TGIF! Jun 16 2017


It’s been a good news / bad news kind of week.  I’m happy to share we had an excellent interview for the $10k 4.0 Schools’ Tiny Fellowship – we’ll learn end of June if we are accepted.  Unfortunately, with summer vacations and the like starting up, the Chamber of Commerce wasn’t able to pull together sufficient numbers to hold our CEO roundtable next week. We’ll reach out personally to all the companies who expressed interest but had a conflict, to set up conversations with their leaders one-on-one. Building a school is not a straight path, but a winding road of two steps forward, one step back.  We’ll get there!

Proficiency-based learning

This is something I have not written a lot about, but it’s important – I saw my recent Facebook post on this topic generated a lot of interest!  When we talk about doing personalized, interest-based, real-world learning at the high school level in a public school, you have to ask how students will still meet the standards.  And if you just take all these wonderful, learner-centered practices and sort of glom them onto a traditional performance system (subjects, grades, report cards) you are creating an inherent conflict for both teachers and students.  (And which side wins that conflict? The grade monster ALWAYS wins.)

Proficiency-based or mastery-based learning is a completely different approach to meeting standards. It requires mastery (hence the name), it separates the assessment of “habits of work” (participation, punctuality, etc.) from the assessment of the acquisition of skills and knowledge (do you know it), and it makes time the variable instead of learning.  To use the language with which we are all familiar, you can’t get an F, only an incomplete.  It’s replacing “no” with “not yet”.

In a traditional system, a “C” in Algebra could mean the student can only do each skill at a 75% level of proficiency, or maybe it means that the student could do 75% of the skills completely but can’t do 25% of the skills at all.  Or, for that matter, it could mean that the student can only do 50% of the skills or less, but earned enough points for extra credit work, class participation, or homework completion to “pass”.  And what happens when that student moves on to Algebra II?

Sal Kahn explained it this way: “So the idea of mastery learning is to do the exact opposite. Instead of artificially constraining, fixing when and how long you work on something, pretty much ensuring that variable outcome, the A, B, C, D, F — do it the other way around. What’s variable is when and how long a student actually has to work on something, and what’s fixed is that they actually master the material. And it’s important to realize that not only will this make the student learn their exponents better, but it’ll reinforce the right mindset muscles. It makes them realize that if you got 20 percent wrong on something, it doesn’t mean that you have a C branded in your DNA somehow. It means that you should just keep working on it.”

Learning Links

Check out this great series of learning sparks, short videos from the filmmakers at Most Likely to Succeed.  I’ll be sharing some of these on Facebook over the next few weeks but if you missed our movie last year and want to indulge, check them out!

In closing….

For my Grand Haven schools’ readers wrapping up the school year today, happy Summer! (SLPH, FCS, WMAAA, WGM, St. Mary’s and WMC families have been warming up the beaches for you! J)


TGIF! Apr 28 2017


The first draft of our application to become a charter school has been written, minus a couple of appendices I’m wrapping up.  Woot woot! Now we get as much feedback from our trusted advisors as possible before submitting.  But things are coming together!

Back to the beginning

After writing up the school’s charter application, I feel like all the parts and pieces that have been jumbling together over the past 18 months are a bit clearer now, especially on how they fit together.  Sticking to the philosophy that “why” you do anything is the most important question, I’d like to take the next few newsletters to build up a coherent answer to that for all of you, from why to how.

Part 1:  What’s the Goal of High School?

Well, that’s a big question.  And it’s not a question that has a single, clear answer. But if you start with the very simple observation that high school wraps up at precisely 18 years old, the age of adulthood in our society, then it follows pretty naturally that the goals of high school ought to have something to do with the goal of become an adult.

What is adulthood? Part of it is physical maturity, but time has a way of taking care of that with little intervention on our part.  The other big piece, for humans as well as all mammals, is achieving independence to meet one’s own needs, rather than having those needs met by one’s parents.  But unlike all other mammals, humans have a hugely diverse range of possibilities as to what form that independence might take!  So in addition to growing into their adult bodies, and finding a way to become independent, people have a third element to figure out, and that is what sort of person you want to be and what sort of life you want to have.  So adulthood = physically mature, socially and economically independent, and self-aware.  How does this happen, and what role does school have in this process? Stay tuned.

Learning Links

24 credits and a D-minus average aren’t good enough, Washington Monthly on the transformation of a Connecticut high school from traditional learning and grades to mastery (aka competency) education.

A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice, Chalkbeat on trust and responsibility, starting with one’s most basic needs.

In closing….

Thanks for reading, especially since our TGIF came out so late this week!  Glad I still got your eyeballs. Have a great weekend!