The District That Disrupted the K-12 System, and the New Model for Success

Dr. Cory Steiner, Superintendent of Northern Cass School District

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What if we threw out grades and focused on proficiency instead? What if students could choose their own curriculum and projects? What would an education model look like if it was truly designed to prepare students for today's world?

Northern Cass School District may be just 700 learners in all of K-12, but this rural North Dakota district is redefining what education should look like.

A few years ago, Superintendent Dr. Cory Steiner and his faculty set out to do the seemingly impossible: throw out the traditional K-12 education system and redesign a model that truly serves students and the community, all while getting student, parent and teacher buy-in.

The journey wasn't easy, but Northern Cass's personalized learning model is making waves with its student-led, choice-ready approach to education. In this episode, Cory takes us through that journey, covering topics you'll love to hear:

  • The problem with the current K-12 education system
  • Why our metrics for success measure the wrong things
  • From college-ready to choice-ready
  • Why student voice and choice matters in all aspects of curriculum and learning
  • How to get faculty on board (and keep them from burning out)
  • How to get parents on board
  • Why proficiency-based learning is a better measurement for success

3 Big Takeaways from this episode:

  1. If K-12 education doesn't change, we'll lose a generation of learners: Education hasn't changed in 150 years, while every day the rest of the world is evolving. As Cory points out, disrupting the system is challenging and an ongoing journey, but it has incredible results in the form of engaged students, parents and faculty. Without this disruption, we're at risk of losing a generation of students.
  2. Proficiency is a better metric than grades: The traditional model teaches to the test; it doesn't measure mastery of a skill or knowledge. Northern Cass's model uses a 1-2-3 scale to measure proficiency, so students can see where they started and how far they have to go to achieve mastery of that skill. This system creates flexibility, autonomy for the student, student voice and engagement, and prepares them for the real world that values mastery over grades.
  3. Students need voice and choice, while teachers should be facilitators of learning: In a student-driven K-12 model, students are given choice over their curriculum, projects and schedule. Faculty help them understand state standards they need to meet, then facilitate the learning models that will best benefit each student. Students value the respect and choice they're given (meaning they're more engaged at school). And teachers see a more meaningful impact as their students discover their voice and passions. 


Learn more about Northern Cass's Strategy

Watch Dr. Steiner's Ted Talk

Connect with Northern Cass School District:

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