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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Breaking out of the Boxes at Building 21

March 9, 2016 by

B21This is the first post about my site visit to Building 21 in Philadelphia. Read the second here.

Of all the schools and districts I’ve visited over the past four months, it has taken me the longest to write about my visit to Philadelphia’s Building 21 (there is also one in Allentown) because their ideas just blow me away. I’ve had to take time to absorb them and figure out how to describe them to you. I’m guessing I still don’t fully understand the rationale and implications of some of their design decisions. The team at B21, led by co-founders Laura Shubilla and Chip Linehan, have been so intentional, so thoughtful, so focused on drawing on what we know is best for helping adolescents learn, and so out of the box. As districts both big and small make the transition to competency-based education, Building 21 is one to watch as it cuts the path toward new ways of structuring how we organize learning and advance students.

A few of the big takeaways from my visit to Building 21 are:

  • Designing for students with a broad spectrum of skills and life experiences
  • Cohesive competency-based structure with a continuum of performance levels
  • Two-tiered system to monitor student progress
  • Information system that is designed to be student-centered and teacher-enabling (see tomorrow’s post)

This post will hopefully be helpful in explaining B21. However, if you are interested, I highly recommend taking thirty minutes to look through the Competency Toolkit and the Competency Handbook. They’ve done a fantastic job at making their model accessible for students, parents, teachers, and all of us who want to learn from them. (more…)

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What We Can Learn from Chugach School District

March 8, 2016 by

AKIt’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? The first district to design a competency-based system was a relatively new one, located in the most northwestern corner of our country and serving remote villages of Native Alaskans. You can read all about it in the new report Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System.

Staying the course for over twenty years, Chugach has developed a personalized, performance-based system that places students at the center and deeply values teaching and teachers. As we know, competency-based education starts with the idea that we can actually design for success and eliminate the traditional practices that lead to sorting and inequity. It also positions districts to manage continuous improvement processes that are constantly helping to build the organizational and instructional capacity of schools.

What Chugach helped me to understand is how profoundly competency-based education positions teachers to be able to use (and develop) their instructional expertise, their assessment literacy, their creativity, and their relational skills in helping students become independent learners.

Although I think this report will be helpful to anyone interested in competency-based education, it will be particularly useful to those interested in teaching and learning within competency-based schools, those working in rural communities, those thinking about how to create the competency-based infrastructure, and those working with Native American, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian communities.

If you want to learn more about Chugach, we highly recommend Delivering on the Promise. It’s a great read for anyone who is trying to understand what competency-based education is really about.

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Dear Future Principal: Here is How You Can Positively Impact Student Learning

March 7, 2016 by

Time TravelThis past school vacation, I introduced my oldest two boys Brady and Cameron to the Back to the Future Trilogy, one of my all-time favorite movie series. Not surprisingly, they have now become obsessed with the fantasy of traveling back in time to connect with their younger counterparts to offer themselves advice on what their future might hold for them. Could they use this knowledge to improve their life? Could it help them avoid some major pitfalls? Like Brady and Cameron, I too dream about how my life might be different if I had knowledge of my future. What would I do differently at my school in my role as a high school principal, for example?

When I speak to school leaders about implementing a competency-based education model, I share a version of this story. In my version, I hypothesize about how the management of Blockbuster, one of America’s largest providers of home movie and video game rental services which reached its peak in 2004, would have played differently their decision to pass on buying Netflix for a bargain $50 million in 2000. “People will never want to order their movies online and wait for them to get mailed,” they might have said. “There will always be a need for a physical store where people can browse the movie and video game titles for themselves,” they might have added. Well, we all know how their story played out. If only they had knowledge about their future and how online subscriptions and streaming services would transform the media and entertainment sector in the first decade of the new millennium.

This year I will celebrate my sixth anniversary as Principal of Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, New Hampshire. Early in this role my administrative team and I imagined a new design for our school that would utilize a competency-based, personalized model to engage our students in learning tasks and performance assessments that accurately measure learning and mastery of competency. In the Back to the Future movie series, the main characters often sent themselves letters of advice in the future and in the past. Here is the letter that I would write today to my counterpart who was in his first year as a school leader in 2010 working with his staff on a new competency-education design: (more…)

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Using Evidence to Enhance Learning

March 4, 2016 by

LibraryThis post originally appeared at Pam Harland’s blog on February 14, 2016.

