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A New Community Compact for Education

March 7, 2016 | By | No Comments

We need a new chapter in K-12 education where everyone embraces a role and responsibility to advance student learning. Schools and teachers can’t and shouldn’t have to go itEdCompact alone. We need to support young people in learning paths that span across school, home, community, and online environments. We need a new Community Compact for Education.


This Community Compact for Education—or “EdCompact” for short—isn’t an organization or a sign-on letter. It’s not a school reform strategy, a technology platform, or just a hashtag. It’s a common commitment to set of principles for K-12 learning that can transcend the pervasive “us vs. them” debates and usher in the next era in education. These principles include:


Engaging entire communities. The EdCompact engages everyone across the community in teaching and learning. It prioritizes building and strengthening partnerships among schools, families, community partners, and youth. It doesn’t limit people outside schools to non-academic roles. It brings the community into the classroom and brings teachers into the community. It supports parents as learning coaches and co-learners. It recognizes we have a responsibility to help young people connect the disparate systems involved in their lives—linking schools, civic education, and workforce development.


Prioritizing student engagement. The EdCompact responds to the fact that too many young people are disengaged from learning and dislike school. It puts a top-level priority on student engagement—leading with curiosity and student interests. The EdCompact moves beyond “personalized learning” and “student-centered learning” to the next level of “student-owned learning.” It advances learning opportunities that better connect youth to their passions, peers, community, and careers.


Empowering learners with data. The EdCompact shifts the conversation on testing by focusing on how students and their parents can use test results and other education data to take ownership of their learning paths. It advances ways for students and their parents to securely store, access, and share their education data with others. It helps learners understand their capabilities, effectively communicate them to others, and identify what knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to develop to build the future lives they want for themselves.


Embracing the digital age. The EdCompact recognizes that youth have increasingly erased the boundaries between their online and in-person lives. It embraces the power of technology not just as a learning tool, but as a way to improve collaboration among teachers, parents, and community organizations. Technology becomes a backbone for engaging entire communities, boosting youth engagement, empowering learners with data, and enabling anytime/anywhere learning.


Are you making everyone in your community an “education insider” and creating better answers to the question “How can I help?” Are you building a community-wide culture of education success? Are you advancing the EdCompact?


Let us know on Twitter using the hashtag #EdCompact.


A Backpack, a GPS, and a Sherpa for Learning

February 27, 2015 | By | No Comments

To fully realize the potential of the digital learning revolution, schools must come to terms with a Copernican shift where students, not schools, are the center of the digital learning universe. Effectively supporting students at the center of this universe requires collaboration among schools, families, and community partners to equip young people with three tools for navigating learning in a digital world:

  • A Backpack to own their learning data, carry it with them, and securely share it across school and community environments.
  • A GPS to help figure out where they are on their learning path, where they want to go, and ways to get there.
  • A Sherpa to guide them as they chart their course toward learning success and help them navigate challenges across school, home, community, and online environments.

Backpacks for LearningA Backpack for Learning

Schools and other institutions generate vast amounts of education data on students, but rarely are students and their families using that data to own and chart their learning paths. To shift this, we need to develop digital backpacks for students to store and access their learning data. These backpacks will go beyond traditional student records by incorporating learning profiles, support needs, recognitions of anytime/anywhere learning such as digital badges, student goals, and online portfolios of student work. Young people and their families will be able to keep these and securely share their learning information with others.

We have components of self-owned and managed Backpacks for our work lives (LinkedIn) and higher education (MyEdu), but the ones for K-12 are siloed in schools or community-based programs and are controlled by institutions instead of young people and their families. There are some promising models for backpacks and emerging state legislation to enable them, but we’ve yet to see this vision fully implemented in a community.

GPSs for LearningA GPS for learning

Like a GPS for navigating a city, a GPS for learning will help young people understand where they are on their learning paths, show them different places they can go, and chart pathways to get there. We have comparable navigation tools for other parts of our lives – not just online maps but also resources such as Waze, AirBnB, Yelp, OpenTable, Amazon, and even municipal 311 systems. What would it look like if we could extend these models as supports for anytime/anywhere learning?

Sherpas for LearningA Sherpa for learning

Young people need guides to navigate the new world of anytime/anywhere learning. These guides are analogous to Sherpas, the expert mountaineers that guide and support adventurers through challenging terrain. We need to evolve the roles that adults serve so they support student-centered learning experiences that aren’t constrained within individual institutions and programs. This will include engaging counselors, librarians, mentors, afterschool professionals, and parents in new ways to forge paths across school, community, home, and online learning environments.

Join the Conversation

At Span Learning, we are working to develop these supports through District of Learning, the D.C. site of the national Cities of Learning movement. Hive Learning Networks in several cities that are also advancing these approaches.

We’re making progress, and need the engagement and assistance of others that are working on these solutions to support young people at the center of a new universe of learning. Reach out to us to join in the conversation. We’ll also be at SXSWedu and would love to connect there if you’re attending.

7 Principles to Shift the Pendulum on Testing

November 12, 2014 | By | 3 Comments

PendulumThis NY Times article on testing pushback joins the growing litany of reports spotlighting parents’ dissatisfaction with tests. Conversations on testing have become more complicated because schools are scrambling to implement improved assessments aligned with new curriculum standards. Opposition to testing is now conflated with pushback on common core state standards.

The dominant thinking among education reformers is that testing pushback stems from faulty communication. “We just haven’t communicated the value of these assessments effectively. If parents understood how important tests are for improving schools, closing achievement gaps, and creating better teaching and learning, we wouldn’t have this opposition!” The problem must be a lack of understanding and so the solution is a better public relations campaign.

In fact, the PR approach is failing, and no amount of yelling “This is good for you!” is going to shift opinions on testing. Schools must go beyond explaining the purpose of tests, and focus on how parents and students can use testing and education data to understand and take ownership of their learning paths. Parents need to see testing as something that is done with them and not to them.

Making this shift will require evolutions in school technology, systems, and culture. To begin this evolution, schools should commit to these 7 Principles to Shift the Pendulum on Testing:

  1. Clearly explain the value of each test to students and parents before it is administered.
  2. Provide test results to students and parents in a timely manner and in a way that they can understand.
  3. Provide ongoing support to students and parents to help them use test results to advance future learning.
  4. Provide opportunities to students and their parents to contribute information to student records that goes beyond test results, including information on student interests, goals, accomplishments, social and emotional learning, and learning that happens during out-of-school time.
  5. Use testing and data to expand opportunities and raise expectations for students, not to limit opportunities or lower expectations.
  6. Provide ways for students and their parents to securely store, access, and share their education data with other schools, organizations, and individuals.
  7. Engage students and their parents in ongoing conversations and decision-making about testing and data use.

At Span Learning we are focused on these seven principles, and their intersection with digital learning and collaborative technology. Our discussions with the teams at the Data Quality Campaign and StriveTogether are an important influence on our thinking and work.

Do you know examples of schools collaborating with students and parents through testing and data? Where are students using test results to own and plan their future learning? Share your feedback with us in the comments or here.

Note: A parallel set of problems, failed responses, and solutions apply to pushback on common core—not to be solved unless/until parents and students are using curriculum standards as a tool to understand and advance their learning paths.