CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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More Schools Going Mastery

July 2, 2015 by

From the Young Women Leadership Academy Website

The Mastery Collaborative, a program based in New York City’s Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness, announced the eight schools that will be making up the Mastery Collaborative Living Lab for 2015-16. These schools are implementing (or enhancing) a schoolwide mastery system, and as part of the Living Lab will make their classrooms, resources, and expertise available to others interested in mastery-based learning.

The eight schools are:

Bronx Leadership Academy 2 HS (BLA2)

Carroll Gardens School for Innovation (CGSI) (here is a link to my visit)

Frank McCourt HS

Harvest Collegiate HS

NYC iSchool

Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy Int’l HS (KAPPA)

The Young Women’s Leadership School-Astoria (TYWLS-Astoria)

Urban Assembly Maker Academy


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Can MOOCs Become System-Builders?

July 1, 2015 by
From Atlantic Article

Image from The Atlantic Website

Something really special happens in the second or third year of implementation in schools that are applying competency education with the spirit of learning and the spirit of empowerment – educators develop a deep sense of urgency to improve their skills so they are in a better position to help students learn.

In the first year or so, there is a shared purpose that the goal is to make sure students learn, not cover the curriculum; educators have figured out the new infrastructure for learning; the understanding of what proficiency means for each academic level has been calibrated; everyone is aware of where as a school they are strong and where they are weak in terms of being able to help students learn; and if a strong information system has been put into place, everyone also knows exactly how students are progressing and which ones need more help. With this transparency about how the school is performing, educators become focused on how improve their instructional tool kits – deepening their knowledge about how to teach their discipline, how to upgrade instruction and assessment to higher order skills, integrating language and literacy practices, how to organize learning opportunities so students are really engaged in robust learning, how to better coach students in building habits of learning….and the list goes on.

It’s a tremendous lift in instruction and assessment led by educators themselves who realize that their own professional skills need to be improved if they are going to help students achieve – I think of this as the transition toward the Finnish model. Teachers have explained that this stage of the transition is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. However, as a country, we are challenged to provide adequate professional development and learning opportunities for teachers that are rooted in the values and practices of competency-based education and are available in just-in-time modules. (more…)

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Summer Reading: What Does Competency Education Look Like?

June 30, 2015 by

Summer ReadingHere is a list of examples of what competency education looks like in different districts and individual schools (over-age/undercredit/high school/middle and elementary/online). My dream (which requires funding that is hard to come by, as we have so many organizations now supporting competency education) is to bring these schools together with a number of experts (assessment, engagement, motivation, learning progressions, design, student agency, social emotional learning, etc.) to try to understand the commonalities and unpack the differences. There isn’t any one right or better model at this point (it may still be too early to do that kind of evaluation…and again, we would need funding), so the best we can do is understand our options.

Please note: There are many more high school examples than elementary and middle school. This is partially due to the country’s focus on college and career readiness and big investments by big foundations into high schools, and also because high school raises some unique issues. Finally, I’m more familiar with high schools and deeply concerned about how we educate kids who are over-age and undercredited. I will do my best to focus more on the younger years to build up our knowledge there, but I need your help in identifying great examples of elementary and middle schools that are competency-based.

Please, please, please…leave in the comments any other great examples that you know about. Competency education is expanding rapidly, and it is very likely I am missing the best examples. Or there may be descriptions of schools that are missing from this list that will be very useful to others.


Chugach School District: One of the most developed districts, Chugach has figured out the ways to manage quality control and organize content and skills in ways that are meaningful to students and teachers without relying on courses. This is a seven-part series.

Lindsay School District: This district is shaping our understanding of competency education, as so many districts have visited them. They are on a rapid process of creating their 2.0 version with deep thinking about the competencies adults must have, lifelong learning competencies, and powerful information management systems to support pace and progress. We offer a five-part series about their process.

Pittsfield School District: This district began a transformation to become student-centered at the same time the state was advancing competency-based credits. The result is a strong infrastructure that supports high levels of personalization. Their four-series is listed here.

Sanborn School District: A district that has been consistently improving its capacity for instruction and assessment for over a decade, they are now participating in the powerful efforts in New Hampshire to establish common performance assessments and a new accountability model. You can hear directly from their leadership by going reading the pieces written by Brian Stack, principal at Sanborn Regional High School, and Jonathan Vander Els, principal at Memorial Elementary. There is also a three-part case study series outlined below.

School Models

Designed for Students with Large Gaps/Over-Age and Undercredited

Boston Day and Evening Academy: There has been a lot written about BDEA. The case study on CompetencyWorks is listed below. It is included in two reports describing competency-based schools: Making Mastery Work and Springpoint’s new paper Inside Mastery Based High Schools: Profiles and Conversations. It is also the focus of Jobs for the Future’s Aligning Competencies to Rigorous Standards for Off-track Youth.

