July 17, 2014 by Julia Freeland
Originally published July 16, 2014 by The Christensen Institute.
This week I had the privilege of sitting in on the first day of Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA)’s Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) Institute. The school has run the REAL Institute for four years, after fielding numerous requests from educators and administrators around the country wanting to learn more about BDEA’s competency-based alternative high school model.
Discussions of competency-based education these days (my own included!) are often awash with descriptions of what competency-based means and its abstract benefits. These definitions and examples may prove valuable to adults running the education system. But sometimes we are tempted into technocratic language that loses sight of the ultimate end user of our schools: the students. The REAL Institute facilitators wisely reminded participants of this fact by starting off the four-day Institute with a panel of BDEA students. (more…)
July 15, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Why do we think that competency education is a better strategy to serve our lowest achieving students, including low-income students, minority students, English language learners, and those with special educational needs? Here are my top five reasons:
- Competency education is designed to identify and address gaps in knowledge and skills. We will always have students with gaps in knowledge, whether because of poverty-induced mobility, recent immigration, military transfers or health issues. When we identify and address gaps, students have a better chance at progressing. As Paul Leather, NH’s Deputy Commissioner of Education, has pointed out, “We learn by connecting concepts and building expertise over time. If we do not learn a concept, new learning cannot be built on it.” (from Necessary for Success)
- Transparency and modularization is empowering and motivating. They are the ingredients for student ownership. Success begets success, as students see short-term gains and clearly marked next steps. Transparency also challenges bias and stereotypes that may contribute to lower achievement. (more…)
July 14, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Here are some of the recent highlights about competency education!
- American Youth Policy Forum (one of CompetencyWorks founding partners) is holding a forum on District and State Considerations for Incorporating Expanded Learning into Competency-Based Systems on Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 1:00-2:15 PM ET. Speakers include Stephanie Krauss, Senior Fellow, Forum for Youth Investment, Kate Nielsen, Senior Policy Analyst, National Governors Association, and Michelle Un, Project Manager, Research & Data, Rhode Island After School Plus Alliance. You can register here.
Analysis and Reflections
Updates on Districts and States
- Follow Sandburg Elementary School in Freeport Illinois as they convert to a personal mastery model. The first step was a “focus on student voice and choice since it is the foundation of personalized mastery. They would start with three concrete strategies – the code of collaboration, monitoring the code of collaboration, and parking lots. Kleindl decided that teachers could determine how far they wanted to take each of these strategies, but at a minimum they had to demonstrate a basic level of implementation.” Thanks to West Ed for sharing their story.
- Portland Maine has updated high school graduation requirements including proficiency-based requirements, a capstone project and post-secondary plan. The chair of the Portland Task Force developing the graduation requirements, Kate Snyder, explains “There is that sort of flexibility so it’s not just about the magic four years, or the time in a seat,” said Snyder. “It’s really about, are you able to demonstrate that you’ve mastered a subject area, that you can demonstrate proficiency, and that we’re all satisfied that you’re ready to move on.” (more…)
July 11, 2014 by Brian Stack
At a summit hosted by Bainbridge Consulting in San Diego last week, research fellow Thomas Arnett of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation talked about the power of disruptors in shaping our future world. Borrowing an example from the auto industry, Arnett talked about the rise to power of the Korean-born Kia Corporation. Introduced to the American market in the 1970s, Kia cars quickly developed an undesirable reputation as being cheap and poorly fabricated. Since then, Kia began focusing on building high-quality cars at affordable prices. Their products have gotten better, and as we move into 2015, Kia car sales are expected to be among the highest of any auto manufacturer in the American market. Similar to the Lexus Corporation, which recently overtook Mercedes in the luxury car class, the Kia Corporation has been a disruptor in its industry because it has found a way to produce a better product more efficiently and at a lower cost to the consumer.
Bainbridge organized last week’s Disruptors in Education Summit to engage some of the industry’s most visionary entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, policy experts, and practitioners in meaningful dialogue around key disruptive trends impacting K-12 and higher education in 2014 and in the future. The summit focused on the future of post-secondary education, blended learning, gaming in learning and assessment, MOOCs and badges, and the rise of competency-based learning. It was the last topic on competency education, however, that drew some of the biggest interest and excitement among those in attendance. (more…)
July 10, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Designing for Autonomy
I’ve been hearing this question by foundations that are excited about competency education but are focused on investing in solutions for big districts in order to reach the most low-income students. (Interesting that Puerto Rico is the third largest school district and I don’t know of any foundations investing there.) “Urban” can be a code for students and families with brown and black skin that don’t have much in the way of financial assets. For those who need proof points that CBE works for “urban students”, the Barack Obama Charter School in Los Angeles is one. (Read the CompetencyWorks blog about it here.) I believe in this instance, however, the concern about competency education’s workability in urban districts is more about the size of the districts and the difficulty of introducing reforms.
