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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A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education

August 19, 2015 by

GraphEach summer, CompetencyWorks takes a bit of time to reflect on where we have come from, accomplishments, and emerging issues. Our advisory board is absolutely instrumental in this process, helping us to understand nuances and variations across states.

Below are the highlights of our discussion this year. It’s long, but I think sharing in detail is worth it, especially as each week people contact us seeking help in understanding the field. Please, please, please – we would love to hear your insights and understanding of where we have come from and what we need to think about in terms of advancing competency education. It’s the richness of multiple perspectives that allow us to be as strategic as possible.

I. How Are We Doing in Terms of Expansion?

When we wrote the first scan of the field in 2010, there were only pockets of innovation across the country, each operating in isolation. Five years later, eighteen states are actively pursuing competency education through a range of strategies including proficiency-based diplomas (ME, NH, CO, AZ), integrating competency education into the education code (VT, NH), innovation zones (KY, WI, CT), pilots (OR, IA, OH, ID), and task forces in partnership with districts (SC, WY, OK, HI, DE). Federal policymakers are now familiar with competency-based education in the K12 and higher education sector, with ESEA policy discussions considered pilots for new systems of assessments.

Districts are converting to competency education across the country, with or without state policy enabling the change. In addition to the northern New England states, which have strong state policy initiatives, districts are converting in AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, MI, and SC.

New school models are developing that push beyond the traditional organization of school to high levels of personalization, including those at Summit Public Schools, Building 21, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Making Community Connections Charter School, EPIC North, and Bronx Arena. Schools for the Future has recently announced record-breaking results in its first year of operation.

Some people think the rate of expansion is too slow. Personally, I think we need to really “get it right” – robust competency-based structures, high levels of personalization so our most historically underserved populations of students are thriving, upgraded instruction and assessment aligned to higher levels of knowledge, and effective use of online learning – before we worry about the speed of expansion. Let’s practice what we preach. We are in the midst of huge learning as we deconstruct the traditional system and put into place a more vibrant, personalized system, and it may take us a bit of time. It took us well over 200 years to create the traditional system, and its rituals are deeply rooted into our own personal lives. I don’t think it is a problem if it takes us a few more years to get it right.

The Results from our Early Adopters: The early adopters are now three to four years into implementation (with the exception of Chugach School District, which has been using a competency-based model for nearly two decades). Many have developed the systemic framework within a traditional agrarian, course-based model, which means that at first glance, it appears there is little innovation…until one looks deeper to see the benefits of greater personalization, student agency/voice/choice, consistency of proficiency scales across the school, and greater responsiveness to students who are struggling. (more…)

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Finland Offers Lessons for Building Student, Teacher Agency

August 17, 2015 by

Finland FlagThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on August 13, 2015. 

Rhonda Broussard is the founder and president of St. Louis Language Immersion Schools, a charter management organization. In 2014, she traveled to and explored the education systems of Finland and New Zealand as an Eisenhower Fellow (full disclosure: I was also a 2014 Eisenhower Fellow). As I listened to her discuss her travels this past May in Philadelphia, I was struck by how relevant some of the insight she had gained in Finland were for those creating blended-learning schools that seek to personalize learning and build student agency. What follows is a brief Q&A that illustrates some of these lessons.

Q: Your observations around student agency in Finland and how it stems from the great trust the Finnish society has in children are striking. Can you explain what you saw and learned? Do you have takeaways for what this means in the context of the United States?

A: What amazed me most during my school visits in Finland is what I didn’t observe. Finnish schools had no recognizable systems of “accountability” for student behaviors. Finnish schools believe that children can make purposeful decisions about where to be, what to study, how to perform. Whether via No Excuses or Positive Behavior Intervention Support, American schools don’t expect youth to be responsible for themselves or their learning. When I asked Finnish educators about student agency, they responded that the child is responsible for their learning and general safety. When prodded, educators responded that the child’s teacher might send a note home to parents, speak with the child, or consult their social welfare committee about destructive or disruptive behaviors. Despite the fact that Finland is the second country in Europe for school shootings (they have had three since 1989), none of the schools that I visited had security presence or protocols for violent crises.

