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What We're Learning: Our Blog

At C!E, we lean into the concept of “leading with learning” and delight in digging into nerdy topics, lines of inquiry with colleagues, and asking the hard questions. This blog serves as a sandbox, our testing ground, and space for rumination to share out C!E’s work.


Here you can find resources, papers, questions, and conversations we’re having as we strive to learn from and alongside our peers about our ever-changing field.

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By Paul Leather, C!E's Director of the Interstate Learning Community

This blog post originally appeared on Future Focused Education's blog on Monday, December 6, 2021.

As the sun comes up over the green forested hills and ignites the fall colors in the leaves of the trees surrounding my house in Concord, New Hampshire, I am writing this post to you. As you have entered another school year, one with continuing challenges, it has been edifying to see how you have kept the well-being of the children in your care top of mind. Although some students have become disconnected from learning over the last year, you have learned new ways to connect with them and their families.

This year, many of you have answered the call for a new way of teaching, through greater engagement with students and community through capstones and Graduate Profiles. In doing this, you are addressing deep fault lines within your communities, reaching out to those children who have so often found themselves on the other side of the chasm. To support this new way of teaching, wise leaders from your communities and the NM Public Education Department gathered during the darkest days of the pandemic to determine a more fair and equitable approach to learning in your state.


First, they extensively interviewed children, families, educators, community leaders, from Zuni to Logan, from Cuba to Las Cruces. Emerging from those interviews were the voices of children, parents, Indigenous nations, and rural communities. Those voices rang out with stories of inequity, racism, of children not being seen or heard or understood. The songs of these people echoed across the land, in the canyons and the valleys, from the rooftops and the mountain tops, they sang a song demanding to be heard, of connections lost from culture and language, and ways of being.

The wise leaders coalesced around a statement of hope, underlying the pain they heard in those voices:

“To address the education system’s history of structural and inherent racism, New Mexico’s high school students need a more expansive learning and assessment system that honors their cultural and linguistic strengths while providing feedback and other engaging opportunities allowing them to take ownership of their learning, build strong identities and see a rich future ahead."

So many of you have heard the challenges embedded within these words. In response, you have joined a Community of Practice to examine what it would mean to paint a picture of the expectations your communities hold for your children. You created a Portrait of a Graduate, and built a new pathway to learning, the Capstone process, where each child can embrace their identity and their future through deepening connections with you and those in their communities.


This is not easy work, not when you work every day to re-instill the routines of learning in schools for those children who have returned to your buildings. Not when we still do not have a vaccine for all children, and you find yourself quarantining for days on end, while continuing to teach, either in person or remotely.

People from across the country are interested in how you are going about this work, something Future Focused Education is addressing deeply this year in the Community of Practice. You have refused to define yourself strictly by state test results and the deficit thinking that those tend to offer. Instead, your different approach includes a thoughtful Graduate Profile model that includes something you don’t always see elsewhere—a launch pad as a basis to support the rising graduate.

Not only are you looking at deeper kinds of assessments—capstones designed to address the whole child within the school environment—you are also focused on ways to increase their success as they become adults in their community. Through burgeoning internships and work-based learning, you are reframing your schools as community development hubs, something they were always meant to be.

As educators, you have always recognized that children are the future and so you must always seek to help them rise. Your hope is that when New Mexico students graduate by going through the Capstone process, you will have fostered the growth of the whole child and prepared students to take their rightful place in their communities, something youth and their families desperately want and desire.

It is the love that you have for this work, the love you hold for the children in your classes, who have suffered so much from an imperfect system that was not built with them in mind, that brings you to persevere, to carry on and to try this new way forward.


You may wonder why I, from so far away, am writing this message to you today. Because of your tireless efforts in developing community-based Portraits of a Graduate and your fearless capstone designs uniquely based on addressing systemic inequities, the nation is following your progress.

This includes in the halls of Congress, where your leaders have shared your innovative work with staffers of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Appropriations Committees, who are hoping that innovative new ways of schooling will emerge that will be more wholistic in serving children and better connected to community values, which might inform the next reauthorization of the federal Education Act.

Maybe this time around the New Mexico example—your example—can help crack the code of inequities in education across the nation. As your efforts, skills, and capacities grow with the Community of Practice, the stories of your learnings and your students’ success will follow you.

Thank you, New Mexico Educators, for doing your part in a great cause. You are providing a model for all of us as you work to make your public schools increasingly relevant and rewarding for New Mexico’s children and families from all backgrounds, not just the privileged few.

