Author: Nicholas C. Donohue

Ensuring the Going is Good

February 26, 2013 by

The recent surge in interest regarding competency-based approaches in education — the idea that students advance by demonstrating mastery — has revealed predictable challenges. As with the implementation of any innovative idea, when things get going, it’s important to ensure that the going is good.

Why is this new approach so promising? Competency education is connected to the core concept that academic advancement should be based on firm footing. In our current education system, we move students ahead according to age, and determine success or failure by administering an assortment of high-stakes standardized tests. This process contradicts eons of scientific research that shows people grow, mature and learn at different rates, and best demonstrate their learning in complex ways that most current assessment regimens do not support. (more…)

The Core Business of Schooling: Competency (Part 1)

July 23, 2012 by

These are very exciting and interesting times for the field of education in general and those who are exploring competency as a core component of more effective approaches to education.  Notice I did not call it a “new” approach.

On the one hand, competency has been around as a concept for as long as human beings have been around.  Our own “competence” in terms of managing and manipulating the world around us is one reason we are a dominant species.  (Give thanks to meteors and the extinction of dinosaurs as another.)  Some would say we are approaching “incompetence” in terms of our survival skills on account of how we manage conflict, over use of natural resources and how we produce mind numbingly bad television shows.  However, we are pretty good at many things and our place in the world is evidence of this. (more…)

The Core Business of Schooling: Competency (Part II)


The Endurance from Wikipedia

If competence is the core business of schooling then why does it seem like a new idea every time it emerges as a topic of reform, debate and consideration?

Part of the answer could be linked to the most important aspect of any venture – its core purpose.  The core purpose of education has long been defined by a contradictory set of principles: one explicit and noble, the other tacit and more base, but seemingly (or at least historically) practical.

The explicit and noble espoused purpose of public education is often paraphrased as being about opportunity and equity – the chance on a level playing field of making more of oneself – the chance to beat the odds of upbringing and class.  Some believe you are given your lot and you have to wait for the next time around to get a better one.  In our society there is a presumption that given certain opportunities people can exceed these pre-determinations and better themselves, their families and thus contribute to the progress of society as whole.  This is a good set of principles and it has served some leading societies well – including a good part of almost every generation of Americans. (more…)

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