As librarians, we are good at collecting data: circulation checkouts, database use, number of patrons walking into the library, etc. But how valuable is this information? This kind of data has little to do with our students learning to evaluate sources, gather evidence to support a claim, and ask good questions.

Librarians are reconsidering how to collect data about our school library programs. We all need to ask ourselves:

  • How does my work make a difference in improving teaching and learning?
  • What is my value to the learning culture?
  • How might I use evidence to improve my practice and enhance learning?

When my PLC (a multi-disciplinary grade level team) was tasked to begin collecting data about our practice and instruction I suggested we use our school-wide research rubric (read Pam’s leadership story on how she created a research rubric here). (more…)

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Are You Heading to Austin?

March 3, 2016 by

sxsweduAre you going to be at SxSWedu next week? If so, find your way to the iNACOL/CompetencyWorks “Meet Up” in Room 18D in the Austin Convention Center on Tuesday from 12:30 – 1:30.

I am so sad I won’t be there. But I know that you will all be super-friendly and introduce yourselves to each other. Maybe you can meet some new colleagues from other states and districts and come up with some rocking sessions for the iNACOL Symposium.

And of course – you are invited to share your three big takeaways from SxSWedu in a blog on CompetencyWorks (or send them to me and I’ll pull together a blog).

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When Red Bank Went to Lindsay

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Lexington to LindsayMarie Watson, principal at Red Bank Elementary School, SC and recently profiled on CompetencyWorks, shared her reflections after visiting Lindsay Unified School District, CA with a team of her educators. I thought this would be interesting to share for a number of reasons, including taking a deeper look at what other educators note and see as important when visiting other schools. – Chris

Why Competency-Based Education is Important?

Dr. Tom Rooney, superintendent, was inspirational as he spoke about why Lindsay Unified moved to a performance-based system of learning (PBS). They call their system performance-based while others may refer to a competency-based system or a personal mastery system. To argue the difference with regard to implementation would be splitting hairs. Sometimes we spend too much time splitting hairs and arguing the points that, in the long run, don’t do anything except expend energy where it could be put to a measurable outcome.

Dr. Rooney described the experience of a new principal at Lindsay High School who was settling into his office space a few days after the high school graduation. As he was unpacking and deciding where to put his personal belongings in his new office, the secretary came in and said a parent was there to see him. Being new to the school, he couldn’t imagine why a parent wanted to see him, but with some apprehension, he told the secretary to bring him in. A father and his son walked into the principal’s office and the principal greeted them warmly and asked what he might do for them. The father put his son’s diploma on the desk and said, “This is what I want to talk about.” The principal saw the diploma, congratulated the young man, and asked what he planned to do next. His father, with a grave look of concern, replied, “That is precisely the problem. Will you please get that newspaper off your shelf?” The principal got the newspaper down and put it on the desk between them. The father said to the son, “Now, read that, son.” The graduate looked at the paper with his head hung ashamedly and there was an uncomfortable and tense silence. Then he replied, “Dad, you know I can’t read that.”

This father then relayed to the principal that his son had been cheated in “the system.” He had been put through the system and now had no hopes for any future because he could not read.

This riveting moment left the new principal with unrest. This father was right. Students had been pushed through the “system” of education and many had been robbed of their futures. At this time, about twelve years ago, the last ten years of valedictorians had attended college and had to take remedial courses. The system needed to be fixed.

Getting Started

Lindsay Unified started a proficiency-based system in 2009 with the ninth grade class. They met with all rising ninth grade students and held meetings with of their parents. They let them know that their students would be required to learn and that it may take less than four years or it may take more than four years…who said high school had to be four years anyway?

The district has been implementing this system of education for six years. They had been doing the work for well over ten years and they are still working out the details. (more…)

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In Search of On-Ramps to Competency-Based Learning

March 2, 2016 by

OnrampThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on January 26, 2016.

As more and more school systems across the country explore “going competency-based,” we need to be attentive to the processes that will actually allow such innovations to thrive. Current time- and age-based accountability measures have a stronghold on schools, even those trying to break away from the factory model of education. As a result, we would predict that time-based metrics and incentives could cannibalize many efforts to reinvent learning in a competency-based manner. School systems need to heed this warning and take pains to protect innovative competency-based approaches from the tug of status-quo pressures and performance measures.

