Thursday, May 31, 2012

A storm water focus . . .

Last night at Glacier Park Elementary I was fortunate to attend the Storm Water Neighborhood Workshop.  It was an opportunity for our students to show those in attendance their understanding of the storm water problem in the city and in the Puget Sound region.  Once again we need to thank Peter Donaldson from the Friends of the Cedar River for his leadership and support in this work and in other initiatives in our school system.  Through Peter's leadership we have partnered with the City of Maple Valley to educate our young people and our community about the importance of managing storm water.

We finished the evening by visiting the newly constructed rain garden and the Glacier Park gardens.  Cathy, Kyobi, and Susie were gracious hosts and the Glacier Park students were the stars of the show.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A potential game changer . . .

I received an announcement today on a favorable ruling by a King County Superior judge that Initiative 1053, the one that requires a super majority of the legislature to raise taxes is unconstitutional. You can read about it on the League of Education Voters web page here. It is not often that you see the League and WEA on the same side of an issue, but they did partner on this lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is another important piece in making sure our kids have all the resources they need to get an excellent education,” Chris Korsmo, Chief Executive Officer, said. “LEV was founded on the principle that our kids deserve fully funded schools.”

“This decision is a victory for the children of Washington state,” said Mary Lindquist, WEA president. “If it is upheld, this ruling will pave the way for the Legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools as mandated by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and the state Constitution. We hope it will be settled soon. Our kids can’t wait any longer.”

I am excited about the potential for this ruling to change the pace of education reform in our state. Legislators can now take the action that we elect them to take without this undue burden. Lead counsel Paul Lawrence shares his thoughts on the ruling below.

“This is a victory for the Constitution” said Paul Lawrence of the Pacifica Law Group, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. Lawrence explained: “The Constitution establishes the fundamental rules for how our governmental works. The framers considered what types of laws require a super majority vote for passage. Taxes were not identified as requiring a super majority vote. Fundamental changes in how the government operates have to be accomplished by constitutional amendment, not by passage of a law or initiative.”

Like many lawsuits we will more than likely need to wait for the ruling to be appealed to the State Supreme Court. For today, however, we can celebrate a ruling with the potential to positively influence our work.

Monday, May 28, 2012

One more charter vote . . .
Last week a coalition of education groups led by the League of Education Voters filed an initiative on charter schools.  The initiative is similar to the bill that did not make it out of the recent legislative session and has the support of legislators who sponsored the bill.  It will be our fourth opportunity in this state to determine the fate of charter schools as initiatives have failed on three previous occasions. 

This is not going to go away as these education advocacy groups see this as one of the necessary components of reform and it doesn't hurt their cause when the federal education department makes it part of grant requests.  There is foundation money behind this initiative and support from a more diverse group than what we saw with previous attempts.  For example, a new organization Democrats for Education Reform are in favor of charters.  Charters are also now the norm in many states so I believe that this initiative has a greater chance of success than the last vote in 2004.

It will be another opportunity for the reform groups to take on the educational establishment, especially WEA who opposes the initiative.  Come November we will see who prevails.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

From the Association perspective . . .

I asked Scott to share his thoughts on the collaboration conference.  It is timely considering a comment to my recent post that suggests our system is not as collaborative as I want to think. 

I am a teacher in your buildings who believes you need to take a better look at the so called "collaboration" that happens here in Tahoma. From what I have seen from the collaboration in your department is a joke. They gather people together under the facade of collaboration. To hear opinions, when decisions have already been made and then when you do question or give your opinion your are told you are not a team player! How is that fair? The collaboration you speak of is a House of Cards.

I am both concerned and saddened by the comment, but pleased that the writer was willing to share.  Without more context I would only be assuming the experience(s) that have led to this mental model, but I believe that they have been outside our work with the bargaining units.  Below are Scott's comments based on his work in our system over time and his experiences with leaders from Associations in our region and state.  I'll look at the possibility of pursuing the previous comment at a later time.

The 2012 Labor Management Collaboration Conference was a unique experience for our team (Mike, Mark, Didem, and myself). The biggest take away for me was the validation that the culture that we have created in Tahoma around collaboration is ahead of the times and is a model that I believe many of the districts in attendance are working to achieve. In my conversations with other districts at this conference and in our own state, I am proud to be able to share the uniqueness of our relationships between TEA, TSD, and the school board. It is an honor to work in a district that respects each other, the differences we bring to the table, and places the success of students in the middle of the table.

