Top image credit: The Joplin Globe. 

Building a Culture of Learning through Effective Classroom Management

Establishing a learning environment that’s conducive to learning should be at the top of the list of each teacher’s priorities. In order for students to grow, develop, and achieve to their fullest potential, it’s important to create a climate of cooperation, collaboration, trust, and mutual respect. While there are many ways to build a positive learning classroom, it hinges on helping students to develop interpersonal skills, responsibility, courtesy, and good citizenship. This is typically best accomplished through modeling good behaviors, providing multiple opportunities to practice those behaviors, and providing corrective support when needed.

However, there is another approach to classroom management that’s being offered to teachers across the nation. In a piece entitled Public Schools to Teachers: Run Your Class on Fear or Get Fired, author John Warner describes a classroom management philosophy called No Nonsense Nurturing.

What is No Nonsense Nurturing?

Essentially, No Nonsense Nurturing involves “coaches” sitting in the back of the classroom or nearby, constantly directing the classroom teacher how to interact with students using microphones and earpieces. Even worse is that teachers are required to bark orders at students using short, choppy commands, and no enthusiasm or encouragement from the teacher is permitted. Rather, it is simply a command-followed-by-compliance model. As stated in the article, the two goals of teachers adhering to the No Nonsense Nurturing approach are:

  • I have to earn the respect of my students.
  • I expect to have 100% compliance from my students 100% of the time.

Is This Really Nurturing?

After considering the premise behind the No Nonsense Nurturing approach, we have to ask: Can a teacher truly earn the respect of his or her students by demanding compliance? Or, is this sense or respect simply submission to authority?

There’s a big difference between the two.

The Center for Transformative Teacher Training, which apparently developed this classroom management approach, might be wise to dust off their dictionary and look up the meaning of  “respect” again. If students are expected to comply with teacher commands 100% of the time, this is submission—not respect. And it’s sure not conducive to a positive learning environment. A far better approach would be to build a classroom environment where learners were empowered to think, to question, and to grow–where mutual respect abounds, and where compliance is reserved for annual regulatory reports.

The Real Key to a Successful Learning Environment

So then, how can teachers create safe, robust, stimulating places for students to learn and develop? We as a community of educators must ensure that appropriate information, support, guidance, and professional development are provided so they will have the tools they need to succeed. After all, a teacher’s success leads to student success. Furthermore, this support should start during their initial teacher preparation program and continue until the day they retire.

Preparing Future Teachers

Creating a positive, healthy learning environment that isn’t limited a comply or else model can’t be accomplished within a single college course or workshop. Many schools of education require future teachers to take a Classroom Management course that’s heavy on theory and light on practical applications. These future teachers are then placed in a classroom and frequently told that experience is the best teacher when it comes to managing a classroom effectively. Wrong! Preparing teacher candidates to understand and use the best tools for creating positive learning environments should be woven thoughtfully and purposefully throughout their program, across multiple courses and field experiences. They should receive extensive instruction in practical classroom applications coupled with theory. They should be given the gift of many classroom experiences where they are able to try out what they’ve learned while supported by a caring, experienced mentor teacher.

Supporting Teachers in the Classroom

Once they have been hired, school districts should be 100% committed to supporting each teacher’s success. That includes collaborative learning communities, high-quality professional development opportunities, and peer coaching. Each year of teaching comes with its own set of challenges, and school districts should have a solid support system in place that lies outside of required performance evaluations for continued employment.

The Role of School Leaders

In most instances, the building principal or assistant principal oversees a school’s overall classroom management approach and subsequent discipline policies. It’s the administrator’s role to lead faculty and staff in creating a positive learning environment. In order to provide this leadership, it’s important for administrative staff to be knowledgeable in (1) research-based best practices and (2) how to support teachers who may be struggling with classroom management. Far too often, this is minimally covered in educational leadership programs. Instead, a major focus is on curriculum, standardized testing, budgets, laws, and regulations. School leaders need to know how to create a positive, supportive environment for teachers so those teachers in turn can create a positive, supportive environment for their students.

