Sunday, November 19, 2017

PBE part one - getting started

This is the first of several posts about PBE, Proficiency-Based Education. I am trying to set down my understandings and beliefs, give some advice from my (very) limited experience, and lay a groundwork for improving what we're doing in my school and in my state of Vermont.

I plan to discuss what I think my school is doing right, what I think they are doing wrong, and try to find the best answers that I can. Who we are is irrelevant; the entire state public school system is under mandate from the VT AOE to make the change to PBE in order for the class of 2020 to graduate having had four years of high school PBE.

Yep. We are a year behind. We, and almost every other school I know of, have been procrastinating badly. We've spent 4 years on this so far, and been required to write only four modules for our courses because teachers whine "We don't know what you are asking us to do" and, since the person in charge of PD doesn't really know what the end goals should be and what PBE looks like in practice, we waste lots of time making empathy maps, rating and watching videos that are demonstrably ridiculous, and other tasks that don't really advance the program.

The State A.O.E. reps have openly admitted that they have no idea about how this will work. When I ask for sample transcripts, I get "We don't know. This conference is for you teachers to tell us what a typical graduate should be able to do and be." Ask for sample curricula, or sample frameworks, or sample anything and you get "We can't tell you because we don't have any of that and you have local control." That law was passed four years ago and this conference was one month ago!

Much of the Vermont AOE website focuses on convincing people that this is a good idea, rather than on what this idea actually should look like in practice. Here, you can look for yourself.

The Supervisory Union has openly admitted that they have no real idea of how PBE is supposed to work. "We're not sure. Nobody has done this before. We're on the cutting edge. We don't know what the Graduation requirements should be -- you teachers have to decide. Write your modules to this template, but we're not going to look at them critically - you have to do that."

The principal and other school administration are just as much in the dark but, to their credit, are willing to let teachers do this exploration and possibly fail on our way to succeeding.

I'm going to focus at first on what I feel PBE should be and why I feel it's a good idea, then on some of the things that are really making this transition problematic and may end up destroying the initiative and ruining the educations of many students in the meanwhile.

Hopefully, this exploration will prove useful to both of us.

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