The conference itself had numerous highlights for me and I would like to share two that will have me reflecting over the next several weeks.

1) Sullivan County Department of Education in Tennessee-I spent a good deal of time talking to this district, since they were right next to our booth. It was interesting learning the hardships of not having collective bargaining and how this affects their rights as workers. In addition to this, they are struggling with new evaluation model in which principals are being criticized for their lack of visibility in the school and a huge impact of the written portion that is taking an extraordinary amount of time outside of the school day. It concerns me because I see these being two major hurdles that we will face in Tahoma. How will our professional learning communities be affected by the amount of time our principals will be doing several observations on all of their staff members? The last point from Tennessee that I took away was how tests scores are used in the overall rating of a teacher. Test scores count for 50% of their evaluation. In Washington state, student data has to be used in 3 of the 8 categories in our new model. Fortunately, local districts have autonomy over which data to use and how. TEA and TSD will be having these conversations over the next few months as work collaboratively to make the model work for Tahoma.

2) Effective Techniques That Support Collaborative Bargaining- in this breakout session put on by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, I was left with some new thinking regarding bargaining and also felt validated once again about our work in Tahoma. The speakers of this session spoke about the importance of interest based bargaining and that it takes a lot of work for it to work effectively. They talked about how there can be no non-negotiables in interest based bargaining and that you have to go into bargaining willing to discuss anything. They shared the importance of having the president of the association and the superintendent at the bargaining table for negotiations (which is not common practice in most districts). I feel very validated in our work in Tahoma based of these thoughts. My new thinking comes with my desire to improve our interest based model. We call what we do inTahoma interest based but it is a hybrid that includes some positional moves during the negotiation process. We have worked several times in the past to start in this fashion but as we get deeper into the process, the interest based principles can get lost to give way to getting to the point and reaching a final tentative agreement.

There were many other highlights I could write about and maybe in a future TEA newsletter I will share those thoughts. The conference overall was a wonderful experience for our team to gain knowledge from others and build on our collaborative efforts through our conversations with each other.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

We are at the airport in Cincinnati with a four hour wait for a flight to Chicago where we have about a half hour to catch our connecting flight home landing about 11 tonight.

Below are some thoughts from Mark about his experience at the conference.

I know that collaborating and building positive working relationships are critical to being successful in my new role as HR Director this year. The Collaboration Conference has enabled me to listen and learn from educational practitioners from around the country. A few things have resonated with me as I reflect on the last few days.

1. SHARED DECISION MAKING: I am convinced that Tahoma's model of consensus is a critical piece of the puzzle. Many of the districts here have shared the importance of shared-decision-making and, in fact, named it as THE most important piece of the puzzle. I feel encouraged that we have embraced this concept in our district more than a decade ago.

2. EVALUATIONS: Almost every state is struggling with implementing new evaluation models for teachers. It was interesting to hear that other states are dealing with similar implementation issues as we will be in Washington. I could hear the emotion in the voices of teachers and superintendents lamenting the struggles they have. Ohio (50% of teacher evaluations based on student test scores) and Tennessee (one state rubric to use with no flexibility for individual districts).

3. TIME: As we all know, time is finite; there are only 24 hours in a day. I was encouraged to learn about some creative ways districts are utilizing and organizing their time to better meet the needs of kids. Olathe, Kansas and their use of Professional Councils. Meriden, Connecticut's use of assessment data and Teacher Leadership. These are all similar to what we do in Tahoma but offer a slightly different approach that merits consideration. As does Ada School District's use of their My Voice survey data.

All in all it was a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow with Mike, Didem and Scott. I also came away thinking that Tahoma should be a presenting district in the future!

Mark Koch

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Collaborating to transform . . .

Mike, Didem (School Board President), Scott (TEA President)
It was a very good day for me at the Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession conference.  Being close to retirement I have seen and experienced many times how policy and initiatives from the state and federal government can drain energy from our system so I tend to be a little cynical, but today was different.  I was energized by what I heard and about the potential for true collaboration to significantly influence our profession.

