Category: Equity

3 Common Features of Competency-Based Systems that Meet Students Where They Are

February 1, 2018 by

This is the fourteenth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

The field of education is in the midst of a dynamic process of innovation and redesign based on a stronger understanding of the learning sciences, maturation of a field of knowledge about how to best engage, motivate and build student agency, and how to use technology effectively within schools. For these reasons, the field is in the nascent stages of defining, in a concrete and comprehensive way, the distinguishing pedagogical practices that support a personalized approach to learning as compared to the one-size-fits-all of the traditional system.

In this blog, we offer examples to help practitioners operationalize a personalized approach in the academic realm. In mature competency-based schools, learners are active co-constructors of knowledge, rather than passive consumers of content. Learning is visibly and authentically connected to meaningful and important outcomes. Inquiry drives the learning process, as it does in the world beyond school. And finally, learning environments and experiences are purposefully designed to nurture the meta-cognitive, behavioral and motivational attributes of engaged, autonomous and adaptive learners. It is equally important for teachers to be thinking about where students are in terms of their ability as lifelong learners, including the ability to tap into a growth mindset, their social emotional skills, their metacognitive skills and the strength of their habits of success. (more…)

Cultural Responsiveness Starts in the Principal’s Office

January 31, 2018 by

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” – John Maxwell

Dr. Joseph Ellison

Personalized instruction has become an increasing focus of educational conversation over the last few years. However, the conversation often fails to touch on what it means to personalize instruction in light of the great diversity found in schools across our country. Can personalized instruction be effective without some degree of cultural competence?

Educators cannot truly personalize instruction without carefully considering the “whole child” – meaning current skill level, previous instruction, socioeconomic status, and race. Yes… race! Some argue that race has no place in the conversation around personalization. I disagree. Race is a necessary component of personalization because “teachers [who] ignore the racial component of students’ identity are in effect treating their students as incomplete beings, and student performance can suffer as a result” (Milner, 2010, p. 16). I hasten to emphasize that race is NOT everything when it comes to cultural responsiveness. Effective and accurate cultural responsiveness must respond to all of the inputs in students’ lives; it must take into account the “whole child.” And, cultural responsiveness is not an “add-on” or just another classroom thing. Cultural responsiveness is part of an ever-evolving orientation and pedagogy… and a necessary component of personalized learning. (more…)

How Do We Know Where Students Are?

January 25, 2018 by

This is the thirteenth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

To meet students where they are, districts and schools need to create the culture, the structure, and build a shared pedagogical philosophy that will enable much stronger relationships and much greater responsiveness than the traditional K-12 education system was designed. Before meeting students where they are, we must first understand where students are academically, emotionally, developmentally, and experientially.

Understanding where students are requires honesty and objectivity. With that in mind, let’s start first by challenging some key assumptions within the current traditional system:

Next, a range of structural, pedagogical and relational shifts that are essential to identifying where students are in a learner-centered, equity-oriented model are described. These shifts are organized around three domains: (more…)

Meeting Students Where They Are so that Everyone Masters Learning

January 18, 2018 by

This is the twelfth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

As we move toward the design of second generation competency-based models, there is an opportunity to anchor student learning and achievement in expansive, adaptable, and developmentally appropriate learning and development trajectories informed by the learning sciences. If we are to meet all students where they are, then our commitment must be not only to an uncompromising vision for high achievement — and in practical terms, this means college and career readiness — but also to the daily work of responding to students’ individual needs in a way that fosters optimal growth. (more…)

An Equity Framework for Competency-Based Education

January 11, 2018 by

This is the eleventh post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

An equitable educational system starts with a commitment to quality and excellence, is designed to personalize learning and embeds strong equity strategies into the core of the organization. This blog offers a framework for how states, districts and schools can develop an equity agenda within their competency-based systems.

The framework offers the following set of Equity Principles that can be use to create and embed equity strategies within personalized, competency-based systems. (more…)

Designing a Competency-Based System for Equity

January 4, 2018 by

This is the tenth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

The vision for educational equity is a fair, and just system where every learner, students and teachers alike, are thriving. In order to realize educational equity, we must openly acknowledge and then overcome the history of bigotry, discrimination, and oppression that has shaped communities and institutions, including our K-12 education system, and sadly continues to do so today. Inequity is often referred to as a cause of the tremendous educational disparities in achievement and attainment we see today. However, some also refer to inequity to describe the persistent unfairness of outcomes. For three centuries, advocates have demanded and organized to remove barriers for segments of our society — by gender, by color of skin, by language and for those with a disability — in pursuit of more equal resources, access and outcomes. While more equal resources and greater access remain necessary goals, these are inadequate to realize more equal opportunities for students. For that, a focus upon equity strategies, strategies that will produce greater fairness, is necessary. With so many different perspectives about equity, a discussion requires us to start by unpacking what equity means to ensure we are not talking past each other.

