On October 15, 2020, the Education Action Forum of Maine launched The Education Innovators Series in partnership with Educate Maine and the Center for Innovation in Education at Thomas College in Waterville. This series invites education researchers and leaders from across the country to engage with Maine educators to reflect on a vision for a post-Covid system of education in the State.
On March 22, 2020, Pender Makin, Commissioner of Education addressed the citizens of Maine in response to the pandemic that had closed the schools. She challenged Maine families to envision a new system that needed to be restructured to meet the new challenges and emerging insights into learning the pandemic opened. Our efforts here aim to add voice and ideas to help the DOE by better informing citizens and legislators on what needs to be done to realize this important goal. We cannot go back to the way things were before, and we need to begin taking bold steps to ensure a creative learning path from Pre-K through post-secondary options for all Mainers. Undergirding our discussions will be educational outcome data. Education outcome data is an imperfect science and is oftentimes used by interest groups to advance political agendas that inform much of Maine’s education structures. Educate Maine and the Maine Chamber of Commerce have invested significant funding for research that tries in good faith, to get a snapshot of how Maine students are doing on standardized tests as well as related assessments. A report on 2019 will be released soon and we will use that data as a benchmark for our discussions. Our conversations are meant to serve as critique not criticism. Our goal is to create a legislative and administrative environment that supports and advances innovative mindset for all educators. The recording of the session can be found at this link. The speaker was Jason Swanson, Director of Strategic Foresight for KnowledgeWorks. Ed Cervone, Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Education at Thomas College moderated and Matt Drewette-Card, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at MSAD #75 and Heather Whitaker, Alternative Education Teacher at Gorham, Maine School District and Maine Teacher of the Year 2019 served as respondents. My summary of what we heard is as follows: Jason Swanson’s research at KnowledgeWorks posits that education is “everybody’s business,” and there is a need for more synergistic efforts to involve every citizen, educators, business leaders and those politicians who serve as stewards of State and Federal education dollars to, in all good faith, boldly face the challenges need to restructure our education system. Central to the discussion are:
- the many teachers feel that administrators “need to get out of the way” especially when change takes place “on the backs of teachers.”
- the importance of student voice and student advisory panels.
- the importance for schools to create directors of family engagement.
- the need for communities to develop “hyper local narratives of success.” (referenced again below).
Matt was able to drill down on specifics that get to the core of the “systemic” challenges that are considered obstacles to real innovation in Maine schools now. These include the fact that the pandemic has forced teachers to operate in a land of “ish” – lots of improvisation but also a lot of learning going on. Now more than eight months into crisis schooling, the pandemic has revealed the need to reassess and change forever the following topics:
- “Time” has now become the variable whereas “learning” is the constant (or it should be). The system needs to articulate which it values most and how to adjust. Current legislation is structured around a preference for time rather than learning. There is too much emphasis on “butts in seats” rather than learning assessments.
- Time based systems result in the system of “grades” 1st, 2nd, 3rd opposed to learning “levels” and or appropriate learning groupings.
- Assessments under the current system are problematic on many levels and he can cite criticism of the assessment systems currently used in Maine. He references programs in other states that that provide immediate and more useful feedback to teachers and students that incentivize learning. These systems, though successful elsewhere, are not currently available throughout the system.
- This topic was central to Jason Swanson’s big bold agendas that challenged people to Co-Designed Accountability Systems.” He challenged the audience to work with communities to develop “hyper local narratives of success.”
- Matt was very clear that making the changes we need will require legislative support and action.
Heather was equally strong advocating for personalized learning and the important of outreach to parents.
- How to we create structures that facilitate self-advocacy for students and their families. The pandemic has changed the parent-teacher relationship forever.
- How do we encourage administrators to incorporate parent/student and community voice further enhancing “choice agency” into the students learning experience?
- How do we to a better job of incorporating students emotional and mental health needs into their learning program?
Summing up the conversations and assessing the challenges associated with truly restructuring Maine’s system as the Commissioner called for, Jason mentioned two categorial approaches to change that frame conversation moving forward. Educators and organizations can adapt one of two approaches.
- Inbound Change: which Happens TO us. We use assumptions to think about direction and impact.
- Outbound Change: Changes we create t through our agency. A projection of values.
The challenge for everyone is which approach will Maine adopt to transform the system?