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Beyond the Core: What About Other Important Outcomes?

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The expectation debate in this country has been focused on common math and English standards but there are other outcomes that can be even more important to life success. A University of Chicago CCSR review and a couple of popular books suggest, "We don't teach the most important skills." In addition to habits of success (e.g., persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence), important K-12 outcomes largely outside the Common Core include civic, digital, financial, and health literacy. Let's define these 'literacies' as knowledge, skills and dispositions likely to lead to productive social contribution.

If you buy the argument that there are a broad set of desirable outcomes (let's call it Core & More) stemming at least partially from formal education, this raises two important questions:

  1. How should states and districts adopt and communicate these expectations; and
  2. How should students demonstrate knowledge, skills and dispositions in these often hard to measure outcome areas?

Following are some (obviously incomplete) thoughts about innovations in learning in these important outcome areas.

Delivery innovations. Blended and competency-based learning represent an opportunity to boost the consistency of Core & More outcomes (see 125 blogs on the subject). As noted in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide, the key is starting with good goals and measuring what matters.

EverFi is an EdTech company focused on teaching and certifying some of these critical skills including financial literacy, digital literacy, health and wellness, and civic engagement (they also cover postsecondary financial literacy, health and wellness). They work with 6000 K-12 schools and 70 of the 100 largest districts. EverFi works with hundreds of business sponsors to make curriculum free to schools.

Financial literacy. Nineteen states require some level of financial literacy education prior to graduation.

Simulations are a great way to teach cause and effect and reinforce the importance of delayed gratification. Junior Achievement has month long simulation that can be delivered online or onsite. The Federal Reserve created a couple interesting sims. EverFi's Vault is a financial literacy unit for students in 4th-6th grades.

Not everybody agrees that we should add more to elementary expectations. Common Core math co-author Jason Zimba urged, "add nothing in K-5, nobody can be financially literate who can't do arithmetic." He would "strictly limit an initiative like this to high school."

These important but hard to measure outcomes are a combination of knowledge and disposition. Zimba said "most financial decision making rests on character as much as it does on math. Can you save instead of spend? Pay back your obligations? Defer pleasure? The idea that if we simply knew more techniques we'd be better off is simplistic."

Digital literacy. The rapid growth in high access learning environments and Bring Your Own Device initiatives makes digital literacy a priority. Learning.com has a widely used app called Inquiry. Ignition is EverFi's middle grade digital literacy program.

As noted in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide, effective practices are even more important than a good Acceptable Use policy.

Health. Most states spell out some health and wellness expectations (as summarized by The National Association of State Boards). They usually include fitness and sexual health; they often include drug and alcohol awareness. Some are translated into credit requirements, many are recommended curriculum guidelines that districts can incorporate into K-12 instruction as they see fit--which is probably the best possible approach.

Over 4 million students, including more than 550,000 this fall, have completed AlcoholEdu, EverFi's online alcohol prevention learning course.

Civic literacy. There are three common approaches to boosting civic literacy: democratic schools, service learning, and civics education--good secondary schools often use all three strategies.

The most widely adopted civics curriculum is iCivics launched by former justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2010 (see feature). Commons is a middle school unit on civic participation from EverFi.

Habits of success. Social emotional skills (or non-cognitive skills) gained attention in 2013 with the publication of a couple books on mindset and grit. These important dispositions are Characteristics of Great School Cultures. (Also see On Being a Real Person: The Missing Core of K-12.)

The high performing Denver network, DSST, provides staff and students regular 360 feedback on shared values (see Developing Character, Courage & College Readiness).

Summit Public School students develop habits of success-self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal skills, decision-making, and responsible behaviors-through projects and opportunities to contribute to the school community. Students gain real-world experiences through a series of career preparation, college readiness, and cultural appreciation expeditions supported by partnerships with Bay Area organizations.

Recommendations . This short tour of critical college and career ready skills not covered by the Common Core brings me to 6 recommendations:

  • States should signal the importance of these outcomes but should avoid incorporating them into efforts to ensure school quality.
  • States could replace credit requirements for health and civics with a recommendation for demonstrated growth and competence.
  • Projects are often the best way to incorporate and observe the development of hard to measure skills and dispositions. (See a primer on performance assessment and PBL Lessons from Ron Berger).
  • Rather than just a senior project, states could recommend that students complete projects every two years that allow the opportunity for demonstrated growth in these outcome areas (e.g., Mooresville NC is contemplating a required sequence of four projects).
  • At the secondary level, daily advisory periods are a great place to practice many of these literacies. (See Next-Gen Advisory: 10 Keys to College & Career Readiness.)
  • If leaders really believe these competencies are important, they should be reflected in school and district goals, and they should provide specific feedback after a school visits, like this note from Carmen Coleman to the Bate Middle School team. (Also see Ken Kay's book, The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education.)
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