The National Equity Project defines educational equity:

Educational equity means that each child receives what he or she needs to develop to his or her full academic and social potential.

Working toward equity in schools involves:

  • Ensuring equally high outcomes for all participants in our educational system; removing the predictability of success or failures that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor;
  • Interrupting inequitable practices, examining biases, and creating inclusive multicultural school environments for adults and children; and
  • Discovering and cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests that every human possesses.

Equally high outcomes, removing the predictability of success or failure, interrupting inequitable practices and cultivating students’ unique gifts make up the multi-pronged strategies that can guide communities, states, districts, schools and each of us towards educational equity. Please note, referring to students’ “potential” runs the risk of reinforcing a fixed mindset or notions that students have a predetermined amount of potential, some having more or less than others. Alternatively, “potential” can be understood in a more aspirational way, pushing us to look beyond what students have accomplished to date to focus instead on what more is possible. It is not for educators to determine potential but to help students discover and reach their potential.

Having a common set of shared and ambitious expectations for all students is critical to equity, but it isn’t enough. We posit that each student’s “potential” must include the set of common expectations for students described in this paper as prepared for college, career, and life. However, each student’s potential will be unique and goes beyond these shared expectations. Each student’s potential is a reflection of their unique passions, interests, talents and experiences. Equity pushes us to move beyond simply holding different students to a shared set of expectations towards understanding that each student approaches those expectations with a different set of personal experiences, skills and identities. Understanding a student’s individual “potential” is an important concept to unpack and a powerful starting point for discussions within each school community. Done well, these conversations drive equity by internalizing a shared understanding and commitment to equity. (more…)

4 Quality Design Principles for Teaching and Learning

December 28, 2017 by

This is the ninth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

What does high-quality teaching and learning look like in competency-based schools?

Competency-based schools create a shared understanding of teaching and learning based on the learning sciences to create a high-quality system that ensures each child’s success. There is no one right instructional method in competency-based schools, although there are implications for instruction and assessment. In a previous blog in this series, we introduced 16 Quality Design Principles as a common reference point for dialogue about what makes a competency-based system high quality. The 16 Quality Design Principles are organized into three categories: Culture, Structure, and Teaching and Learning. In this blog, we explore the 4 Teaching and Learning Design Principles.

4 Teaching and Learning Design Principles to Ensure High-Quality Competency-Based Systems

These principles relate to a theory and practice of teaching and learning that is based in research and is shared across a school.

1. BASE SCHOOL DESIGN AND PEDAGOGY ON LEARNING SCIENCES

Competency-based systems leverage a variety of instructional approaches. There is not a preferred approach. Whatever the approach it must be explicit, shared and grounded in research about learning, motivation and engagement. Responding effectively within a student’s zone of proximal development necessitates a well-developed understanding of effective practices. Pedagogy includes approaches to and uses of assessment as critical ingredients to responsive teaching. (more…)

7 Quality Design Principles for Structure

December 21, 2017 by

This is the eighth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

Structure refers to the arrangement of, and relationship between, the elements of a system. It is the policies, processes and practices that influence decision making and the daily operations of a school. In a competency-based system, the structure is designed to support mastery by all students. In a previous blog in this series, we introduced 16 Quality Design Principles as a common reference point for dialogue about what makes a competency-based system high quality. The 16 Quality Design Principles are organized into three categories: Culture, Structure, and Teaching and Learning. In this blog, we explore the 7 Quality Design Principles related to Structure.

7 Structure Design Principles to Ensure High-Quality Competency-Based Systems

Structure refers to the beliefs, organizational configurations, processes and policies that create the conditions for high-quality learning. Here are 7 Quality Design Principles for ensuring high-quality competency-based systems relating to structure:

1. ADVANCE UPON DEMONSTRATED MASTERY

When students advance upon demonstrated mastery, not the passage of time, educators direct their efforts to where students need the most help and make sure they learn the skills they will need in more advanced courses. Advancement upon mastery replaces the practice of promoting students, despite gaps in their knowledge and skills.