My first advice to foundations that want to support big districts is to expand their boundaries. There has been a demographic shift over the past 20 years, with poverty slipping into inner ring suburbs. Adams 50 is an example of a suburban district at the edges of Denver that decided they had to do something different as they realized that the traditional system was in their way of responding to a changing student population. (Read the CompetencyWorks blog about it here.) Foundations can take advantage of this “opportunity” by investing in the neighboring smaller districts that are trying to find responses to increasing poverty in their communities. Not only will you create a proof point for the surrounding districts, you will also begin to build a cadre of educators that can easily train others or even take on leadership in the large districts. (more…)
July 9, 2014 by Copper Stoll and Gene Giddings
In our previous entry, we foreshadowed the need for learner involvement in all aspects of the Learner Improvement Cycle. The Learner Improvement Cycle is our adaptation from the work of Richard C. Owen’s Teaching-Learning Cycle. Our major innovation to Owen’s work is the focus from the teacher’s actions to the impact those actions have on the learner. The Learner Improvement Cycle also encourages learners to seek multiple sources for their learning and to display their learning through technology, peers, teachers, experts in the field, and authentic audiences. This begins to enliven students’ acquisition and application of college- and career-readiness skills and knowledge. A major role change for both students and teachers is needed. Four challenges of implementing the Learner Improvement Cycle are:
- Assessing: How does a teacher use assessment to instill academic confidence in his/her learners?
- Evaluating: How do the adults in a school partner with their learners to provide authentic feedback on student results?
- Planning: How are the learners personalizing their goals and action plans for learning?
- Learning: How can learners master the standards through issues they find interesting?
Assessing Challenge: In many classrooms across America, every Friday, teachers say, “Put your books away, its time to take the test.” The word “test” strikes fear in the hearts of many of those learners. This is because summative assessments are usually administered in a time-based manner; some students have been ready for days to display their knowledge and skills, while many of their classmates need more days and resources in order to master the concepts. Lessons learned from this kind of summative practice frustrate students and you hear, “Why do I have to wait to take the test? I’m ready now!” to “Why do I have to take the test now? I’m not ready!” This reinforces students’ beliefs about themselves as learners. For the first learner, they fall into the trap of effortless learning and become frustrated when learning is finally presented to them at their instructional level. The second learner is reinforced that no matter how much effort they expend within the teacher’s timeframe, they will not be successful and gaps in their understanding become exacerbated. Many students have had their confidence shaken as a result of this process. (more…)
July 7, 2014 by Julia Freeland
Originally posted Jan. 29, 2014 at The Christensen Institute.
The crux of competency-based education is that students advance only upon mastery. This is a deeply logical approach to unlock each individual student’s ability to learn at his own pace. Students who have not yet demonstrated mastery should not advance before they have filled the gaps in their understanding because, left neglected, these gaps only stand to grow as students try to take on more challenging work. Likewise, students who have demonstrated mastery should be able to progress forward to new or more challenging material, rather than being made to wait for the time allotted for a given lesson to elapse. Clear as this may be, however, there is some debate as to what we mean by “advance”: if we imagine this to be linear, do we think advancing means going “rightward,” progressing onto the next unit or eventually onto the next course? Or might advance actually mean going “downward,” deeper into additional applications or more sophisticated concepts?
This is not a new debate in competency-based circles, and it is one that some dismiss as sheer semantics. That’s because usually within a unit or course, “new” topics will often build on the topics that a student has already mastered; in other words, a new skill or content area will be a deeper iteration of the prior one. But the notion that wherever students go next is inherently a “deeper” exploration of material might not apply to every model and might not always achieve the goal at hand. In some settings, we may value moving students through a lot of material more quickly—I think, for example, of how many of my law school classmates studied for the Bar Exam. In that context, there is so much to cover that a strategic use of study time means not necessarily going deep on every topic; still, Bar preparation software programs are often competency-based, in that they require you to pass certain modules to move on to new topic areas. (more…)
July 3, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Here are a few highlights about competency education from last week!
- The Washington Post interviewed Camille Farrington, author of Failing at School: “Instead of using units and seat time and accumulating credits, let them have real world experiences and then come back and show they have these competencies that they need.”
- Andy Calkins, Deputy Director of Next Generation Learning Challenges, discusses the relationship between personalization, blended learning and competency education emphasizing degree of individualization and transformation in Moving Towards next Generation Learning.
