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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In Real Life: How competency-based systems wrestle with education’s stickiest, most human questions

January 18, 2019 by

This is the introductory article to an eight-part series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.”

“Why should we educate? What are the benefits that individuals legitimately should expect from education? What are the benefits that society should expect from an educated citizenry…? How can we achieve them?”

Over 30 years ago, Patricia Albjerg Graham penned an article that questions the purpose of schooling and challenges readers to consider how well the design of American public education fits its purpose.  Still today, people working both within and outside the education system question its design, seeking ways to more effectively prepare students for college and career (or whatever is their desired purpose for public education).

Why would people question the design of the education system? For some, it is because the landscape of the American workforce is changing, requiring the education system to prepare students with different skills and abilities than before. Others are propelled by the fact that, despite a rise in public high school graduation rates, too many new college-goers are still underprepared for the next phase and find themselves in remedial courses. In fact, too many find themselves without good postsecondary options at all.

For me personally and for many colleagues who are educators today, we seek change because we know that educators’ daily heroic efforts to reach every child fall short without substantial support from broader systems that configure time, space, and resources in ways that enable educators to know every child and to partner with them and their communities to advance their learning.

If we can admit that change is necessary, the next question is: how? (more…)

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VOICES: Stacey Wang and Jane Bryson on Developing Teacher Mindsets

January 16, 2019 by

This is the third post in a ten-part series that aims to make concepts, themes, and strategies described in the Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education report accessible and transferable. Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of this post.

What mindsets matter for teachers in competency-based, personalized classrooms? How do we know? How can leaders help teachers shift existing mindsets and develop new ones? These are questions that teachers and leaders grapple with every day. Moving Toward Mastery communicates the importance of developing teacher mindsets, but does not provide specific strategies for how to do this work. This post picks up where the paper left off. I co-authored this post with leaders from Transcend Education, Stacey Wang and Jane Bryson. We reflect on a few big questions. What are mindsets? Can you change them? If so, how? And, how do we do this in our own work?


The “Mindsets Project” did not start as such. Initially, Lindsay Unified School District, Summit Public Schools, Transcend Education, and Columbia University’s Center for Public Research and Leadership came together to co-create a student impact model that would help define quality personalized learning (see Figure 1). As we developed this model, we realized that teacher and leader mindsets have a huge impact on student outcomes and that we needed to make these mindsets more explicit. We studied mindsets research, reflected on hiring practices and success conditions at Lindsay and Summit, and engaged experts around the country. Through this process we found that there are six critical mindsets for teachers to hold about “learners and learning,” and six critical mindsets about “myself and my role.” These are shown in Figure 2 and explained in more detail in An Early Inquiry into Educator and Leadership Mindsets. (more…)

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Entry Points: Moving Toward Equity-Oriented Practice

January 14, 2019 by

This is the second post in a ten-part series that aims to make concepts, themes and strategies described in the Moving Toward Mastery report accessible and transferable. The introduction to the series is here.

“In an equity-focused profession, all aspects of practice are designed to ensure success for all learners. Teachers create multicultural and inclusive learning environments and are members of multicultural and inclusive professional communities. They investigate and address their biases and work in partnership with the community to disrupt systemic inequity.” – Moving Toward Mastery, page 21

Almost all competency-based schools and districts would tell you that they are working to close opportunity and achievement gaps to help every child thrive. And yet, while there are examples of progress, equity is far from a reality. Why? That’s a complicated question, but part of the answer has to be about teachers. We can’t get to equity without helping teachers develop the competencies to promote equity every day, with every child.

You might read this and think, “Ok, sure, but how? And, is equity really something that can be taught?” I believe that it is possible for adults to “learn” the mindsets and skill sets needed for equity if they are committed to doing so and if they are supported along the way. What does it look like to be committed? For teachers, it means doing deep personal work that will sometimes be difficult, though ultimately rewarding. For leaders, it means creating the conditions in which teachers can engage in this reflection, addressing systemic inequities and integrating equity into teacher training, hiring, professional learning, evaluation and advancement.

So, what might equity-oriented teaching look like, and how can you cultivate equity-oriented teaching in your school or district? The next three paragraphs paint a vision of what equity-oriented practice would look like. After that, I offer tools to help leaders and teachers assess equity practices in their school or district and identify entry points for action. (more…)

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Introducing Moving Toward Mastery

January 11, 2019 by

In November, iNACOL published Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing, and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education. The report grew from a collaboration with educators, leaders, policymakers, and advocates across the country. When I set out on this project I asked dozens of these leaders to help define the “why.” This is what I heard.

To grow competency-based education, help teachers. The competency-based education movement has invested a lot of energy describing changes to the student experience, and how to get there. We can do the same for teachers. While many organizations have drafted teacher competency frameworks – a critical starting point – we can do more to clarify the how. How can teachers shift their practice? How can leaders support them? How will policies and systems need to adapt?

Support teachers, and transform teaching. We have pockets of success. What we need is systems change. Educators and leaders across the country are doing amazing work to shift teaching practices in alignment with competency-based education. But for the most part, our public education system still relies on traditional approaches. Many of us are asking for change within systems that uphold the status quo. Asking educators to make the transition to competency-based practices in spite of outdated systems and policies creates obstacles, even for those who are change-ready educators. And, it discourages others from even trying.