Other than being asked by WEA to consider sending a team, I questioned why we were one of about one hundred systems in attendance.  After a very short amount of time in the opening session I realized that we have earned the right to be here.  Our deep belief in the need for collaboration within a culture of learning and support is at the heart of this work.  Representatives from eight diverse organizations this morning signed a paper commiting their organizations to work collaboratively to transform the teaching profession. The seven core elements of the plan can be found here and speak to the following needs that should sound familiar to those in our system.  Policy makers are finally seeing the need to focus on the system and culture within which learning and teaching take place.
  • A culture of shared responsibility and leadership.
  • Top talent, prepared for success.
  • Continuous growth and professional development.
  • Effective teachers and principals.
  • A professional career continuum with competitive compensation.
  • Conditions for successful teaching and learning.
  • Engaged communities.
The signees represent organizations often in opposing camps so this is truly a potentially transforming moment.
  • Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education
  • Anne Bryant, National School Boards Association
  • Michael Casserly, Council of the Great City Schools
  • George H. Cohen, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
  • Daniel A. Domenech, American Association of School Administrators
  • Dennis Van Roekel, National Education Association
  • Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers
  • Gene Wilhoit, Council of Chief State School Officers
We are aligned with the beliefs driving this initiative and have the foundation in place to take advantage of the supports that should emerge from the work.  We are and can be a model for this collaborative work.  We are capacity builders commited to supporting growth in our teachers and principals and increased student achievement.  I am encouraged and excited about the opportunity to partner in this work and to support improved instruction through practice, the focus of our Classroom 10 initiative.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Finally, a focus on collaboration . . .
 Just as I sat down to do this post I received an e-mail notification that John had posted a comment to my last post on who is influencing education policy in our state and nation.  His comment is partly about the topic for this post on our team attending the 2012 Labor Management Conference in Cincinnati sponsored by the Department of Education, teacher associations, and others.  Funding was provided for each participating team through donations by foundations focused on school reform.

In John's words.

I, for one, am thankful for the collaborative nature of our district and local association. When I hear these groups talk about unions being roadblocks to reform, I have a difficult time empathizing. Our district is the greatest example of what can be achieved when a district and an association work together to improve education for our students. Currently, our superintendent, human resource director, school board president, and association president are all attending a US Department of Education conference focused on collaboration. This does not happen in every district. I give credit to both parties agreeing to value the other side's contribution to the over-riding goal: the best education for our students. I also appreciate the open conversation we are able to have every month at labor management. This is an important component to our success.

As John indicates, we are here because of the relationship and common focus that we have developed over time.  I don't know that we will meet the federal department's need for creative ways to use student achievement data in teacher evaluations, but through our story we can share how a solid foundation is necessary for achieving a collbaorative culture that sustains over time. 

I will share more from the conference and yes, John, I will ask Scott to guest blog.  I'll also try for Mark and Didem to share their thoughts as we engage with others from about 100 districts across the country.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Who is influencing policy . . .
The battle for Governor continues with Inslee and Mckenna seeking endorsements.  In December WEA came out in support of Inslee.  This past week Stand for Children, an education advocacy group, came out in favor of McKenna.  This Education Week article suggest that is not the norm as the group has historically supported democrats.  This should not be a surprise as the organization supports charters and linking teacher pay to student achievement that are also part of McKenna's education platform.

The bigger issue for me is the changing battlefield for influencing education policy.  More and more democrats are viewing the teacher union and other traditional education associations as road blocks to change and are shifting their support to other candidates viewed as part of the reform movement.  As evidenced by the last session of the state legislature, they are being heard and their voice is influencing policy decisions.  The compromises on teacher evaluation and the health care authority bills are an example of this increased influence.  Though WEA and others were able to keep the original legislation on both bills from passing, the compromises set the stage for continued battles and the possibility over time for groups like Stand for Children and League of Education Voters to prevail.

Who will control the future of education in our state?  How much influence will educators have as components of the new funding model are gradually implemented?  How can the educator voice gain credibility and influence with elected officials at the state level?  These are critical questions that will require adapative answers if we are to move into the future with any probability of being considered.  These other organizations are gaining credibility and will only gain momentum and support, how do we do the same?  Is it ime for a dialogue with others from these organizations and, if yes, where and how will that begin?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Teachers dance bomb . . .

Is dance bomb part of your vocabulary?  Until today I had not heard of it though I have seen it without knowing what it was called.  Thanks to Alexander Russo's blog post showing teachers from a Massachusetts high school pranking students I learned what it means to dance bomb.  You can read more about it at The Feed on CBS News where it was awarded an A for pranking. 

