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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Student Voices: Moving Beyond “When I Grow Up…”

August 18, 2016 by

Student VoicesThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on July 25, 2016.

A major task for high schools today is to guide students toward postsecondary opportunities. In the best schools, a strong college and career office develops relationships with students and families, presenting them with possible postsecondary pathways and helping them secure opportunities that are a good fit.

But when should a school start this work? At Springpoint, we believe that strong school design includes a plan for college and career support even before freshmen step into the building. And students should be exposed to this in their very first year.

Equipping students to forge their own path is crucial given today’s rapidly shifting economy—according to one study, 40% of America’s workforce will be self-employed by 2020. So young people will increasingly need to independently seek out and take advantage of opportunities. We must enable them to connect their interests to possible career paths, and to develop relationships with leaders in their chosen field.

We spoke with a small group of enterprising, resourceful high school students about how they are leveraging in-school supports to forge a path toward their college and career goals. All of these students are enrolled in new, innovative high schools designed as part of Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Opportunity by Design initiative. The initiative focuses on creating small, competency-based and student-centered school models. In addition to sharing their own stories, these students also had some advice for their peers.

At The Urban Assembly Maker Academy, Amanda, a rising junior, began to consider a career in communications after realizing she enjoys public speaking and mentoring others. Amanda told us, “I’m an extrovert,” and in response, her teachers and principal gave her opportunities to present at national conferences and act as an ambassador for the school. Last fall, Amanda presented on a panel about new school start-up at iNACOL’s annual symposium, and she has spoken about her school with leaders of Parsons School of Design. Amanda’s teachers have helped her collect these outreach experiences into a portfolio she can take to colleges. (more…)

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San Antonio Here We Come: Competency Ed at the iNACOL Symposium

August 17, 2016 by

El PasoI’ve just been looking at the schedule for the competency education strand at the iNACOL Symposium on October 25-28. It is definitely the best set of sessions yet, with a much stronger focus on equity than ever before. For anyone new to competency education trying to understand or to think about how to move forward, I definitely recommend starting with the full-day workshop with the Charleston County School District team. (Check out the series on CCSD.) If you stay around to the very end, Susan Patrick and I are facilitating a “meet the expert” discussion. And we’ll be posting information about where to find us for the CompetencyWorks meet-up at the President’s Reception the evening of October 25.

Here is an overview of the strand:

Equity and Competency-Based Education

Proficiency as a Pathway to Equity

Tony Lamair Burks II and Angela Hardy, Great Schools Partnership will focus on the rationale for, the critical elements of, and the policies that support a proficiency-based learning system as a means to achieve equity for all students.

How Competency-Based Education Drives Equity and Cultural Responsiveness

Joy Nolan, Jeremy Kraushar, and Julianna Charles Brown, Mastery Collaborative: an initiative of Model Redesign team, NYC DOE Office of Postsecondary Readiness will discuss the major shifts that happen when schools become competency-based and how this increased cultural responsiveness.

Redefining Equity in Competency-Based Systems of Learning

David Cook, Kentucky Department of Innovation and Dr. Carmen Coleman, Center for Innovation in Education will begin to develop a new definition of equity that makes sense in a personalized, competency-based environment.

Culture, Practices, Rituals and Routines

Competency-Based Education and Self-Directed Learning Practices in the Classroom


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Vote for Pop Up Problems of Practice in CBE

August 15, 2016 by

Screenshot 2016-08-15 10.49.52We need your help between now and September 1. Virgel Hammonds, KnowledgeWorks, Susan Patrick, iNACOL and I have submitted a proposal for SxSWedu called Pop Up Problems of Practice in Competency Ed. I’ve become enamored with Problems of Practice as a way to unpack issues so that we better understand the assumptions we hold about how to solve problems and to push our thinking about how to be student-centered in thinking about solutions. So we are going to use a fun, rapid problem of practice approach where a problem is introduced and two of us give a quick analysis and solution and then we ask all the other participants (not audience) to pop up with their ideas as well.

The reason I think this is important is that competency education has not been a major part of the discussions at SxSWedu yet (it’s definitely been on their agenda but could be a lot stronger) and it’s time to engage that network as allies.

So when you want to procrastinate about something else….go to Panel Picker and create an account and then go to Pop Up Problems of Practice in Competency Ed to give us a thumbs up.

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Rethinking the Achievement Gap (Part 3)

Matt Riggan

Matt Riggan

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on April 6, 2016 and the Workshop School on April 1, 2016. Read Part 1 and Part 2

We focus intently on the achievement gap because we see closing it as the best way to combat poverty and inequality. As I argued here and here, this gets us into trouble when we define achievement too narrowly. But it actually oversimplifies poverty and inequality even more than it oversimplifies learning.

Two articles currently posted at the Atlantic make this point in depressingly persuasive fashion. The first reminds us that inequality is about much, much more than income or even wealth, while the second documents that while Clinton-era welfare reform was hugely successful in reducing the number of people receiving public assistance, that’s not actually the same thing as helping them re-enter the workforce or otherwise get back on their feet. Welfare reform deepened extreme poverty, and (more usefully for its authors) it also made it less visible. (more…)

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Recommended Summer Reading 2016

August 12, 2016 by

Summer ReadingIn case you haven’t signed up for our monthly newsletter, here is our recommended summer reading.