Need Some Good Resources?

There are some wonderful, high-quality resources available to help future teachers, practicing teachers, and parents who are homeschooling their children. A few examples include:

 

Through proper training and ongoing support, teachers can create powerful, robust learning environments where students are eager to come to school, and where they enthusiastically talk about their day at the dinner table. This culture of learning is not built on submission and compliance, but instead on respect, communication, consistency, and fairness.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Empowerment-Based Learning Puts Students in the Driver’s Seat

Empowerment-Based Learning

 “A student who understands what it means to own their learning has an internal drive to get things done.” This comes from an Idaho rural school administrator who has unlocked the key to powerful learning. Empowering students to take an active role in their own learning is often referred to by many different names:

 

Using terms like these interchangeably can be confusing but here’s the bottom line:

With empowerment-based activities, students are more able to take control of their own learning.

They achieve success not because someone is forcing them to move at a certain pace, or memorize a set of dates for a test the next day–they learn because they want to. And, teachers are empowered to provide richer, more meaningful feedback to their students because they can customize learning experiences as needed. School leaders are empowered to make more thoughtful decisions about schools and school systems while parents/caregivers see their children enjoying school in a way they never did before.

All students deserve the opportunity to learn.

Many state departments of education have regulations that haven’t been updated in decades and most don’t even mention student-driven learning models. Contact (clock) hours mean far less than learning time–there is a big difference! Just because someone may be sitting in a seat with an open textbook for 50 minutes does not mean they are engaged, motivated, and focused. Most of all, it doesn’t mean they are comprehending, applying, analyzing, evaluating, solving problems, or synthesizing new information.

Students deserve the opportunity to take greater control over what they learn, how they learn, and how quickly they progress through material.

This can have a positive impact on motivation, attendance, student retention, graduation, satisfaction, and college enrollment. Likewise, learners who can demonstrate they have a solid foundation of content knowledge–and they can apply that knowledge to solve problems in real-life situations–are particularly valuable to employers. After all, employees must demonstrate their proficiency on-the-job everyday; why not help prepare them for success by using an empowerment-based learning model in our P-12 schools?

Empowerment-based learning is not limited to a particular school environment.

It can be implemented in public and private P-12 schools, in colleges and universities, and in homeschools. It can also be used quite effectively in online learning environments at all levels. That’s another beautiful aspect of this model–it’s not limited to a particular type of school or location--it can be implemented anywhere, at any time, for any level. 

This isn’t an easy, 1-2-3 step approach.

Despite all its advantages, creating such a model is not as simple as following a few easy steps; setting it up correctly requires a lot of preparation and some foundational knowledge. Moreover, the model is not intended to be static. After it’s in place it still requires periodic review and updates based on student learning data.

Success stems from preparation, communication, and stakeholder buy-in.

While the design can be highly effective in a variety of learning environments the one constant is that it requires a shared commitment to academic excellence on the part of educators, administrators, parents, and learners. In order for this to take place, school leaders must thoroughly educate themselves in empowerment-based learning. They must connect one of the models to their school’s vision, mission, and purpose. School leaders must also be adept at communicating to stakeholders throughout the process, seeking their input and active involvement. It is only when everyone shares a commitment to empowerment-based learning that it can be truly successful, but the results can be incredible.

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer, educational consultant, and adjunct professor. 

 

Educational Leaders Through the Lens of Academic Excellence

Educational leaders play a vital role in areas such as student graduation rates, teacher retention, and standardized test scores. What does it mean to lead an institution? Is leading the same as managing? What skills are essential to becoming a successful leader, and can those skills be taught?

The Primary Role of a Leader

In addition to creating a vision for the future, developing a strategic plan, and setting high but attainable expectations, the role of a leader in education is to motivate and inspire others; to model effective and ethical practice; and to facilitate leadership development in other team members.