Still don't know what it is?  Watch the video, it is funny.  I can't imagine doing this, probably because my moves would look like those of the bald guy with the tie.  Maybe if I could move like the guy with the dark sweater and beard I would reconsider.  Then again, maybe not.  But, I could see Terry and high school staff doing it since they already have an online presence as performers.  How about it Terry?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On the lighter side . . .

Time for a post with not so much substance so I’m going to Daniel Pink’s webpage where he at times posts what he calls emotionally intelligent signage. They send a message to the reader - I particularly enjoy the ones that use humor.

Back in the old days, when an international team of Ph.D. social scientists and veteran graphic designers first conceived the idea of emotionally intelligent signage in a series of secret all-night meetings in my garage*, the term had a particular meaning.

The idea was that signs could be more effective — that is, they were more likely to produce the desired behavior — if they: a) expressed empathy with the viewer; or b) elicited empathy in the viewer. The concept has widened a bit since then, particularly with examples of signs using humor to make their point.

Below are some examples from his site.

On days like today when we host an inservice and the parking lot is full, I think I would like to have a sign in one of my preferred spaces that says something like this.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Waiver hurdles . . .
OSPI received feedback from the Federal Education Department on the state’s ESEA waiver request. The letter informing Superintendent Dorn of the review by a panel of six peers included positive feedback as well as some concerns and questions. Positive feedback included strengths in the following areas.

• The inclusion of academic subjects other than English language arts and mathematics in the state’s accountability systems.

• The influential experiences of Local Education Associations who are already piloting teacher and principal evaluation models.

• Components of the state’s plan for transitioning to college and career-ready standards.

The letter also contained three areas where the department identified significant concerns.

• Whether the interventions proposed for priority schools fully meet the turnaround principles and are likely to increase the quality of instruction and improve student achievement;

• Whether the exit criteria for priority and focus schools are sufficiently rigorous;

• Whether student growth will be used as a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluation and support systems, and the infrequency of evaluations of experienced teachers.

OSPI will need to address these concerns before the department will grant the waiver. In February I did a post about the waiver process and my support for the potential to eliminate schools being identified as “failing” when measured by NCLB standards. The first two concerns above are related to the failing issue with the department questioning the rigor and capacity of the plan to hold low achieving schools accountable.

The third concern is focused on the state’s mandated evaluation system that has caused and continues to cause me concern. The departments concerns over this issue call into question the proposed timeline that many of us see as very ambitious.

• Address concern that ambitious statutory timelines for local implementation may be too short for LEAs to implement evaluation systems effectively. See 3.B.

An additional concern with this issue is related to how achievement data will be used to evaluate teachers and principals. The state plan gives autonomy to individual districts to work with bargaining units to make these decisions while the federal waiver guidelines require the use of achievement data as a significant factor. I think that this will continue to be a major hurdle for the state to overcome in the waiver process. I believe the federal department wants assurance that all districts will give significant weight to student achievement, something that was not a part of the recent legislative compromise on this topic. They may not have gone far enough to meet the department’s standard. Below is the specific language from the department’s report.

Please describe how Washington will ensure that LEAs create teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that include as a significant factor data on student growth for all students, consistent with the definition for student growth in ESEA flexibility. See 3.B.

It will interesting to follow this to see if the compromise that mandated the use of one of three models is enough to qualify for a waiver assuming the state can answer the other issues around rigor and accountability with priority and focus schools.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Next in line . . .
In this Saturday Seattle Time's Opinion piece, Froma Harrop, shares her thoughts about the need for change in post secondary education making it cheap and plentiful.  What caught my attention beyond a focus on the values and political struggle was the action by the Florida governor.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott gave us a taste of discussions to come. The Republican proposes "shifting funding to degrees that have the best job prospects, weeding out unproductive professors and rethinking the system that offers faculty job security," wrote Zac Anderson in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Is this the beginning of politicians taking on college tenure?  They have certainly taken strides to do this in the K-12 sector with considerable success as evidenced in our state with the mandated evaluation system currently being forced on all school systems.  I would think that it will be more difficult in the college world because of the well entrenched practice.  I also don't believe that the federal government has the same leverage with colleges as they have with public schools because of our reliance on federal funding for title and special needs funding.  Even given the current reality, however, once they decide to take it on my sense is that they won't let go. 

At some point in time legislators at all levels will need to come to the realization that you cannot mandate change that sustains through laws and policies.  People change when there is a shared vision of a better outcome and the support structures to provide knowledge, practice, and feedback are in place.  It requires a culture that embraces the need for learning and change not one that continually wonders what will "they" do to us and demand of us next.  Identify stable standards, provide the revenue for the necessary support and we can produce without the need for pressure from the political establishment.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Not stopping . . .