Bronx Arena: This is a transfer school in New York City that is very comfortable breaking down the walls of the traditional system and re-constructing in ways that meet the needs of students.


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Summer Reading: Building a System

June 29, 2015 by

Stack of BooksI received a number of emails asking for a recommend reading list for competency education for summer reading. We are all at different levels in our understanding and thinking about competency education, so I’m going to create three summer reading lists (and as always, please add your “must reads” in comments below):

  1. Building the System: For folks who have been working in competency education and want to think more deeply about how we transform the entire system.
  2. What Does Competency Education Look Like?: To provide examples of resources about the ways schools are designing and districts are transforming their systems.
  3. What is Competency Education?: A reading list for newbies who really want to understand what competency education is and what it takes to make the transition.

Below is a beginning reading list (I’m hoping others will suggest some good resources) about how we are advancing and where we need to go. Even trying to put this together made me realize how much our conversations about what is possible are in fact just that—conversations. We may not yet be at the place where we know how all of the pieces will form a competency-based system, but we are certainly ready to start putting our ideas together and sketching out what might be possible.

FYI: At the end of this post, I’ve listed a number of big questions that we don’t have a lot written on yet. Obviously this is an open invitation to anyone who wants to tackle organizing some ideas so we can engage in shaping our future together. Also, if you have recommended reading that captures some of the big ideas that will be forming the new competency-based system, please pass this on.



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Schools for the Future: Record-Setting Results

June 24, 2015 by

Schools For the FutureStudents at Schools for the Future in Detroit gained an average of 2.5 years across all four tested subjects on ACT benchmark assessments—including a remarkable 5.6 year gain on English Language Arts. What can we say….WOW! Now take a minute to think about the context—SFF is designed for and intentionally recruited older “far off track” students who have been retained two or more years. DOUBLE WOW. One more thing to consider—this is SFF’s first year of operation. TRIPLE WOW. (Here is a video on SFF)

I’ve spent a lot of time understanding how to educate students who are over-age and undercredit, and I do believe there is a bump the first year students feel that teachers care for them, that the school is designed to engage and motivate, and that they understand education has value in their lives. However, I’ve never heard of this type of jump across four subject areas. Furthermore, the five year gain definitely suggests that something is really working at SFF.

In our heavy-handed federal accountability system, students still may not show up as proficient at grade level because they entered with such an skills:age gap (i.e., the ratio of academic skill level to age-based grade level). That’s how enormous skills gaps can be in some cities—with students not yet proficient in elementary school skills. This is often in cities serving large populations of communities of color, especially African-Americans. As our country steps up to the unresolved shadow of racism, all of us in competency education need to focus our attention on a) making sure that sub-populations of students do not ever lag behind at slower paces (unless justified by a special education plan) and b) figuring out how we can accelerate learning (in a way that is always student-centered with deeper learning). (more…)

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How Often Do We Have Bob Crumley, Virgel Hammonds, and Derek Hamilton all Together?

June 22, 2015 by
Bob Crumley

Bob Crumley

That’s what is happening on June 25th at 2 pm ET. Join us for the CompetencyWorks webinar on Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders, featuring Robert Crumley, Superintendent, Chugach School District, Alaska; Virgel Hammonds, Superintendent RSU2 Maine; and Derek Hamilton, Dean of Operations, Pittsfield School District, New Hampshire.

You might want to read up on the districts before the call. On CompetencyWorks, you can find  an eight part series on Chugach, a four part series on Pittsfield, and a conversation with Hammonds about leadership. You can also find a case study on RSU 2 in Springpoint’s paper, Inside Mastery Based High Schools: Profiles and Conversations.

Each one of these districts could do a three-day training on their implementation strategies, there is so much to learn from each of them. As always, we’ll be discussing key issues and answering questions in the chat room as well as directly with the presenters.

Register here. See you there.

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Insights from ReSchool Colorado: Ensuring Quality and Equity


reschoolMy conversation with Amy Anderson and Colleen Broderick, the ReSchool Colorado team at the Donnell-Kay Foundation (see Thinking Way, Way, Way Outside the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation), has caused me a great deal of agitation. I just can’t stop thinking about how we ensure quality and equity as the education system is re-engineered around learning, pace, and progress rather than time, curriculum delivery, and sorting.

The ReSchool effort is aimed at creating a statewide system of multiple providers designed for learners from birth through young adulthood to allow them to bundle together their educational opportunities. Learners will have highly personalized pathways, which may or may not include learning together in a cohort over time, with a competency-based infrastructure providing the glue to the system. My brain goes a bit into overdrive trying to imagine this, but the overall concept seems sound (really different, but sound)…at least, until I start to think about how one ensures that students are getting what they need and in an equitable fashion. Then I think we need to have very intentional strategies to ensure quality/equity—such as advocacy to make sure students are getting the supports they need and calibration.

