CERPP 2015 Conference Blog: Friday, January 23rd

MORNING SESSION I-Edutopia: A Vision for the Future

Dr. Lucido introduced the session by sharing the challenge that he gave to Dr. Steve Arnold when they discussed the topic of this conference. He asked Dr. Arnold to answer a complex question: If there were an Edutopia, what would it look like?

Steve Arnold, Co-Founder and Vice Chairman of the board of directors of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, identified his focus as “the other side of the fence”: K-12 education. He asked: How do we create students to be successful in society– not just college? We start, he suggested, by recognizing that both of those dimensions are important, but they are differently important for different people.

Dr. Arnold co-founded the George Lucas Foundation 30 years ago. George Lucas and Arnold comprise the executive committee and the have a very strong team of educational experts who conduct the research. Dr. Arnold pointed to a Lucas quote to introduce the experiences and concerns that drive the Foundation:

“Lots of people know education should be different, but they don’t know in what way” Lucas

Dr. Arnold continued by sharing insights into the “why” behind the Foundation. George, he shared, was not a traditional student. Did not have a satisfying experience at school and it wasn’t until film school at USC that he understood what education should be like.

In a video, Lucas described his passion for education: “I care about education because I care about the human race…. Education is the single most important job that the human race has… we won’t survive if we don’t have an excellent, on-going, ever-improving educational system…”

Dr. Arnold described himself as a volunteer evangelist aiming to help answer the key question, “How do we get better results?” We hear a lot of critique today about K-12 education. Edutopia does not focus on the things that are wrong. Although they are important and need to be addressed, Edutopia focuses on what works best as determined by research garnered through Lucas Education Research. They take research from the top university partners to ensure that the things that they advocate for are evidence-based.

Dr. Arnold moved the focus to projects in which he is involved (with Edutopia or otherwise) that have several dimensions of innovation that he believes will build students who can be successful in 2025.

Dr. Arnold introduced PADLET- an online, interactive bulletin board. We began with a warm-up activity to create a “back channel” or a space where folks can post questions, etc., during the presentation. (Please visit http://padlet.com/edutopia/Future to view messages posted by conference participants).

With this in the background, Dr. Arnold continued.

We currently face significant threats to higher education, including (but not limited to) a trillion dollars in student debt, significant lack of preparation, MOOCs and alternative delivery systems, and underemployment of college graduates. There are concerns that higher education has abandoned academic rigor due to a focus on social engagement above academic rigor.

Amid the challenges, Arnold searched for common ground in terms of a mission and identified the mission of the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice (https://cerpp.usc.edu/about/ ) as shared starting point.

Dr. Arnold asked us to consider the thinking skills, habits of mind, and learning capacities that will be required for the incoming freshmen in 2025 and how we cultivate them. Consider that these kids were born in 2007, which was the first year that the iPhone was introduced. Think about how different the world is now from 2007. We all hold the library of Alexandria in our pockets!

Dr. Arnold moved into an overview of 21st Skills and mindsets, noting that the “Big 3” are creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and collaboration. Others important skills include adaptability and flexibility, conflict resolution and decision-making, grit and academic tenacity, and growth mindsets. These are the skills that employers say are important to them. Arnold reminds us that this doesn’t mean that the only purpose of education is to satisfy employers, but they are important to developing students that are successful in society and are thus things that EduTopia is trying to address.

To calibrate our thinking, Dr. Arnold presented the contrast between school practices and the real world, noting that current practices do not support the 2025 student:

  • Grouping by age vs. grouping by ability/capacity
  • Separate subjects v. integrated context
  • Memorizing/recalling v. problem-solving
  • Seat time/time spent v. competency and mastery
  • Working alone v collaboration

Next, Dr. Arnold presented data in terms of how we are doing from the student perspective. In their research, they found that:

  • 83% of high school students report gaps in preparation
  • About 2/3 say they should have taken higher-level courses (if they had just realized the expectations)
  • 87% say they would have worked harder if the high schools had higher standards

At this point, Dr. Arnold turned our attention toward what works through four examples of innovations at high schools and middle schools today. These are innovations that matter and are happening in real schools.