I found an additional video showing some famous faces thanking teachers during this special week.  It was posted on Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer and in a little over a minute you will hear from a number of people sharing the importance of a great teacher in their lives. 

Watching the video once again makes me so thankful for our teachers.  They work under difficult conditions with our buildings FULL, class sizes growing, and no relief in site for the crowded conditions.  They impose high standards on themselves and our students achieve at high levels.  Given this current reality, we are blessed to have committed teachers who adapt to the conditions and continue to pursue excellence.  My hope is that they and we can continue to sustain this performance until we can find a solution that our community can support. 

So, one more time THANK YOU!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Make A Difference . . .

As suggested on Make A, I am sharing this video on Teacher Appreciation Day.  "Three Letters From Teddy" written in 1974 by Elizabeth Silance Ballard shows the impact a teacher can have on the life of a student.  You can access the video here.  Though I struggled with some of the message early in the story, I was moved by the teacher being open to reflecting on her behavior and accepting the challenge of supporting a needy child, something that great teachers do every day.

The words below will give you a sense of what to expect.

Walter Wood writes ... "I am a 6 ft. 2in., 250-pound construction worker and this short, but profound, film actually brought tears to my eyes. It made me realize that I must be more mindful when I'm training my apprentices."

Once again, thank you TEACHERS for making a difference every day in the lives of those young people that walk through our doors.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Celebrating TEACHERS . . .

Today is the start of Teacher Appreciation Week with tomorrow being Teacher Appreciation Day. As you go about your business this week, please reflect on what a teacher or teachers have done to support you as a learner and as a person and consider how you might be able to reach out to them.

For many of us, after family, our teachers have been some of the most influential people in our lives. Yet, how many of us almost take for granted our time with them? How do we show our appreciation on special days and more importantly, throughout our time with them? If a teacher were to ask, what would they ask from us to show our gratitude for the commitment they make to our learning and growth? Teachers, feel free to share in a comment – it might motivate someone to action.

As one of those with leadership responsibilities in this wonderful school system, I thank our TEACHERS for their dedication to our young people, for the caring and supportive culture that is Tahoma, for the quest for continuous learning and improved practice, and for the achievements that this system has experienced individually and collectively. Our purpose for being, LEARNING, takes place in your classrooms and we can be proud of those classrooms because of your efforts. THANKS!

If you are a Facebook and/or Twitter user you might want to join Secretary Duncan who is asking that you join him tomorrow, Teacher Appreciation Day, and donate your Facebook status to a teacher who has made a difference in your life, and thank a teacher on Twitter by using the hashtag #ThankaTeacher.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Growing without space . . .

Our staffing process to prepare for next year is more difficult and complex than in previous years.  Why?  One obvious place to point is budget, but the legislature didn't make additional cuts so it isn't related to revenue.  There are two reasons making this process more complex which increases the difficulty.

One is the decision we made last year to have student elective preferences at the secondary level be the main driver in the scheduling process.  This sounds like the right thing to do so why the problem?  In today's world of highly qualified teachers and with more and more students selecting electives in the traditional preparation for college tracks, matching elective teacher certification with student choice is not always possible.  We find ourselves moving teachers, shrinking program, and unless trends or the driver being student choice change, we will need to potentially look at replacing teachers.

The second and more difficult to work through is the fact that buildings are full while we are still growing.  We shared this with our community when we ran last year's unsuccessful bond measure and we also shared that without additional classroom space program would be impacted.  We are now seeing that happen at the elementary and middle school.  In the staffing process thus far we have made the following decisions.
  • Convert the computer labs at Rock Creek and Cedar River to classrooms. 
  • Starting the year with at least one grade level at each elementary capped forcing us to shuttle new students in that grade level to a school in a different attendance area.  We looked at the possibility for revising attendance areas to relieve this situation, but the options resulted in creating similar problems at other grade levels.
  • Moving the zero hour band program from Lake Wilderness because we the need the portable for a classroom.
  • Replacing an old double portable at Cedar River because we need another classroom.
  • We discussed not having any full day Kindergarten classes at Rock Creek, but decided that we could continue it for at least an additional year.  If growth patterns continue that may not be possible in the 2013-14 school year.
There may be others as the process continues for next year and there WILL be others if enrollment continues to increase.  Simply driving around our community one can see the new housing starts so there is a high likelihood for enrollment growth.  As we have done in the past, we continue to make choices to preserve program when possible.  That is more and more difficult, but we will not, as some would like us to do, make changes so that they are visible to parents and the community to support the need for a successful bond measure.  As class size starts to grow because we are running out of creative ways to make new home room classes, all of us will see and experience the need for space.  Maintaining our success and the status that we have gained in our community and in our state will become more difficult as we grow without space. 