Donnell-Kay Foundation has been tackling one element of this through an inquiry process focused on advocates and advocacy. Advocates will play a central role in the ReSchool system (I assume because choice is a strong value undergirding the system they are designing, parents would select an organization or an individual that provides advocacy services), helping parents and students to bundle together the right mix of learning opportunities in support of their making progress within four competency-domains: academic preparedness, disciplined, socially aware, and a solution seeker. (more…)

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Reflections on Accelerating the Implementation Process

June 19, 2015 by

Acceleration“We have to figure out how to make implementation easy and faster.”

I hear this statement from time to time and it always makes me wonder. It makes me wonder about a number of things.

1) Quality before Speed: At this stage of development, shouldn’t our concern be more about understanding what high quality implementation looks like rather than methods to speed it up? Perhaps we can speed up the implementation process as we know it, but I’m not convinced that we know what high quality implementation looks like yet. The list of questions I have is worthy of its own blog post, but let me start with two significant issues. First, we have not figured out the best ways or the real cost of helping students who enroll in a school academically behind their age-based grade, those with special education issues, or those learning English. Second, we also haven’t taken the ceiling off the system consistently so that students can actually advance when they have demonstrated mastery. What is preventing us from making sure seventh graders can be doing ninth grade math? One might say that both of these should be considered school-level autonomies. However, I also think they are structural issues about the responsiveness of districts and schools to students’ needs.

2) Speed, Shared Vision, and Deep Personal Growth: Several months ago, someone asked me for feedback on an implementation plan for a district. There were lots of project benchmarks, timetables, specific activities, and ideas for who was going to do what. But what it didn’t have was any time or resources allotted for engaging the community in building a shared vision or understanding why the traditional system is a barrier. Nor did it have any lead time for the district staff and school leaders to deepen their understanding of competency education or strengthen their distributive leadership styles. (See Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders for more discussion on creating shared purpose and leadership styles.) (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

June 18, 2015 by

ResourcesScreen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

CompetencyWorks and iNACOL released Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders in early June. Chris Sturgis and Susan Patrick are hosting a webinar to discuss the report’s findings on June 25, 2015 from 2:00-3:00pm ET. Register here.

In case you missed iNACOL’s June 10 webinar, where Chris Sturgis and Susan Patrick discuss the Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning report, you can view the archived webinar here.


  • Featuring Susan Patrick, President and CEO of iNACOL, this article explores the limitations of the traditional education system, as well as policy barriers that prevent the implementation of innovative, competency-based learning infrastructures.
  • The Maine Chamber of Commerce is in support of Maine’s proficiency-based education policy, citing rising graduation rates five years in a row. (Read more.) (more…)
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Fulton County Schools Completes “Back Room” Infrastructure To Enhance Technology In Classrooms

June 17, 2015 by
Fulton County Schools

From the Fulton County Schools Website

Leading with learning instead of technology is a recipe for success, as exemplified by metro Atlanta district Fulton County Schools. With 99 schools and 95,000 students, the district has made a point of starting with infrastructure and following with the right technology to support its goal of personalized learning. “We always want to use tried and true technology in innovative ways,” says Serena Sacks, Chief Information Officer. “We don’t want to worry about whether the technology works– we just want to use it better.” Investing in a bunch of iPads can be exciting, but Fulton had the foresight to first ask what infrastructure is required for devices to work properly, and instead invest in that process. “We started with the classroom first, asking, ‘What type of experience do we want to create for students?’” says Dr. Scott Muri, Head of Academics. Fulton envisioned a personalized learning environment where students could access multiple types of media and multiple devices simultaneously, which would require a very robust network and the implementation of many new wireless access points. After speaking with technology consultants about the realistic requirements of building such a system, the district formulated a ‘backwards design’ plan, which included laying new overhead cables and upgrading the hardware closets in schools with new switches.

With the help of Layer 3 Communications, an Atlanta-based company that designs network infrastructures for schools and offices, Fulton began building a complex infrastructure in 2003 that was recently overhauled. Now, the network can support two devices per student accessing a network simultaneously. In addition to strengthening networks, Fulton’s schools doubled the number of Aruba access points to almost two per classroom, and added much denser wireless coverage in common areas such as media centers and cafeterias. They also increased bandwidth from 1GB to 2GB, and installed new Brocade network cables and switches in the computer room with the capacity to expand bandwidth to 10GB in the future. These infrastructure upgrades cost about $18 million, part of Fulton Schools’ $189 million technology upgrade budget funded by Fulton County’s SPLOST 1% tax. (more…)

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