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Challenging Present — Promising Future

It is always rewarding for a policymaker to be parachuted into a convening of local practitioners, particularly a group of innovative, creative, and action-oriented pioneers. I just spent two days at the iNACOL Annual Symposium, exiting with conflicting impressions.

It is amazing that an organization formed little more than a decade ago to promote online learning is able to draw an attendance of nearly 3,000 educators from across the U.S. and other nations. This is something more than a well-run meeting drawing people together. I believe it has to do with the substance being discussed (new forms of content delivery, blended and online learning, personalization, competency based learning) — ideas that are much more engaging and exciting to educators than the typical conversations. And, there are strong undercurrents of optimism, a bit of impatience to get on with it, and a deep sense of social justice. I am convinced that I just observed the early exemplars of the future. It would be a gross mistake to hide from reality; we are about to see a major transformation in our ability to reach and excite the next generation. And my sense is that these new efforts will eventually overwhelm traditional schooling. It is exciting to experience.

I conducted a session around assessment and accountability, anchored in the recent document the Center published with Linda Darling-Hammond. I was taken by surprise by the need for the group to express disappoint and even anger at some state officials for what they perceive as unfair treatment of educators as the states are rolling out new assessments. While I am sure this is not the situation in all states, too many in the group cited lack of clear communication, poor support structures to help teachers understand the nature of the new tests — as well as the way in which states will interact with them during the first assessment cycle — and concern over tying these assessments to teacher evaluation before they have had adequate time and support to implement, to teach to them, and to weigh student responses to the new tests. Where truth lies I cannot say; just that there are clearly strong negative feelings within certain states — an alarm signal to which states should pay close attention as they consider how they are communicating with and supporting educators during this important transition.

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