States Opinion

Innovation in Action: State Pathways for Advancing Student-Centered Learning

By Contributing Blogger — April 17, 2015 6 min read
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This post is by Adriana Martinez, Program Associate for the Innovation Lab Network at the Council of Chief State School Officers.

We live in the age of rapid innovation. Everywhere I go, I hear about groundbreaking ideas, solutions, technology, apps, and products (are you all ready for the Apple Watch?). In the field of education, there too are countless innovative models for teaching and learning--blended learning, personalized learning, project-based learning, flipped classrooms, competency-based learning--which in turn are followed by countless innovative technology-based tools and online platforms. The push for innovation in teaching and learning has come from successes taking place in local schools and districts where teachers, principals and superintendents continue to be frustrated when traditional approaches to education fall short. These local leaders are actively seeking different approaches to education--and these innovations are now paving the way for more students, especially those who have been disadvantaged by traditional school settings, to have greater opportunities and success in college, career, and life.

Nevertheless, schools and districts do not operate in a vacuum. Their ability to innovate and build on success not only depends on buy-in from their local community, school boards, state education agencies, state legislatures, and state boards of education; but also it depends on federal policy, political will, and money.

The nature of public education is incredibly complex! Education involves a large number of decision makers at many levels of government and implementation requires developing and testing effective models, training teachers, working with parents, rethinking funding formulas, designing accountability systems, etc. Even innovative masterminds such as Mark Zuckerberg get mixed results when they attempt to dabble in education reform. In the private sector, if companies do not adapt and innovate, they will fail. Unfortunately, in public education, if we fail to adapt and innovate, it won’t be CEOs who suffer the consequences--it will be our students. State education leaders across our nation understand the imperative to support innovation, and they are taking action. The U.S. Senate could soon take up Every Child Achieves, a bill to replace the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, or No Child Left Behind) that would allow more flexibility for states to pilot innovative assessments. With federal policy makers signaling support for innovation, the time is ripe for state leadership to transform public education.

The most daunting challenge state policymakers face in advancing innovation in education is often conceptual. How can education leaders know which innovations work and which do not? How can they tell that they are scalable and sustainable, and that they truly lead to better outcomes for students? What sets successful innovations apart is that they are transformational: they transform how the consumer thinks and operates. In education, innovation must transform how learning happens, and consequently, it must transform the education system as a whole. This means that state education agencies, which are key agents of change in the world of public education, must think about how they can build on locally-led innovations and transform their education systems to get improved, deeper learning outcomes for all students.

A group of states have come together to address that very question by participating in the Innovation Lab Network (ILN). The ILN is a network of 12 states facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to share learning, drive collective action, and create and scale student-centered learning environments. The ILN developed a framework, the ILN Policy & Implementation Logic Model (the Logic Model), to guide states as they explore unique pathways towards transforming their education systems. This framework provides a set of policy and implementation considerations necessary for advancing student-centered learning at scale in ways that lead to deeper learning.

This framework is centered on a vision of a transformed education system that puts the learner at the center. For ILN states, a student-centered education system has six critical attributes that:

  • Require clear and high expectations for all students
  • Base outcomes on demonstrated student mastery of learning goals and objectives
  • Personalize learning to students’ needs and interests
  • Enable student agency in their learning
  • Provide comprehensive systems of support
  • Take learning beyond classroom walls and schedules

The ILN Logic Model is a tool that provides guidance on to states on how to shape their strategies for advancing this shared vision of student-centered education systems. The goal is transforming our education system so that public education meets its mandate to prepare all students, regardless of background, to gain the deeper learning competencies they need to succeed and thrive in college, career and citizenship. As state leaders try to think about what innovations are successful they should always think about how they help achieve this outcome. The ILN Logic Model outlines the five domains of critical policy and implementation considerations necessary to support and scale innovations taking place in schools and districts that embody student-centered education. These policy and implementation domains include:

  1. Defining college and career readiness consistent with deeper learning
  2. Enabling personalized learning and preparing the educator workforce so that all students can succeed
  3. Establishing balanced systems of assessment to meaningfully measure college and career readiness
  4. Anchoring accountability in college and career readiness
  5. Developing seamless pathways to college and career

States need to take action steps in all five domains to build education systems that best reflect the attributes of student-centered learning. Education leaders who are looking for ways to think about building on the successful innovations taking place in their state can use this framework work help them identify priorities and actions they can take. They also must think about the enabling conditions and implementation levers that are the foundation for scalability and sustainability, such as:

  • Ongoing stakeholder engagement
  • Research and evaluation
  • Structures for collaboration, sharing, and scaling
  • Flexibility and customized assistance to schools and districts

These enabling conditions ensure that successful practices do not stay in isolated bubbles of innovation, but rather, success can be shared with other schools so that all students can benefit from them.

To learn more about the ILN framework and see how states are using it, please see CCSSO’s new resource “Innovation in Action: State Pathways for Advancing Student-Centered Learning” that provides a more in-depth overview of the ILN vision and the ILN Logic Model, along with highlights from ILN states. As you review this new resource, we encourage you to think about pathways your state can take to create responsive, student-centered learning environments that lead to better outcomes for all students. We hope this resource will help you learn more about the stories of state action from ILN states, but we also want to hear about innovation taking place in your state. There is a wealth of innovative practices taking place in classrooms across the nation. The power of the ILN is the collective and shared learning that takes place across ILN states and I encourage you to contribute stories from your state as the momentum around innovation in education continues to grow.

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