About Higher Education
- Western Governors University’s Teacher Prep, a competency-based program, is ranked as #1 Teacher Prep Program by U.S. News and World Repor
- New England Board of Higher Education is hosting a meeting on October 20th on the Case for Competency-based Education: A New Age of Teaching and Learning. Speakers include: Alison Kadlec, Vice President, Director of Public Engagement Programs, PublicAgenda; Amy Laitinen, Deputy Director, New America Foundation; Mike Offerman, Consultant, President Emeritus, Capella University; Pamela Tate,President, Council of Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL); Barbara E. Brittingham,President,Commission on Institutions of Higher Education,New England Association of Schools and Colleges; Michael Milligan, Executive Director, Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology; Carol Geary Schneider,President, Association of American Colleges and Universities; Linda Schott, President,University of Maine Presque Isle; Sally M. Johnstone,Vice President for Academic Advancement,Western Governors University; Scott Kinney,President, Capella University; Kate Kazin, Chief Academic Officer, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University; Roxanne Gonzales, President,Granite State College; Becky Klein-Collins, Senior Director of Research and Policy Development, CAEL; Ed Klonoski, President,Charter Oak State College; Jay Box, Chancellor,Kentucky Community and Technical College System; Charla Long, Dean, College of Professional Studies,Lipscomb University
Happy Fourth of July!
July 2, 2014 by Copper Stoll and Gene Giddings
The journey to a personalized learning system is fraught with pitfalls and hurdles. Can you get your Board on board? Will teachers embrace new practice to replace current practice? Can you create a communication plan for all stakeholders that really communicates? Will a system that has been in place for one hundred years surrender to one that prepares learners for the next one hundred years? We have found that on this journey there are some key practices that must be built to help answer “yes” to these questions. These practices fall into two categories:
- Common Moral Purpose
- Culture of Continuous Improvement
- Readiness for Change
- Trust to Doubt
- Learner-centered Collective Efficacy
This article will focus on these two categories, which help to create a culture for personalized mastery. The Learner Improvement Cycle will be explored in a subsequent article.
Creating a Common Moral Purpose for the Schools our Students Deserve:
Our current educational system does not insist that all of our students achieve to proficiency. As a matter of practice, we give students Ds, and we accept perfunctory efforts as a result. Many schools have grading practices that confuse the issue of success against standards with point acquisition on an arbitrary 100-point scale. These practices are evidence that the public school system has not embraced the moral purpose of “proficiency for all” our students. Being trapped in a time-based system with an agrarian calendar has put a stress on teachers to “cover” material instead of insisting on learners’ demonstrating an understanding of key concepts that will allow them to be successful in future learning. The schools in our nation must examine their common moral purpose and conclude that our current system does not serve all learners well. We must change to a system that allows time to be the variable. The constant must be mastery against the standards by providing learners the resources they need.
June 30, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I’m sharing this article on Laconia High School that was originally published in the Center for Secondary School Reform Winter 2014 newsletter. Competency-based schools can learn a lot from schools that have used performance-based assessment as their entry point. This article caught my attention because of the strong integration of youth development — young people developing a strong sense of themselves within a context of their communities as well as an understanding of their own motivation. I realized that this type of performance-based assessment can be a valuable tool in developing lifelong learning competencies (i.e. habits, college readiness skills or 21st century skills).
This article didn’t specifically raise the issue of racial or gender identity and how the interplay of motivation, behavior and choice might vary when students encounter institutional racism or sexism. I imagine if these performance-based assessments were implemented in Manchester instead of Laconia, the issue of how opportunity might vary based on race, gender and income would arise quickly in the discussion. Perhaps it did in Laconia as well?
Laconia High School’s Performance Based Assessments
Laconia High top 10 scholars.
Laconia High School is implementing Performance Based Assessments (PBAs) that tie content learning directly to students’ college and career aspirations. This is done using a vertical design that consistently integrates students’ voices and choices into the curriculum delivery each year throughout each student’s four-year educational career. In this way, we are working to ensure students graduate from our educational community with the skills needed to move toward their chosen goals.
Laconia High School has been part of the CCSR i3 Network for four years. Our original direction involved the development and implementation of Extended Learning Opportunities. The philosophy behind ELOs seemed to work well for those students who had the discipline to stick with the work they designed and the structured due dates that came with it. In the last two years, we have worked to integrate that philosophy into our overall four-year program so that students developed the desire to “own” their education. This has resulted in greater engagement for our students. Students have an increased awareness of the relevance of what they are learning, they are more aware of how their education can be connected to the future they want to have, and they are regularly asked to assess how their current performance is moving them toward or away from the goals they have set.