My first trip to Finland was during the immediate aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. When I juxtaposed those events with the high trust I observed in Finnish society and schools, the reality of micro-aggressions in our schools became more apparent. In my piece “Waking up in Helsinki, Waking up to St. Louis,” I cite a few examples of what trust looks like in Finnish schools. The absence of trust in American schools requires educators to police our youth daily, and do so in the name of respect. Many U.S. peers respond to my observations with, “But our kids are different, they need structure.” Our country, society, and expectations are different, but our kids are not. American hyper-attention to accountability reinforces the belief that people, young people in particular, cannot be trusted. (more…)

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What I Am Learning from Anthony Kim

August 14, 2015 by
Instructional Models

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Sometimes I’m a little slow.

I loved the ideas that Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements, put together in his post Interested in Innovative School Models? What to Consider to Make Sure They Are Successful – merging together 1) depth of learning, 2) acceleration of learning, and stages of student independence or student agency.

But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to hear Kim present at the New Hampshire Educators Summit last week (click here for video) that I actually started to really comprehend what this all means. And honestly, my guess is that these ideas are so profound that I’m just starting a journey of understanding what this means for competency-based schools. (I might call these types of inquiries a “learney” – a journey of learning.)

One of my huge pet peeves is that a lot of writing about blended learning only talks about the tech part and fails to provide an overall picture. Rarely does it talk about what is needed for blended learning  to address the tremendous change that is happening with the introduction of the Common Core – moving from a focus on recall and comprehension, the first two levels in most knowledge taxonomies, toward the higher (and deeper) levels of analysis and application. Much of the knowledge base on blended learning focuses on models, products, and the necessary tech infrastructure….but not about what needs to be happening the rest of the time in the classroom to provide deeper learning.

Kim did not fall into this trap. Instead, he illuminated how blended learning can help us build capacity for deeper learning. By using the three-part axis of depth of knowledge (such as Bloom’s or Webb’s), stages of independence (students move dependent on direction from the teacher and toward self-directed learning), and acceleration (students start at different points and progress at different rates, meaning a student who is behind grade level may actually be learning at a much faster rate of learning), he provides a robust picture of what schools need to be able to do and how they can best do it using technology. (more…)

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Support for Teachers in a Competency Education School

August 13, 2015 by

LockersAs a high school principal who has worked for the past six years through a transition from traditional to competency education, I am often asked how our school district has supported teachers both in the past through the transition process and also currently as we sustain our competency education model. Our teacher support system has many layers, each designed to support teachers at different points along our journey.

Professional Learning Communities

Perhaps the single biggest investment our school district made prior to implementing competency education was to establish the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model in each of our schools. I keep this quote from PLC architect Rick DuFour on my desk to remind me what role PLCs play in our school’s teacher support system: “A team is a group of people working interdependently to achieve a common goal for which members are mutually accountable.” PLC teams, when implemented correctly, focus their work around four essential questions:

What is it we want students to learn?

How will we know when they have learned it?

What will we do if they haven’t learned it?

What will we do if they already know it? (more…)

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Integrating Career Technical Education with Competency-Based Education

August 8, 2015 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on August 5, 2015.

Library“One system that has often been overlooked in conversations about competency based pathways has been that of career technical education (CTE). CTE has promoted personalized learning and real-world application – both fundamental tenets of a competency-based approach – yet it has rarely been intentionally integrated into states’ Competency-Based Pathway (CBP) approaches.”

Alissa Peltzman, Achieve’s VP of State Policy & Implementation Support, is right. There’s much to learn from CTE that can inform and act as an entry point to competency-based systems in both K-12 and HigherEd systems.

With this acknowledgement, Achieve recently partnered with the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) to elevate the value of coordination between CBE and CTE leaders.