Many teachers and leaders use the summer months to catch up on reading and advance their own professional learning. Start with Competency Education Across America, where you will find links to mini case studies to make it easy for you to learn what other schools and districts are learning.

If you haven’t yet read the following reports, we highly recommend these thought leadership pieces to deepen your knowledge around competency education:

If you prefer to delve into books, we offer the following recommendations:

What resources have you read that helped strengthen your understanding of competency education? Let us know via email or on Twitter: @CompetencyWorks.

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Talking Equity with John Duval

August 11, 2016 by

John Duval

This is the ninth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, KAPPA International, North Queens Community High School, EPIC North, and New Classrooms

“Mastery-based learning can reopen a conversation about equity.”

With just these few words, John Duval launched us into a dynamic conversation. Duval leads the Model Redesign Team in the Office of Postsecondary Readiness, which houses a number of initiatives related to high school innovation around areas of whole school design, competency-based education (including the Mastery Collaborative), culturally relevant pedagogy, and effective uses of school time. Previously, Duval led the launch of the New York City Department of Education’s Expanding Success Initiative (ESI). This initiative, dedicated to improving education for African-American and Latino young men, launched the EPIC model, which will have four schools in both district and charter variations this coming September. Here are a few highlights of the conversation:

The Intersection of Culturally Responsive Education and Competency-Based Education

ESI designed the EPIC model with four core concepts, including competency-based education (CBE) and culturally responsive education (CRE), or the belief that “achievement is anchored not just in building from one’s existing strengths but in full engagement of one’s self and lived experience.” (See the EPIC Playbook for more information.) Duval explained how the intersection of these two concepts transforms the classroom and school dynamics. “Let’s start with the idea that mastery-based learning is a better way to do school,” he said. “When you focus on competencies, you are focusing on the ability to transfer skills and you are focusing on the important higher orders skills. In CBE, this is real shift for the teaching force in two ways. First, from a design perspective, it requires creating more complex learning arcs for young people. This is very difficult, especially if you’ve never been trained this way. Second, it creates more transparency and accountability for everyone involved. Once a student – especially an African American or Latino one – knows what skills he or she is supposed to develop, he or she can pinpoint what a teacher is or is not doing to help them.”

He continued, “Just knowing that grading is more objective based on progress toward standards rather than the highly variable, subjective conventional grading can bring a huge change in the student experience. Then when the practices are in place for students to have more agency and responsibility for their education, there can be a tremendous cultural shift in the school. There is more respect for students. And there is the expectation that when there is tension or conflict between a student and teacher, listening to each other and understanding each other’s perspective is the avenue for resolving it, not taking the student out of the classroom or the school. The practice of exclusion inhibits learning on the part of students and adults.” (more…)

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Curious about Competency-Based Education?

August 10, 2016 by

WorkshopAre you going to the iNACOL Symposium in October? There is a great opportunity to learn from an incredible team of educators who have been implementing personalized learning (competency-based, student-directed learning, and flexible learning environments). On October 25th, a pre-conference workshop led by some of the leaders in the Charleston County School District will be sharing their approach and lessons learned. They’ve organized it as a full day – so you can go deep and ask as many questions as you want. The description of the workshop is below and you can register here.

You might want to read our series on Charleston County’s approach before you go!

Putting It All Together: How to Create a Personalized System of Education (Capacity: 60)
Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Charleston County School District
Rebecca Mestaz, Marzano Research

Charleston County Schools (SC) has developed an integrated approach to personalized learning based upon student-directed learning, flexible learning environments and competency-based progressions. If you are in the initial stages of learning about personalized learning and competency-based education or in the planning and early implementation phase, this session will offer an in-depth look at what it looks like in the classroom and lessons learned from the implementation strategies used in Charleston County School District.

The session will be hands-on and follow a blended learning format with a station rotation model. Attendees will learn how to: (more…)

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Anchoring the Learning: A Discussion with Joel Rose at New Classrooms

August 9, 2016 by

AnchorThis is the eighth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, KAPPA International, North Queens Community High School, and EPIC North

Joel Rose and Sue Fine of New Classrooms introduced me to the concept of anchor weights and tethering. I had sought out their insights into how we can better engage and teach students who are missing pre-requisite skills needed for grade level curriculum. (Truly, we need to figure out a shorthand phrase for this phenomena.)

New Classrooms has invested heavily in research and development to create an instructional model that “reimagines the classroom around each student.” Their framework is based on personalized pathways, competency-based learning, valuing relationships, and regrouping based on common needs. It’s a blended model with a combination of live and online instruction. At this point, they have focused solely on math, although they are considering developing the model for other academic domains as well. (Their video on personalizing education is great).

Math is why I wanted to talk to Rose and Fine. I have heard too many educators say that a student who doesn’t understand numeracy, fractions, and a host of other skills is going to have a difficult time – impossible, even – to learn and apply algebra. So why are we having students take algebra over and over? Are they building their pre-requisite skills, or is this some form of torture to take the same class over without any hope of learning it? The challenge facing competency-based school as well as any type of school is how to help student learn the grade level skills and learn the pre-requisite skills so that they begin to backfill all the skills they are going to need for higher and higher level work. (more…)

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