Inside-out solutions--work that begins and remains grounded in classrooms and schools with the intent of simultaneously improving practice and informing the efforts of those external to the schools to support conditions that benefit students--are certainly one of the best approaches to develop the educational ecosystem. To some this might seem a bold statement, but actually no bolder than suggesting that solutions for health issues can be usefully addressed by people with medical knowledge and clinical experience.
In this blog, we describe an example of the early development of one such inside-out solution as well as two essential supports that inside-out solutions require to meet their potential-time to do the work and leadership that knows how to use that time well.
Developing a Creative Process from the Inside Out
The Learning Policy Institute coordinates The California Performance Assessment Collaborative (CPAC). CPAC brings together educators, policymakers, and researchers into a professional learning community dedicated to the advancement of meaningful assessments for California students. CPAC members deepen and refine their performance assessment practices through in-person meetings, site visits, and information sharing. In addition to individual learning, the lessons emerging from CPAC seek to inform local, state, and federal policymakers with important information and context as they develop next-generation assessment and accountability policies.
One working group of CPAC, the"CPAC Quality Review Committee," a group of experienced school leaders and researchers who are CPAC members, is beginning a multi-year effort to develop a process for endorsing the quality of schools' performance assessment systems. Its mutually interdependent goals are to develop the capacity of educators to use performance assessments in support of deeper learning as well as to, in the long run, develop an "endorsement process" that would "mean something." It could, for instance, be linked to state graduation policy (e.g., in place of a potential high school exit exam) and/or in support of higher education admissions requirements.
In the first phase of this "endorsement" work, the committee developed and "tried out" a process to examine how CPAC's 10 shared principles of performance assessment take form in different educational contexts. In this way, they could help develop a process that both supported practice as well as generate possibilities for a feasible evidence-based endorsement/review. The process had two components. The first component was for the site to respond to questions and provide artifacts that addressed each of the 10 CPAC principles. The schools received several prompts as well as examples of possible artifacts to provide enough structure to make the task understandable without becoming prescriptive or onerous. For instance, the idea was that sites use existing documents and just provide hyperlinks. The goal was for the entire preparation to be completed in two to four hours and for that time to be useful to the school.
The second component of the process was a site visit. This consisted of a phone conversation where members of the visiting team could speak with a representative of the school to clarify issues that the visit team noted when they reviewed the submitted artifacts and to prepare for the actual visit. The one-day visit (8 am-2 pm) consisted of observing several portfolio defenses, an interview with the site administrator, a focus group with students, and a debriefing with the site administrator. Given the informal nature of "trying it out," the team did not provide a written response to the visited school.
Time and Leadership
The CPAC Quality Review Working Group initiative described above is an example of an inside-out solution--harnessing the creativity that resides inside schools to both improve what happens for our children there as well as inform efforts by those outside the schools to support the education of our children. The working group that developed and "tried out" this process as well as the school where the process was "tried out" reported that it improved their practice and they hoped that it would provide important lessons for those outside schools in their efforts to support the conditions that develop quality education for each and every one of our children. Grounding the work in the context of students and schools (i.e., working from the inside-out), they argued, was the absolutely essential key.
Herein lies the challenge. Inside-out solutions require time to do the work and leadership that knows how to use that time well. In short, this and many other promising and potentially beneficial initiatives, will never go anywhere if they continue to require the work from the inside to be done on the edges of exemplary educators' lives--lives that already include more professional responsibilities than there are hours in a day. It must be made possible for those who work inside of schools to be able to take on multiple professional roles and responsibilities without leaving the classroom and the grounded perspective that daily interaction with students and their families provides. Time, however, is necessary but not sufficient. Time created must be time well-spent. And that requires instructional leadership from all the potential leaders in a school (students as well as all the adult roles and positions).
SCOPE has been focusing on the two issues of time and instructional leadership in a series of projects over the past several years. For extended descriptions of schools that have re-structured time for inside-out solutions, see these tworeports on teachers' time; Ann Jacquith's book, How to Create the Conditions for Learning; tools for transforming literacy instruction and developing the conditions for collaborative learning; and these blog posts on leadership and on rethinking time.
Creating time and developing leadership are not simple endeavours. If they were, they would already be done! Inside-out solutions, however, require it. And inside-out solutions are, in the long run, our best hope for achieving the educational opportunities our children deserve and that the well-being of our communities require.