The practice of advancing upon mastery is grounded in research on motivation, engagement and learning. Students are more engaged and motivated when grading is seen as feedback that helps them focus on what they need to work. As a result, students may spend more time working in those areas that are more difficult for them. They may even advance beyond grade level in some academic domains, while more instruction is available to progress in those areas that are more challenging. Policies and processes organized around student advancement based on demonstration of mastery include: multiple opportunities and methods to demonstrate learning; targeted and timely instruction; coaching that supports students as they strive for the next level of mastery; transparent feedback and grading practices; and, monitoring pace and progress.

2. MAXIMIZE TRANSPARENCY

The continuum of student learning objectives, performance, growth and progress are transparent to all. Transparency of teaching and learning philosophy also facilitates student ownership and builds intrinsic motivation for students. When adaptive leadership is combined with greater transparency, organizational decision-making processes can increase participation and generate trust. As a result, everyone can be actively engaged in the process of continuous improvement and empowered leadership. (more…)

5 Quality Design Principles for Culture

December 14, 2017 by

This is the seventh post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

Culture refers to the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, practices, rituals, routines and rules (both formal and informal) that inform the day-to-day interactions of people at a school. In the previous blog in this series, we introduced 16 Quality Design Principles as a common reference point for dialogue about what makes a competency-based system high quality. The 16 Quality Design Principles are organized into three categories: Culture, Structure, and Teaching and Learning. In this blog, we explore the 5 Quality Design Principles related to Culture.

5 Culture Design Principles to Ensure High-Quality Competency-Based Systems

A school’s culture is the daily manifestation of its core beliefs; adults’ beliefs about themselves and their students; students’ beliefs about themselves and the adults around them; and beliefs about the outcomes that a school seeks to make possible with and for students. The school culture can be found in the relationships, the formal and informal routines and rituals, and in what gets attention and what doesn’t. School and district leadership, whether intentionally or not, influence school culture. Thus, the leadership and management strategies used will reinforce or undermine school culture.

1. COMMIT TO EQUITY

Equity is grounded in the belief that fairness means that each person receives what they need to succeed, rather than the same as everyone else. Thus, schools with an equity culture must provide teachers with the opportunity to get to know their students and the flexibility to respond to them. An equity culture is grounded in building strong trusting relationships between individuals that can support dialogue, reflection and learning. Schools that are building upon a culture of equity include in their principles of teaching a set of explicit strategies to embed cultural responsiveness and principles of Universal Design for Learning. Similarly, they turn to structures and processes such as continuous improvement to root out bias and institutional practices that contribute to inequity. We simply can not reach mastery for all students without addressing inequity. (more…)

Building Shared Understanding of Quality through Design Principles

December 7, 2017 by

This is the sixth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

In the recent CompetencyWorks report, authors introduce 16 Quality Design Principles to build shared understanding and help states, districts and schools plan and develop competency-based education systems and personalized learning approaches. To be clear, quality does not require a single model or approach. In fact, schools and districts with strong results find themselves engaged in an ongoing cycle of continuous improvement and reflection. However, we offer these design principles as a common reference point for dialogue about what makes a competency-based system high quality.

In education, quality has a moral component to it. Before diving into the constituent parts and examples of quality, it is important to remember that quality matters because it directly influences our ability to make good on our social contract with students and our broader community. While producing high-quality schools may require attention to technical issues, it must start with a belief in the moral imperative of supporting and empowering the next generation of adults. In fact, it is the very beliefs, assumptions and values that shape the culture of a competency-based school that make the structure so powerful. The competency-based structure will falter if it rests on the beliefs and assumptions upon which the traditional system was built.

Schools have implemented competency-based education models for decades. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of districts and schools adopting competency-based education with a handful of states seeking to create innovation space, pilots or a vision for transforming the education systems across the entire state. As the number of competency-based schools has expanded, some have done so with a deep foundational understanding of the purpose, culture and key elements of competency-based education. Others have not, instead treating it as a technical reform or resorting to piecemeal implementation. As a result, some competency-based schools have not always served kids in a way that fulfills the promise of this model. This means that many students are not benefitting as much as they could and puts scaling of competency-based education at risk. (more…)

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