The domains of innovation include:

  • Curriculum: Problem-Based Learning and innovative studies are effective. Common core is a good step, as the standards dig deeper.
  • Assessment: Formative and performance assessments are important. Assessment must be first a tool for the learner, as opposed to weapons for the funding sources. Assessment should be used to inform, not to judge.
  • Social and emotional learning (SEL): We must use evidence-based programs that are intentionally cultivating habits of mind- collaboration, decision-making, etc. The Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning published an analysis years ago that covered 250,000 students and concluded that when evidence based SEL programs are included, you get 8-10% points better on academic performance and fewer conflict (bullying, suspensions, etc.) issues.
  • Technology: It can provide some very innovative ways to enhance student access in the context of every day school
  • Roles: There are substantial changes in the role of student and teachers. As teachers transitions from presenters to facilitators and coaches – learning becomes student-centered and what happens form that is engagement. This deeper engagement leads to deeper learning, which enables students to see themselves as generative learners. A mindset that they will carry to college.


Arnold introduced EduCurious, a program that works with 9,500 students. They took two of the 9th grade courses that are most problematic (Biology and English Language Arts) and massively re-designed what they do. They included rigorous project-based learning, real-world authentic work linked to careers, innovative use of technology, changed the traditional roles of student and teacher, generated engagement and academic learning, and enabled students to own their own learning. Something that is particularly powerful about the program is that they have created videos of experts, from famous to less famous people, to help frame the learning challenges. Students literally do rigorous projects, real biological research, etc., with real biologists through virtual collaboration.

The students are performing well academically. They have not lost ground which is important. But more important still, the kids have a completely different relationship to what they are learning. They are doing authentic projects, real-world work and getting feedback from the real world! Teachers using EduCurious say they will never go back to the old way again.

Knowledge in Action (KiA) Project

The Knowledge in Action Project is a design-based research project originated by the Lucas Foundation. The goal was to see if they could re-invent upper level high school through a project-based learning approach in the AP classes. They have enjoyed collaborating with the AP curriculum, but they wanted to transform it to make it accessible to more kids. They focused on AP Government and AP Environmental Science as they are two of the top 10 AP courses/tests. They asked, Could students in a project-based curriculum demonstrate deeper conceptual learning and equal performance as compared with traditional folks?

The design principles included project based learning, equity of access and equity of outcomes, teachers as co-designers- adapt not adopt, looping to revisit key concepts, and engagement first: need to know: projects are the spine of the courses.

KiA Results:

Students in the PBL courses did as well, better, or significantly better on the AP tests than controls. To get more granular, students in two schools in a poverty-impacted district (FRL 60-100%) demonstrated:

  • 88% pass rare (3-5)
  • 55% at the high pass rate (4/5 on AP Government) level
  • 33% higher scores on AP Environmental Science as compared with matched control
  • 20% gains on AP test pass rate when teacher adopts PBL curriculum.

All of the above are indicators of the potential of this model to make higher level performance accessible to more kids.


Next, Dr. Arnold presented Enlearn, a technology that is being developed for use in traditional schools. It is an adaptive learning platform. The personalized and adaptive learning solves the devastating problem of instruction – teaching to the middle.

Key concept: “In most classrooms students pass with 75% or 80% which should be unacceptable if not disastrous.” ~Sal Kahn- the One World School House.

The thing that is critical to know here is that some students required 5 times more customized content than other, but the system allowed for that. Additional work and additional experiences, are all available to bring all students up to achieve mastery. Enlearn also provides information to the teachers through a dashboard that shows what is happening with each student for targeted instructional interventions.

Quest to Learn

Dr. Arnold’s final example is Quest to Learn. This is a whole school redesign model. Their slogan: “Making learning irresistible”. Quest to Learn is a NYC public school with innovative school design from the Institute of Play. The core curriculum is based on systems-thinking as embodied in game architectures and game design theory. The goal is to create a paradigm shift in which teachers inspire students to learn, rather than make them learn.

They used the CWRA (College and Workforce Readiness Assessment) and found that the average growth rate for students in grades 8th-10th over one year was greater than the growth of a college student across 4 years of college.

At this point, Dr. Arnold asked the audience to post responses to the following using Padlet: “What is the one thing you think should change in order to accomplish the CERPP mission?”

To view the results, go to: www.padlet.com/edutopia/better

Dr. Arnold closed with the following quote:
“If we always do what we’ve always done, then we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.”


MORNING SESSION II: Entrepreneurs, Vendors, and College Admissions: What the Future Holds


  • Tom Dretler, CEO, Shorelight Education


  • Anne Dwane, CBO, Chegg, Inc.
  • Stephen Smith, President, Advising &Admissions Solutions, Hobsons; Co-Founder and CEO, Naviance

Key themes in this session included entrepreneurship, partnerships, trust, ethics, and relationships. Due to the discussion-based format and anecdotal nature of this session, we are not able to blog this session in the same manner as previous sessions. Thus, we are posting links to information about our panelists and their organizations to allow for further study.