The Sea-Change in Education— A View from the Mid-Pacific

Industry News
A view from Hawaii on ESSA and how the island community is getting things right
Deborah Bond-Upson

Shakespeare coined the term “sea-change” to mean “a profound or notable transformation.”  For technology, John Gage of Sun used the term to announce the rapid movement to distributed computing, now experienced by us as “the cloud.”  For education, we took a detour. As connectivity hit ubiquity and media proliferated, instead of a sea-change transformation to individualized, future-focused learning, we detoured, using technology, students’ time, and classroom focus on testing.

Over-testing, hoping to support fairness by measuring success, ultimately undermined success. With teachers marginalized, education results suffered and parents, students, and voters balked.  Finally, Governors and Congress, tired of No Child Left Behind and federal dictates, united to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) Dubbed the “Christmas Miracle” when Obama signed it in late December 2015, ESSA may be an important wave finally in getting that sea-change in education. 

As you know, ESSA promotes state’s authority, gives more student assessment flexibility and removes unpopular teacher evaluation requirements. But the most powerful force in the gathering change in education we eagerly await, may come from ESSA’s thrust to engage communities in envisioning education for the future.

“Hawaii has been the most effective state in convening the community
to explore the potential of ESSA to transform education.”

-Steven Parker, Legislative Director, National Governors Association, 2016 Hawaii Education Summit

Hawaii Surfs the ESSA Wave

Hawaii has serious education problems. It has the worst rate of teacher turnover and the highest percentage of students in private schools, undercutting the public education system. Another singular attribute is that Hawaii is the only state that is one district, enabling a potential nimbleness in ESSA implementation.

Fortuitously, in  the fall of 2015, the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) began a massive effort to  “give the keiki (children) the education they deserve,” bringing 10 important goals to the public. While the legislature did not pass the bill, they did fund one initiative (school air conditioning) and the BOE accepted another (removal of student test score linkage to teacher evaluation). Further, this campaign paved the way for community attention to ESSA and an enriched view of the future of education in Hawaii.

Since its founding six years ago I have served on the board of  Parents for Public Schools-Hawaii (PPS-HI.) In addition to school and parental support programs, through our 1000 Voices campaign, we gather and relay parent views to state leaders, legislators and the community. The most common praise for schools is “we love our teachers” and the most common complaint is “too much testing.”

The Education Institute Hawaii (EIH) was formed in 2014 by active and retired Hawaii principals and area superintendents to research and promote school empowerment. The 2nd annual conference in January 2016 came on the heels of the signing of ESSA. The conference brought Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg in to meet with educators and community members.

Governor Ige established an ESSA Task Force to create a Hawaii Blueprint for Education. The Task Force began a series of meetings with community groups and educators, convened a Governor’s Summit on Education with over 1000 attendees.

The Department of Education (HI DOE) embarked on refreshing its Strategic Plan, reaching out for community input, surveying and holding focus groups. The Strategic Plan is to support education over the next few years while the Blueprint is to guide education for the next couple of decades.

In this ESSA wave, I have led a Parents for Public Schools annual meeting focus group, two church services on teachers and digital transformation, two workshops, convened The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii Open Table panel discussion, testified to the Governor’s Task Force and co-led a workshop at the Hawaii Education Summit. Lately I’ve been publicizing the ongoing town hall meetings by the BOE/DOE and the Governor’s ESSA Team. The purpose of all this activity is to engage our community in rethinking education.

Here in Hawaii, hope flows through the fragrant air.  Our one-district-state community is uncommonly alert to the education sea-change, of which ESSA is a big wave. Hawaii may transcend tests and one-size-fits-all education, using today’s connectivity, devices, and applications, stories and rich learning media, including Open Education Resources (OERs). The state may increase assessment based on student work, empowering teachers and preparing students for their future. As key evaluators of learning, teachers will gain respect. With ESSA flexibility, Hawaii may transform education, to give the “whole child” a thirst for lifelong learning.

Leaping from test-driven, text-based study to delightful lifelong learning

I have worked in assessment, learning media, professional development and blended learning for over 30 years.  I have seen student interest ignited by great teachers, strong learning opportunities and resources, and I have seen students discouraged, even humiliated by tests. Given the unfortunate timing and a lack of integration with the curriculum, tests often fail to provide teachers or families with insight into student learning.

Stop interrupting learning for testing

Testing should be an invigorating, exciting, focusing aspect of learning, not an interruption. The vital classroom learning conversation between students and teachers should be supported and enriched, not derailed and aborted by the physical requirements or timing of tests. Student work should be evaluated by teachers using carefully developed rubrics. Intensive professional development and cross grading of student work can ensure equivalency. School evaluations can be accomplished through sampling like the NAEP together with formative assessment embedded in computer-based learning and games and through student work evaluation. The value of these methods is that although significant professional development would be required, all of the effort and expense would go toward enhancement of teacher skill, of teacher empowerment, and of engaged student learning. The result would be greater learning intimacy for teachers and students and greater respect for teachers.

Wave to STREAM, Elements of the Sea-Change

The potential for education change drives my volunteer and professional work. All of my non profit and for profit education innovation work has been to support each individual learner to use their gifts and gain satisfaction from becoming valued participants in the community. AwesomeStories archive developed by trial attorney, Carole Bos, has served teachers and librarians since 1999, Drawing on over 30 years in assessment, learning media, teacher professional development and blended learning, I have led a team to develop MakerSpace for the HumanitiesTM, a teaching and learning solution. This MakerSpace does for the humanities what STEM MakerSpace has done for Science Technology Engineering and Math. We don’t just need “maker thinking” for “STEM”--or “STEAM” the extension to include the arts. We need to support Research, Reading, Reflection and wRiting-- added to “STEAM” -- hence “STR4EAM.”

Students learn to build knowledge in the humanities, researching in the easy-to-search AwesomeStories archive or in over 100 linked world-renowned archives. Finding the stories and primary sources in the archive, deep reading and reflecting, discerning the truth, and crafting their work in writing and media ensues. Research, critical evaluation, writing and collaboration activities satisfy state standards at the same time they enables students to “go deep” in exploring their own interests. 

Brain synapses fire when students read or hear stories. Stories linked to OERs engage students and instigate critical analysis of the sources and topics. All this is achieved with minimal expense given the leverage of OERs. AwesomeStories makes it easy to deploy OERs given the search-ability of our archive, the story entree to topics and sources, and MakerSpace tools for creation of articles, lessons, stories, papers and even e-books, by teachers of students. AwesomeStories MakerSpaceTM supports teachers and students building stories, papers, projects, lessons and e-books in story form— supported by evidence in the form of primary sources.  Our archive of over 100,000 curated OERs are contextualized by ~5000 powerful original stories addressing subjects across the curriculum. AwesomeStories is an English language and multilingual teaching and learning tool, instantly translatable by a single click into 104 languages.

Schools upload their entire scope and sequence with CurriculumMakerTM, enabling online access and co-creation by teachers with school or district review. Faculties create their own texts in story form. Through StoryMakerTM, students draw on 100+ world-renowned archives, integrating and citing sources into their work. Students share with their class or publish on, which has 4 million visitors a year. WriteFolioTM holds student work and teacher comments. Teachers assess using district-chosen rubrics. As arbiters of student work, teachers are accorded the respect they deserve and that fuels a dynamic, positive education process. 

Catch the Wave of Education Transformation

Support your students, teachers and curriculum with stories, carefully curated OERs, and powerful apps--designed to catch the wave of education transformation at


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