We need to understand that this is about what young people in our community need and deserve to prepare for success in post high school learning and work.  The adults in the community hold the key to how well we meet those expectations. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Improving presentations . . .

I finally prioritized some time to go through the posts that have been accumulating in my blog file and found this one from The Heart of Innovation. In it, Nancy Duarte makes a TED talk on what makes a good presentation. It is 18 minutes in length, but if you are interested in this area I would recommend you find the time to view it. Duarte and Garr Reynolds (Presentation Zen) are considered experts in this field and have had a powerful influence on my power point presentations and the planning and thought that goes into them.

In Duarte’s TED talk she shares her story that led to a model for powerful presentations that revolve around story with the simple three part structure shown below.

She uses an analogy from Star Wars to clarify the role of the presenter. Luke (the likeable hero) is called to action, but is reluctant and encounters setbacks along the way. Yoda (the presenter) plays the role of the mentor who supports the necessary changes that move Luke’s current reality to a new place, the vision of a better world. Far too often in our experience we (likeable hero) have a vision of a changed world, but we allow the roadblocks along the way or projected roadblocks to convince us that our current reality isn’t so bad and we abandon the preferred vision. I think that one of the points in Duarte’s talk is showing us how stories told in powerful ways can lead to others aligning with the better place. Her study of the field led to the format below for conveying that story in a way that others can relate to and climb on board for the trip to the preferred vision.

The GAP in red (my insert) needs to be as large as possible so that the listener can see how the world will be a better place when the shared vision becomes the new current reality. She uses Steve Job’s unveiling of the iphone and Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech to show how this pattern was used successfully by the presenters to move their audience to a new and special world, an idea they had that transformed the world. I am not in the business of transforming the world, but I do have a responsibility to provide leadership and vision for our school system. That is not possible without the opportunity to tell my story and have others embrace the journey. All of us have the same responsibility in our work, the audience simply changes. The strategies in this TED talk will assist you in being able to convey your ideas in a way that increases the likelihood of bringing followers on board. I want to put my ideas out there for others to see and hear and I want them to gain traction so I will incorporate Duarte’s suggestions into my work.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A new MOOC . . .

Do you know what a MOOC is? I learned about what it is when I first became interested in following the growth of free online college classes at Stanford University. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. I read about the newest site unveiled today  in this Open Culture post where MIT and Harvard are teaming up to create a new non-profit venture, EDX. Each University is providing $30 million in start-up funding for the undertaking.

If the courses are free why is there this growing movement? What are the incentives for the University? From a FAQ on the website we are told the reasons.

Why are MIT and Harvard doing this?

To improve education on campus and around the world:

• On campus, edX research will enhance our understanding of how students learn and how technologies can best be used as part of our larger efforts to improve teaching and learning.

• Beyond our campuses, edX will expand access to education, allow for certificates of mastery to be earned by able learners, and make the open-source platform available to other institutions.

I’m wondering what the role of the Certificate of Mastery plays in the reasons for the new partnership. Though the classes are free, a certificate is possible upon successful completion of the online class. A fee, not yet determined, will be required for the Certificate of Mastery so there is a revenue possibility in this venture. Will the certificates have the same impact on employers as do college classes? Will taking a series of very focused classes better position a person for a job in a specific field than the person taking the traditional college experience? I believe that over time these free online classes will open doors for those looking for jobs in specific fields and that this will become an alternative to the traditional college degree. Factoring in the costs of the traditional program will make this option enticing to many who do not want to graduate with thousands of dollars in debt.

Below, is the news conference where the new venture was announced.

Video streaming by Ustream

The more important question for us to consider is how long before these same opportunities take root in the K-12 world? There are currently options, but they are fee based. Will someone or a group see the potential for students and families paying at the completion of a course of study for a diploma or certificate of mastery? Will colleges accept it? That is more difficult for me to project because of the need to meet state graduation requirements, but it does reinforce for me the need to provide young people with options other than the seat time based program currently the norm in public schools.