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Will Common Core and Digital Learning Lead to Deeper Blends?

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"Provide student the skills and knowledge the will need to be success in the 21st century society." That's the goal of theWilliam and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Deeper Learning initiative. The Foundation convened grantees this week to discuss how to expand access to programs that promote better college and career preparation.

America Achieves' Bethany Little noted that Common Core State Standards implementation offers a "once in a generation opportunity" to dramatically improve the quality of student learning. She's right. The simultaneous shift to personal digital learning is a second leverage point. Decisions made in the next two year before online assessment begins will determine whether we get shallow blends or deeper learning.

Deep or shallow--the difference gets very clear when you look at student work. The audience at the Hewlett meeting dug in to student assignments and work products from the following school networks:

  • Asia Society : Advocacy group with a network of 34 international schools
  • Big Picture : International network of 130 internship-based high schools
  • Edvisions : National network of more than 60 PBL high schools
  • Envisions : Bay Area network of four PBL high schools
  • Expeditionary Learning : A network of 170 PLB and community connected learning schools
  • High Tech High : A K-12 San Diego network; and
  • New Tech Network : A network of more than 100 PBL schools using the Echo learning management system.

"Assessment influences instruction," said Hewlett Education Director Barbara Chow. She noted that most current state tests are inexpensive tests of basic skills. Stanford's Linda Darling Hammond noted that better tests that require more constructed response will require more extensive use of automated scoring. Interest in better tests at an affordable prize drove Hewlett to support the Automated Student Assessment Prize (which is why I was at the convening).

Big Drop. While some of us think Common Core is a big deal and can lead to deeper learning for more American students, Julie Bell, National Conference of State Legislators, offered some of us a reality check, "Legislators are talking about productivity and jobs." She said lawmakers are talking about doing better for less.

Two years from now the conversation in most states will be monopolized by the precipitous drop in test scores brought about by new tests of higher standards. In some states, the controversy starts sooner. Kentucky will release results of Common Core-aligned assessments next week.

Deep Blends. With limited resources, the only way to help more kids reach higher standards is to extend the reach of talent teachers by blending the best of online and onsite learning.

Hewlett's Vic Vuchic noted that "we are talking about deeper learning for teachers" as well as students. Tech-powered professional development is more timely and relevant than traditional delivery methods. With online environments, Vuchic added, "It's never been easier to build communities of practice."

About the challenge of deeper learning and better preparation, moderator Virginia Edward, the EdWeek publisher, pointed to the need for:

1) Capacity: From schools to state departments, capacity for a complex change agenda is weak

2) Communication: Clarity of intent with examples of success; and

3) Culture: The need, in many places, for wholesale change to a focus on student success.

The simultaneous shift to higher standards and personal digital learning is a daunting challenge--especially without a big infusion of capital--but it is the best shot we've ever had at helping more students experience deeper learning and leave better prepared for college and careers. Realizing the promise will require EdLeaders to engage school communities, defend the need for higher standards, and manage an agenda that blends improvement and innovation.

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