by Thomas Alderman, M.Ed., former Director of Adult and Secondary Education for Vermont's Agency of Education
While the teacher-centered classroom may still be the norm in many schools in America, the national trend is toward a learning environment that is student-centered and student-driven. We want our students to be able to take advantage of all learning opportunities without the restriction of time or place. We want to know that our students are able to demonstrate knowledge and skill in relation to rigorous expectations. We want our students to be at the center of the construction of their own learning experience.
In many States, policies are shifting to reflect this trend. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) establishes national education policy that acknowledges and supports this trend. For-profit businesses and non-profit organizations are developing and marketing products and professional learning opportunities to support this shift. Postsecondary teacher preparation programs are evolving in order to reflect this shift. Researchers are designing studies to measure the success of the policy and practice changes.
Vermont offers an example, where Act 77 of 2013 (Flexible Pathways Initiative), in combination with the Education Quality Standards of 2014, have established a policy environment for public education based on a transition to personalization, flexibility and proficiency. Vermont educators are being asked to make significant practice changes over what must feel like a short time period. They are to have Personalized Learning Plans (PLP) for all students in grades 7 through 12 by the 2018/19 school year, Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements (PBGR) for the class of 2020 (which means having the PBGRs in place for the 2016/17 school year), and Flexible Pathways that take advantage of the broader world of learning opportunities now.
These may seem like distinct initiatives stacked one on the other, and therefore, feel overwhelming. They are intended to be complimentary, to be parts of a whole that is moving Vermont to a public education system that better serves all of its students. Unfortunately, in implementation, these parts may be treated as distinct. Some educators may be given responsibility for PLP implementation, others for developing PBGRs, and still others for helping students extend their learning beyond the school building. Vermont’s educators must come together in ways that enable them, in collaboration, to work toward implementation of the whole. The same can be said for educators around the country grappling with this challenge.
Technology can support the needed collaboration and create a hub for this transition. Fortunately, there are visionary educators and software developers engaged in this work. We are beginning to see software platforms that can support students, parents and teachers in building, managing and implementing meaningful PLPs; that can facilitate the identification and use of learning opportunities in the larger community; that can be the repository for the evidence that students will use to demonstrate their proficiency; that can inform users about the learning expectations upon which progression and graduation decisions will be made; and can serve as a catalyst for the practice changes that America’s educators must engage in if we are to take full advantage of the new policy and practice environment on behalf of our students.