Iowa is a state no longer content with the status quo perpetuated by an antiquated educational system. Recent legislation and the work of an appointed state task force comprised of diverse stakeholders have unlocked the potential in proficiency-based learning for Iowa’s students. Inspired by the opportunity to change the nature of learning, ten school districts have joined the Iowa Department of Education and representatives from higher education and Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to engage in collaborative learning, to implement competency-based education (CBE) pathways in their districts, and to develop a state framework for CBE implementation.
As we build capacity in understanding CBE in our district and throughout the state, I am often approached with questions about how to get started or how to scale and sustain the work. I usually respond by asking how many days or hours the person has to engage in that conversation. We laugh, but nothing is further from the truth. The atomistic behaviorism that compels Westernized thinking is a limit to understanding CBE as a transformative systems change. Russ Ackoff believed that if we optimize the performance of parts of a system, we suboptimize the system as a whole. Peter Senge agrees that the leverage is in optimizing the interdependencies of a system. With CBE, the limits to growth are microcosmic and macrocosmic, which make them particularly difficult to recognize, map, and mitigate. As such, it is necessary to both take a balcony view and to roll up our sleeves for work in the trenches as Iowa embraces competency-based pathways.
Question 1: What do people who are new to competency-based education need to know or do?
- Start with the “why”—a compelling reason for change—and move out from there to the “how” and the “what”. In Muscatine, we talked about the following: need to disrupt the antiquated system so that it can adapt to 21st century demands; understanding that date of manufacture should not determine a student’s path through her or his education experiences; belief that our students need to be adaptable, entrepreneurial, and resilient, which demands a system that supports those demands and that growth. Spend time on the vision and create a theory of action.
- Create a common language through an extensive literature review. This includes definitions of terminology related to CBE as well as defining what CBE is not—deconstructing how this work is not just new terms for what our system has tried before (outcomes-based education from the 70s/80s, for example). This philosophy and methodology are qualitatively different from past paradigms—this needs to be explicated. (more…)