July 30, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Colorado took a big step last year by establishing state policy for a proficiency-based high school diploma. As the Colorado Education Initiative explained the policy, the new graduation guidelines “signal a move away from seat time and toward enabling students to advance based on mastery of Colorado Academic Standards; provide students with a menu of options to demonstrate mastery rather than a single exit exam; emphasize multiple pathways for students to engage in learning; and elevate the importance of next generation student outcomes.”
There are a lot of pieces starting to come together that suggest that Colorado may start catching up with the New England states:
- State Leadership: Colorado has formed a Competency-based Study Group to better understand the benefits and challenges of implementing competency education. The study group is being facilitated by Achieve. Members of the group have already visited Lindsay Unified School District in CA and will have a daylong seminar with state officials from Maine. It’s so important for state and district leaders to take the time to visit the competency-based districts and schools to help them understand the fundamental shifts of focusing on proficiency rather than time.
- Expansion of Competency Education: In addition to Adams 50, one of the early innovators of competency education, Colorado Springs District 11 and Thompson School District are participating in an initiative to expand next generation learning, in partnership with the Colorado Department of Education and The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) and funded by Next Generation Learning Challenges. Each district will focus on two schools. Adams 50 has done an extraordinary job in elementary school and is getting results. They will focus on Westminster High School and Ranum Middle School as part of this effort. (See CW post about how high school transformation was constrained by lack of innovation on part of SIS provider.)
- Intermediary Capacity: Intermediary organizations play a critical role in advancing new reforms, leadership development and the transfer of knowledge. Several support organizations based in CO have substantial capacity around competency education. The Colorado Education Initiative (formerly CO Legacy Foundation) is now actively supporting competency education along with it’s other initiatives including health and wellness and STEM. (Here is their description of competency education.) Colorado also is working with the Marzano Research Laboratory (MRL), which has incredible expertise around formative assessment, standards-based grading and a new effort on high reliability schools that includes competency education. MRL has recently acquired the Reinvent Schools Coalition, adding even more capacity. The Regional Education Lab – Central (run by MRL) also is building capacity around state policy issues to better serve its states — Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
If you know of other states that are building momentum, we’d love to hear the details. We want to make sure that we continue to support network building as more states convert to competency-based education systems.
July 28, 2014 by Eduardo Briceño
Originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of Unboxed, a publication of High Tech High
Deeper learning requires students to think, question, pursue, and create—to take agency and ownership of their learning. When they do, they acquire deeper understanding and skills, and most important, they become more competent learners in and out of school. They become better prepared to succeed in academics, but also in 21st century careers and in life.
We can’t force students to develop agency and drive their own learning. It must come from within. Deeper learning instructional practices, such as using student-centered and self-directed learning methods, encouraging collaboration, and incorporating real-world projects, interviews, case studies and explorations, result in prolific learning when students are ready to drive their own learning. But using these practices is not always sufficient for students to truly take the reins. So what else do they need in order to get in the driver’s seat, take agency, and dive deep? And how do we help them do so?
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…)