Leadership vs. Management

Depending on the type of educational institution, it is common to see managers, leaders, and a combination of both. For example, a small elementary school may only have one building principal who may be responsible not only for leading the faculty and staff, but also to manage all major projects and initiatives. A large university, on the other hand, will typically employ multiple staff to serve in management and leadership roles, often focusing on a particular specialty area. However, a few general statements can be made regarding the two:

Although they are intertwined on many levels, there is a difference between management and leadership in an educational environment. Successful management of projects or departments is one piece of advancing the institution’s mission. Typically, a manager is assigned to oversee a specific department, or a specific project within that department to meet a defined goal or need. It is his or her responsibility to ensure success with direct accountability to a leader–often a superintendent, dean, provost, or president.

A leader must be an effective manager, but from a macro level. A leader is the point person to drive the institution’s vision, mission, and strategic goals. He or she is often the “face” of the school, meeting with the public, potential donors, the press, or politicians. A leader must be able to see the big picture while at the same time have a working knowledge of the details. However, delving too much into the weeds of a project can cause unexpected problems. When leaders micromanage departments or projects, it signals a lack of trust to managers; it breeds confusion and suspicion and ultimately reduces efficiency and success. So, it is incumbent upon a leader to hire the right people, and then trust them to get the job done.

Essential Skills All Effective Leaders Must Have

There are some skills that all educational leaders must have in order to be successful:

  • An effective leader must be truly committed to academic excellence. By setting high expectations for ethical practice and academic outcomes, a leader can inspire others to achieve great things.
  • An effective leader must be an exceptional communicator, both verbally and in written form. It’s not enough to have great ideas—one must be able to communicate them to others to have those ideas come to fruition.
  • An effective leader must be an exceptional listener. When one person is doing all the talking, he or she rarely learns much from others in the room. By actively and purposefully listening to others, a leader shows respect to others; gains a better understanding of a given issue; receives suggestions for tackling a problem; and builds a stronger sense of trust.
  • An effective leader must be competent. We cannot all be experts in everything, but if we are to lead others, we must have a solid command of the subject matter or the field. Educational leaders must stay current with relevant literature, research, patterns, and trends.
  • An effective leader must have confidence. It is difficult to lead others when we don’t communicate that we truly believe the path being taken is the right one.
  • An effective leader must ensure proper recognition of managers and other team members for their contributions, particularly in the context of a significant or particularly challenging project. It’s necessary to motivate and inspire, but we must also show appreciation and recognition.
  • An effective leader must be fair. Showing favoritism, even the suggestion of it, can quickly diminish team morale and motivation. A leader must make it clear that all members of the team will be treated equally.
  • An effective leader must be prepared to make tough decisions. There are times when institutions must face difficult budget shortfalls and steps must be taken to reduce expenditures. There are also times when one or more staff members are not performing up to expectations. An effective leader must be willing and able to make the decisions necessary to ensure the overall quality and well-being of a program, a department, or an entire institution. Decisions may not always be popular, but they are necessary, and if a leader fails to make them he or she simply is not doing the job that individual was hired to do.

Can Leadership Skills be Developed?

The short answer is yes. While there are certainly personality traits that we are born with that lend themselves well to taking on a role of leadership, specific skill sets must be developed, honed, and practice. In fact, the National Education Association (NEA) has identified a set of core competencies that are designed to equip educators with the knowledge and skills they need to become effective leaders. In addition, the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) holds schools of education accountable for how well they prepare future school leaders under the umbrella of seven professional standards. It is extremely important for educational leaders to develop a strong base of content knowledge and to gain practice in applying that knowledge in variety of educational settings. Moreover, the importance of mentoring support and ongoing professional development cannot be over-emphasized.

The Bottom Line

The success of an educational institution will be directly impacted by the quality of its leadership. As a community of educators we must be committed to preparing, selecting, and supporting our educational leaders through the lens of academic excellence.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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