In May 2015, Achieve and NASDCTEc brought together national partner organizations alongside several states within Achieve’s Competency-Based Pathways (CBP) State Partnership to better understand the implications of systems alignment, identify key considerations, and elevate states and districts already beginning this integration. To share insights from this work, the groups co-authored and released Building a Strong Relationship between Competency-Based Pathways and Career Technical Education–a report that identifies opportunities for collaboration, integration, and strengthened relationships between CBP and CTE leaders. It explores the leverage points and challenges to integrating CTE into a CBP system, and where possible, offers state and district examples. (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

August 7, 2015 by

News
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What Is Competency Education?

  • A Q&A with Rebecca Wolfe, Director of Students at the Center project and personalized learning advocate, discusses how personalized learning can help historically underserved students.
  • Formative assessment is an ideal starting point on the path to personalization; tracking student mastery is an ideal next step. Read more here.

Implementing Competency Education

(more…)

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How Competent Are We at Competency Education?

August 6, 2015 by

Below is the presentation I prepared for the New Hampshire Education Summit on the topic How Competent Are We at Competency Education? (here is link to video)

What a pleasure it is to be here in New Hampshire – the well-spring of competency education. When Susan Patrick, my partner in co-founding CompetencyWorks, and I did the scan of competency education in 2010, we found that there were pockets of competency education across the country. However, there was only one state – and that state was New Hampshire – that had the foresight, courage, and leadership to set a new course for their schools and for their children. Now look at you, setting the course for federal policy by having the courage to imagine a new way for the state and districts to co-design a system of quality assurance – what we used to call state accountability.

State Policy Snapshot

Competency education is spreading across the country. As soon as CompetencyWorks updates this map, we hear of another state taking a step forward. For example, in June, Idaho and Ohio both decided to invest in pilots. However, the thing that convinces me we are going in the right direction is that districts, without the help of any enabling state policy, are converting to competency education – Lindsay in California, Warren and Springdale in Arkansas, Charleston in South Carolina, Henry and Fulton in Georgia, Freeport in Illinois, and Lake County in Florida. (more…)

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It’s Simply Buzzing in New Hampshire

August 5, 2015 by

innovation2:15 pm ET

I’m sitting amidst 500 very energetic educators from all around New Hampshire (it’s 2 percent of the teacher workforce). To get access to the 2015 New Hampshire’s Educator Summit, districts had to be willing to send a team of people that had identified problems of practice to drive their learning….and it is just electric in the room as we wait for Virginia Barry, Commissioner of Education to launch the meeting with the introduction of the New Hampshire 2.0: A Blueprint to Scale Competency-Based Education Across a P-20 System.

The event is around six strands: Competency-Based Education, Community Engagement, Co-Teaching, Data Literacy, Early Childhood Education, and STEM. Several folks who are part of the CompetencyWorks network are leading sessions, including Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements; Rose Colby, consulting superstar; Jonathon Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary School, Sanborn Regional School District; Scott Marion, the Center of Assessment; and Joe DiMartino, Executive Director, Center for Secondary School Redesign. Other presenters include Lindsey Lapointe, Epping Middle School and Monique Temple, Maple Street Magnet School (emphasizing inquiry-based and project-based learning). I wish I could go to every session!

3 pm ET

Here are a few highlights so far:

Building a Big Voice: Bill Duncan, member of the NH School Board, spoke to the need to tell families, community members, and political leaders from the most local to statewide positions about their experiences in the classroom in an effort to build out a big voice to support schools and teachers. We need to get to the people who know and can influence those who have the decision-making power to stay the course.

From Improving the System We Have to Creating the One We Need: Virginia Barry kicked off her discussion with a video giving voice to teachers and students who are using extended learning, project-based learning, and place-based learning. There was an interesting story about a class in Surry Village Charter School using their own community to learn about the civil rights movement, finding a local leader, Jonathon Daniels, who was murdered while trying to register African-American voters in Alabama. (more…)

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