Nadworny: Partnership for Change

Print More

(Host) Creating a great 21st
century education system is hard. It’s even harder, when you’re
Burlington and Winooski and you have over 50 languages being spoken
in the high schools. Commentator Rich Nadworny is seeing first hand
how one group is tackling the problems.

(Nadworny) Last year the Partnership for
Change received a three-year grant from the Nellie Mae Foundation to
remodel and reimagine high school education in Burlington and
Winooski in order to prepare all of our kids to thrive in the 21st

This January I was part a group from
The Partnership who visited high schools in New York City to learn
more about how others have implemented proficiency based learning
systems. As a member of the steering committee, I accompanied
teachers, administrators, community leaders and students as we viewed
innovative schools in the city.

Proficiency based learning came about
for two reasons: either students were receiving passing grades
without being able to master basic academics, or they were
continually failing on standardized tests without receiving proper,
individualized instruction. We visited some New York Consortium
schools, a group of small high schools that decided not to "teach
to the test." Instead they developed their own student and teaching
curriculum and assessments based on open-ended questioning;
reading, writing, and discussion; student input;
assignments extending over longer periods. 

How do they do this? For one, they’ve
opted out of a lot of the standardized tests. For another, the
teachers themselves develop the curriculum, called rubrics, rather
than some outside "experts." The teachers review and revise these
as necessary every two years, based on outputs and student
assessments. A group of teachers and community people, not just one
teacher, assess each student.

When I heard the teachers explain this,
it sounded like they were working for a lean technology firm,
gathering user data, innovating and iterating continually. They made
the politicians pushing for more testing look like Frederick Taylor’s
time management relics, applying 20th century industrial
age metrics to 21st century digital problems. 

In one international school we saw
kids, who had been in the U.S for only 4 years or less, having such
an intense discussion in an English literature class that it took one
of the teachers in our group 5 minutes to realize that the young lady
leading the class was actually a student and not a student teacher!

Most importantly, the results deliver.
For example, 86% of African American boys in consortium schools go to
college, compared with 37% nationally while 90% of Latino boys head
to college compared with 42% nationally. 

Part of our work
in the Partnership for Change is to look for different models and to
find ways to improve our own school system in Burlington and
Winooski. In the coming months, a group of educators will experience
design-thinking training, developed by IDEO and the Stanford
D-school, to see how we might to bring this amazing educational
experience to our kids.

And in early February over 300
community members turned up to discuss and define what high school
graduates need in order to succeed. If you’re interested in
reimagining what a 21st century education could look like,
you can find ways to get involved at  

Comments are closed.