To shift practice, shift mindsets and beliefs. Changing teaching practices is very complex. But as much as these changes require technical clarity and precision, they also require changes in mindsets, beliefs and values. Leaders in the field are emphatic about the importance of the adaptive elements of change: clarifying the why, engaging teachers and families as leaders in the work and creating space and time for teachers and leaders to develop new beliefs and mindsets. (more…)

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Seeding the Future of Learning Today – Part 3

January 9, 2019 by

This article is the concluding post in a three-part series by KnowledgeWorks futurist Katherine Prince on the challenges and opportunities emerging in education. Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.

Ten years ago, competency-based education was just beginning to take hold as a way of preparing all learners for college, career and life. Since that time, the movement has grown steadily, with more schools, districts and states implementing the approach or creating the policy and other conditions necessary for it to spread. The seeds for today’s successes were planted through many people’s past actions.

Similarly, tomorrow’s approaches to learning will have their seeds in the actions that educators and system influencers take today. In the face of ever-greater complexity, education stakeholders need to examine what the changing landscape could mean in their contexts and what futures of learning they would like to see and shape.

This post draws upon KnowledgeWorks’ new 10-year forecast, Navigating the Future of Learning, to explore some critical starting points for responding to the changing landscape today. It builds upon previous posts describing drivers of change that are influencing education and creating possibilities for the future of learning. (more…)

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An Era Shift Creates New Opportunities for Education – Part 2

January 7, 2019 by

This article is the second in a three-part series by KnowledgeWorks futurist Katherine Prince on the challenges and opportunities emerging in education. Part 1 is here; stay tuned for the conclusion of the series.

Putting students at the center of learning and pursuing competency-based education is at once an exciting and daunting challenge. Pursuing systems change is hard work. But the shifting climate surrounding education could create new urgency and new opportunity for reorienting learning around mastery and students’ needs.

In my last post, I described five drivers of change that invite educators and system influencers to steer the future of education toward one that supports all learners in thriving amid a rapidly changing world. These drivers of change, and the era shift to which they contribute, are raising big questions for education. They are also raising exciting possibilities for competency-based education and other approaches to learning. (more…)

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Webinar on Developing and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education (January 9, 2pm ET)

January 5, 2019 by

iNACOL WebinarPlease join us for a webinar focused on rethinking the educator workforce, on January 9 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

The webinar is based on iNACOL’s new publication, Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education, which re-envisions professional practice, learning, and development for educators in competency-based education. (more…)

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An Era Shift Raises Big Questions for Education – Part 1

January 4, 2019 by

This article is the first in a three-part series by KnowledgeWorks futurist Katherine Prince on the challenges and opportunities emerging in education.

Educators have a lot to do, and they face many immediate and pressing demands related to supporting learners. Stepping out of the day-to-day to look 10 years into the future may feel like a luxury of time they can ill afford.

Taking that time, however, is crucial. It is important for educators to pause and consider how the world is changing and how those changes could affect learning. Moreover, educators should prepare to help lead the way as we all navigate the murky territory of moving toward a future of learning that can help all learners thrive.

As colleagues and I forecast in KnowledgeWorks’ latest comprehensive 10-year forecast, Navigating the Future of Learning, we are in the midst of an era shift that is changing how we relate with one another, our institutions and even with ourselves. People are interacting with smart devices – such as our mobile phones, voice-controlled personal assistants and the code that powers all those machines – in new and ever-deepening ways. Over the next decade, many facets of our lives will be affected by exponential advances in technology and by the social and economic changes that are accompanying them.


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Introducing the New CompetencyWorks Director

January 1, 2019 by
Eliot, Students, and Son in 2006

With my students and my son in 2006

When I was a high school teacher, a wonderful student of mine scored too low on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to achieve his dream of joining the Army. His IEP included reading issues, and English was his second language, although he spoke it fluently. Disappointed but undeterred, he landed a job in security services and later became my first student to earn a college degree—in criminal justice. Now at age 30, he is still doing great. Maybe the ASVAB didn’t fully capture his abilities?

Many CompetencyWorks readers are determined to transform the education system so that every student has what they need to develop their full capacities. That determination is why I’m thrilled to be iNACOL’s new Research Director, with oversight of CompetencyWorks as one of my exciting projects.

My personal voyage to iNACOL has been circuitous. After earning degrees in electrical engineering and psychology, I transitioned to the field of education with a summer doing outreach to street children in Guatemala City and my dissertation on Latino parents’ involvement in Boston elementary schools.

For my post doc, I researched the intensively student-centered learning approach of the Met School in Providence, Rhode Island and wrote a book about them. Impressed by their work, I then went to work for the organization that was spreading their model nationally (Big Picture Learning) and then became a teacher at the Met School for four years. (The photo accompanying this post shows me and a few of my students on graduation day, plus my son, who is a couple feet taller now.) (more…)

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Wrap-Up on the New Zealand Series

December 31, 2018 by

For those of you thinking about learning about the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand, I’ll offer two pieces of advice. First, beside kia ora (hello), spend time learning a bit about the Māori language and familiarizing yourself with the phrases used at the Ministry of Education. Whanau, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, and Kāhui Ako will be frequently dropped into conversation. Second, there are loads of great reports on the NZCER website. Take the time to read up before you go. I highly recommend NCEA in Context to understand the reasons and revisions in shaping their method for certifying learning and Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou/Struggle Without End to prepare you to engage effectively in understanding New Zealand’s biculturalism.

Below are all the articles on New Zealand published at CompetencyWorks. I’ll be continuing the series with more school profiles at LearningEdge in 2019. (more…)

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