Systems will likely get into trouble if they attempt to make just a few aspects of their models competency-based, while retaining an otherwise traditional structure. Indeed, a school district may spend scarce resources building out a list of desired “competencies” that it wants students to master, but lack the resources or capacity to rethink scheduling and assessment. As a result, these competencies will end up as an iteration or improvement on standards, rather than as a new approach to teaching and learning. Other systems might invest in competency-based grading reform but retain cohort-based course and semester schedules that keep students tied to lock-step progressions. As a result, report cards may more accurately reflect what students actually know, but classroom models will be no better suited to filling in gaps reflected in those grades. In other words, efforts to transform to a competency-based system risk ending up as tweaks on the traditional factory-based approach to teaching and learning, rather than as whole-school redesign.

These challenges are highly predictable if you consider the trajectory that many innovations take. Oftentimes school systems that think they are investing in a wholly new education model are actually investing in sustaining innovations—that is, innovations that improve against existing performance metrics. There is nothing wrong with sustaining innovations—oftentimes these innovations delight customers with better features or functionalities. But sustaining innovations reinforce existing performance metrics rather than reinventing them. (more…)

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February CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

March 1, 2016 by

How Next Gen Learning Can Support Student Agency, Part 2

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Students2This post is adapted from the Next Generation Learning Challenges‘ Friday Focus.

Happy Friday, everyone! Today I’m sharing with you more resources, information, inspiration, and awesomeness that came out of the December #NGLCchat on Student Agency. In this issue, I will tackle the ways that the next gen learning strategies of blended learning, competency-based learning, and project-based learning can support student agency. It’s based on what I learned from the guest experts and chat participants.

(The last Friday Focus synthesized what student agency is and what it looks like.)

Blended Learning & Student Agency

The participants view blended learning as a strategy that leads to student agency when it gives students choices about what, where, when, and how they learn. Blended learning leads to student agency when it…

(more…)

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How Next Gen Learning Can Support Student Agency, Part 1

February 29, 2016 by

Students1This post is adapted from the Next Generation Learning Challenges‘ Friday Focus.

Happy New Year! As I reflect back on 2015, I find myself thankful for the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by all of you in the NGLC network. Case in point: December’s #NGLCchat on Student Agency. As a parent, I wholeheartedly want my children to be agents of their own lives, growing into adults who are empowered to question the world and confident in their ability to change it for the better. But today, I just want them to put on their shoes so we can get to school on time, to wear sneakers instead of flip flops because it’s cold outside, and to do it in the next three minutes—so I make demands and expect them to do what I say and cross my fingers they don’t question me or throw a tantrum. Ugh! There’s a place for authority, rules, and compliance—I do need to ensure my kids are safe from harm, healthy, and respectful of others. But my real job—nurturing their heart, mind, body, and soul—is hard. That’s why it was so uplifting to learn from educators like you during the chat, educators with the passion and commitment and strength and expertise to recognize the agency within students and enable them to be agents of their own learning today and their own success tomorrow.

The hour-long chat was chock-full of expert thinking, advice, resources, and inspiration. For today’s edition of Friday Focus, I tried to pull it together, make meaning, and organize the wealth of insight provided by all the participants during the first segment: “Define what student agency means. What does it look like?” In an upcoming Friday Focus, I’ll dive into the next segments when participants explored how blended learning, competency-based learning, and project-based learning can support student agency.

Why Student Agency Is So Important

Why are we talking about Student Agency? Because agency underpins the whole broader, deeper range of MyWays competencies needed for student success. And today’s students NEED the skills to be lifelong learners:

Harvard professor Roland Barth has observed that in the 1950s when young people left high school they typically knew about 75% of what they would need to know to be successful in life. Today, he predicts that young people know about 2% of what they will need to know. (Barth, R.S. (1997, March 5). The leader as learner. Education Week, 16(23). 56.) This shift is not because young people are learning less than previous generations. In fact, there is good evidence that they know much more. The force behind this change is the rapid and ever-increasing pace of change, the complexity of the world in which we live and the unpredictability of what people will need to know in the coming decades – the future for which we are preparing today’s learners.

(more…)

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