July 22, 2014 by Tom Vander Ark
Originally published July 16, 2014 by Getting Smart.
Accountability is a gift. We don’t often think of it that way but, done right, it’s a bargain that provides autonomy, resources, and supports in return for a commitment to a set of desired outcomes. That’s how it’s supposed to work with your kids; that’s how it’s supposed to work with schools. At work accountability provides role and goal clarity like when your boss explains, “Here’s what I expect and how I’ll support you; if you don’t achieve desired results, here’s how the situation will be remedied.”
The University of Toledo and and its designee to authorize schools, The Ohio Council of Community Schools (OCCS), hosted a school leaders conference today to discuss the next generation of accountability. As the Fordham Institute Ohio staff noted, there were a number of changes made to Ohio testing and accountability system in the last session including accountability provisions. Following is a discussion of how accountability should work–from students to universities–with a few comments about where Ohio is on the curve. (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 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 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 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 25, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I took a few hours out from gardening yesterday to dive into Learners Rule by Bill Zima, principal at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine. Described as a work of tactical fiction, it’s a book about the power of personalized, proficiency-based systems (Bill is from Maine, so we’ll use the term proficiency-based in this blog). What’s fascinating is that the term proficiency-based learning is not mentioned once in this book. It’s about learning and nurturing learners.
For educators who want to know what proficiency-based learning looks like and how to do it, I don’t think there is any better resource available than Learners Rule. It is also probably the best resource we have right now available to help teachers identify the shift in thinking and practice that happens when we move from batch to personalized learning. There are even pictures of the different tools at the end.
I finished the book book hungry for more, as it doesn’t touch on the school-wide changes that have to happen, nor on the way teachers begin to collaborate around students and their learning. We’ll just have to be patient – hopefully, Bill will write a sequel.
Below are three connections and insights that popped out for me (and there were many more) while reading Learners Rule. (more…)
June 24, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I always save an hour or two on Friday afternoons to read about things I don’t know much about. It’s a practice I started years ago as program director at Greater Boston Rehabilitation Services as I needed to be comfortable talking about issues through a broad spectrum of perspectives. There was always more to be learned. In fact, it was where I was first came upon the work of Peter Senghe and the concept of personal mastery.
Increasingly, I find myself reading anything and everything about education through the lens of competency education. What would be the implications if systems were competency-based? How might we think about these issues if we consistently placed student agency, student learning, pace and progress front and center to all decisions?
Last week I dived into A Framework for Selecting Quality Course Providers at Competitive Prices from Digital Learning Now. State contracting for online courses is a topic I know nothing about but care about deeply, as it is imperative that students in rural communities, alternative schools or any small school have access to a much wider set of courses, especially where there is a dearth of teachers (Advanced Placement physics, for example). It is also going to be an essential capacity if schools are going to lift the ceiling and let kids fly beyond their grade level.
As the paper was so accessible, the competency education lens flipped on immediately as I read about how states can structure a mix of base pay and incentive pay based upon completion. Completion? How exactly are states defining completion? In a competency-based state or district, completion with a C or D, i.e. with gaps in knowledge, isn’t acceptable. In competency education, completion equals proficiency. Will this mean that states will create statewide understanding of what completion means in terms of proficiency at a specific depth of knowledge in order to clarify contracts with online providers? (See the discussion in Idaho about whether states or districts should be determining what mastery is.) This could be an important state level function that is done in partnership with districts so that a shared understanding of proficiency/completion is created. (more…)
June 19, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Over the past two months, I’ve had several invitations to discuss the intersection of higher education (HE) and K12 in competency education. It makes sense to see these two sectors of education as one huge movement. Both receive complaints from their customers of poor and inconsistent quality (i.e., students are ill prepared for advanced studies and entry into the workforce). Both sectors are turning to greater personalization, online and blended learning and competency education to help them improve their systems. It’s easy to leap to the conclusion, especially if you are a systems thinker who jumps for joy when alignment is in the air, that the pieces are all going to snap into place.
No matter what we all imagine, no matter how beautiful our maps of an aligned system are, there are two important things to remember. First, in a personalized world where students have agency, we have to let go of our mental model of a linear, conveyor belt model. We need to think about adaptive systems. If you need a picture to hold in your mind, think highways with lots of on and off ramps.
Second, there may be risks in talking about HE’s and K12’s transition to competency education as one and the same. Certainly both emphasize progress upon mastery. However, much of the drive for change in HE is to reduce tuition costs, whereas in K12 it is to personalize education so that all students get what they need to succeed. Thus, the K12 focus is on cost-effectiveness, not cost reduction. This may have large implications about what is emphasized and how models develop. Furthermore, our efforts will come to a grinding halt if we lead policymakers to assume that they can reduce budgets in K12 competency education systems. We can explore competency education in both sectors without advancing the idea that they are the same thing.
I’m now going to break a rule of blogging with a very long exploration of the intersection of competency education across K12 and HE. I start by exploring the similarities, differences and intersection of the two systems and close by looking at the implications of the different contexts in which competency education is developing in each sector.
June 13, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Most of the districts that have converted to competency education have done so with very little use of technology. It’s been a transformation based on a different philosophy of how to motivate students (the intrinsic joy and pride of learning instead of the extrinsic grading system) and a re-engineering of the system around learning rather than the delivery of curriculum.
However, competency education will be a lot easier to manage if there is adequate management information systems. Blended learning can be structured to allow students to move ahead to more advanced studies. Well-structured adaptive software can really give a boost to students who need some help building skills at the levels of recall and comprehension. (See Susan Patrick’s blog on the different characteristics of adaptability).
Getting a solid picture of the technological landscape isn’t easy to do. The Roadmap for Competency-based Systems: Leveraging Next Generation Technologies is designed to do just that – identify the key questions and steps to figure out how technology can help you better implement competency education as well as generate the greatest benefits. My guess is that you will find the glossary really helpful as well. Thanks to Council of Chief State School Officers and 2 Revolutions for developing this tool.