Welcome Back to School

06 September 2018

by Dan French, Secretary of Education 

Secretary of Education Dan French

On behalf of the employees of the Agency of Education, I would like to welcome you back to school and to the start of another school year in #vted. For those of us who work in the education system, it is a time to pause and reconnect to the values that define education as a calling as much as a profession. It is a time to take a moment and reflect before the routine of the school year, in all of its urgency and complexity, takes over.

In Vermont, these educational values have always included putting aspirations for student learning at the center of the learning process. The Vermont Design for Education (1968) expressed this vision quite directly:

Education is a process conceived to benefit the learner. Central to any focus is the individual and how his learning process may be maximized. This idea is basic and provides the foundation of all other elements of quality education.

Now, for the first time in history, we have the tools through technology to accomplish this goal. Personalized Learning Plans and proficiencies can be developed and visualized to help guide the design of the learning process. It is a very exciting time to be a student!

My predecessor, Rebecca Holcombe, was a passionate advocate for education quality and equity of opportunity for all of Vermont’s students. I hope to build upon her work to address the organizational and structural elements of our system to ensure these values are secured for our future. Based on my experience as a Vermont educator, I know we have the requisite talent to do this work. But if we are to be successful, I suspect we will need to let go of some older structures and embrace new ones.

One structure that will probably need to change is how we approach curriculum development. This is evidenced by the amount of “initiative fatigue” Vermont schools are experiencing. We have been engaged in a curriculum development paradigm that is too slow and too inefficient to meet the needs of our students, and the strain on our system is beginning to show. With the advent of Open Education Resources (OER), we will likely need to become even more nimble in our curriculum development processes. My guess is we will need to embrace a design approach so we are better able to harness the collective capacity of our entire system. The table below roughs out the old structure of standards-based development as compared to a new “open” structure that I think would be better suited to Vermont and the current context where technology is rapidly expanding what can be taught and learned.

Old Structure

(Standards-Based Development)

New Structure

(Open Development)

Standards are created.

(1-3 years)

Standards are created but previous standards continue to be useful. Standards function as a “tagging” scheme. More than one set of standards can be used at the same time including older standards, newer standards, and standards from other countries.

Curriculum frameworks are created. Each district does this in relative isolation with loose coordination (or not) with regional partners.

(1-3 years)

Teachers design and “mash-up” OER content and share with their peers for refinement as part of an open state system. A peer-led committee in each district identifies quality instructional activities, curates and shares them, and coordinates horizontal and vertical alignment.

Units of study and lessons are aligned to curriculum frameworks. Each district does this in relative isolation.

(1-3 years)

Completed in above step.

Each district engages in curriculum supervision to ensure formal curriculum is implemented as planned. Each district does this in relative isolation.

(Ongoing)

Completed in above step. Since curriculum is developed from the classroom up, the design of curriculum is tied directly to its implementation -  the issue of fidelity in implementation is addressed organically.

Student learning aspirations have to be integrated into the curriculum system.

Student learning aspirations are central to the design as teachers create and “mash-up” OER in the first step of the process.

This is a very rough outline of a new approach to curriculum development. My point is that we need to acknowledge the old system is not working that well, and we need to design a new one that leverages our collective wisdom and expertise. The good news is we have several Vermont districts working this way. We just need to make it more systematic and come to agreement on the common tools we will use to create and share the work. I would welcome the opportunity to convene a conversation about designing a new curriculum development system.

How do we, “come to agreement on the common tools we will use to create and share the work?” That is a good question and a point of vulnerability for scaling this type of approach in #vted. As much as we prize collaboration in education, we also believe in local control. Local control is a deeply held belief of every Vermonter - including every Vermont teacher. I suspect we will be able to find a way to work together more systematically by acknowledging that doing so unleashes our collective creativity and innovation, values that are coincidentally also part of every Vermonter’s DNA.

I know these are big ideas to contemplate as you begin a new year with your students and your colleagues but I wanted to share a few ideas I have been thinking about. Before the year begins in earnest (if it is not too late already), I encourage you to pause and reflect on the values that drew us to the profession to begin with. Take time to celebrate your collective work - through teaching, we make the world a better place. You should know we at the Agency share your dedication to this work, and take great pride in your achievements on behalf of our students and their families.

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Vermont Agency of Education
Secretary Daniel M. French
219 North Main Street, Suite 402
Barre, VT 05641

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