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Dear Friends, Today we are sharing a new seminal report called Measuring Forward: Emerging Trends in K-12 Assessment Innovation. Knowledge Works serves as one of the founding members, along with C!E and the Aurora Institute, of a small but influential network of national organizations called the Student-Centered Assessment and Accountability Coalition who are advocating for greater flexibility in innovative assessment and accountability educational systems at local, state, and federal levels. With Knowledge Works taking the lead through a small grant, all of the members canvassed our respective communities to produce the report.

We are including the report here as part of the C!E blog series as a help and a reminder to all of you who follow us that learner centered assessment has truly become a national movement, one that is increasingly capturing the attention of policy makers at all levels, educators, parents, and, most importantly, students. If we are sincere in our commitments to build equity-seeking assessment systems, it is essential that these emerging systems be truly learner centered, finding ways to recognize the unique gifts of each student, regardless of race, economic status, or zip code. This has been a foundational principle for C!E, and, indeed, for all of our partners.

As the gray veil of the pandemic finally begins to show signs of lifting, children and their families are crying out for major shifts in how education performs and how it is held accountable. Such a demand for change can only be met by innovators and pathfinders working closest to the learning process. Over time, if fostered, these many beacons of light will shine across our cities and towns, illuminating new paths forward for generations to come. This report points to the many ways and trends emerging just now. We ask that you give it a read and let us know about the innovations that are creating change in your communities. For those of you who are desperate for more supportive educational policy and legislation, please know that the Student-Centered Assessment and Accountability Coalition will look to make your achievements known in your State Houses, the Administration, and even the Halls of Congress. Read the report Measuring Forward: Emerging Trends in K-12 Assessment Innovation here.

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This week we shared about exciting changes at C!E, and today we follow on with exciting movements in our partner organizations and communities.

Change is indeed afoot. We are tracking subtle but significant shifts in the ways that increasing numbers of federal, state, and local leaders are thinking about education systems. Less “find the average” and more “make it work for every person.” Less “I have the answer” and more “let’s learn together.” We are excited to be part of this momentum, and even more excited to learn alongside our partners and co-conspirators in the field. Read on for some thoughts on the great work coming from the broader community.

Using ARP Funds to Redesign Schools for Whole Child Equity (Science of Learning and Development Alliance)

As states and districts begin to receive a historic influx of cash from the federal American Recovery Plan (ARP) fund for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER), numerous experts have offered advice on the “right” projects and programs for the funds. Our stance, articulated in our Investing in Learning post back in March, is less about the right programs and more about the way funding decisions are made: specifically, to elevate local, contextual wisdom; to make investments with a learning orientation; and to constrain processes, not ideas. Having said that, states should play a role in sharing best available information about ideas and programs that might bring local districts closer toward key goals like whole-child equity. And we think the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Alliance has some pretty spot-on ideas in their recent brief, Using ARP Funds to Redesign Schools for Whole Child Equity. Education leaders can use the guiding principles and policy priorities in the SoLD report as substrates for the kinds of investment processes we described in March that, we believe, have a better chance of advancing equity and whole-child wellness during these complex and uncertain times.

How to Make Senior Capstones Truly Anti-Racist (Future Focused Education)

In a previous C!E post, we shared about recent developments in New Mexico to eradicate structural racism in the public education system through (in part) assessment and accountability redesign. Central to this process has been the creation of “holistic and community-based capstone assessments.” But, as Future Focused Education’s Lisa Martinez explains, capstone assessments are not inherently anti-racist. Martinez examines capstones in another place - Oakland, California - to probe thinking about what it might look like to develop capstone assessments that reflect the cultural values and identities unique to each New Mexico community - or any community, anywhere.

Linked Learning 101 (Linked Learning Alliance)

In C!E’s work to advance equity-seeking systems transformation, our questions about new approaches to assessment and accountability have increasingly harmonized with kindred questions about how industry partnerships and career pathways can potentially help drive a system to become more responsive and learner-centered. In this space, Linked Learning - who has been an intermediary partner to California in our Interstate Learning Community - is offering a low cost virtual professional learning series on developing more equitable student experiences and outcomes in pathway, academy, or CTE programs. It began last week, but we wanted to share about it in case the series is still of interest to your work. There are still a number of sessions between now and November 10 and it is open to both individuals and teams regardless of whether you are pursuing Linked Learning at your school. Learn more about the series here.

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