Category: K-12 and Higher Education

What Comes after “Next”?

February 18, 2015 by

nextThe question seems laughable, doesn’t it? Particularly for institutions just beginning to hash out what a CBE program might look like for their students, it seems outlandish to consider what comes afterwards. There’s already so much to build and think about now.

At the same time, with newness and promise come chaos and the mad scramble to find the right vendors, partners, financial aid delivery systems to cater to rolling registration, new accreditation management processes, and you-name-it. It’s almost impossible to think about what comes next when everything else in the immediate future seems to bear down more urgently.

Perhaps for others, it’s just as challenging to bother with what’s next when what’s now is so comfortable and going so well. Why experiment when what we’ve got going on now is working just fine?

Each organization implementing CBE probably finds itself somewhere on this continuum between chaos and stability. It’s worth pointing out, however, that almost everyone engaged in building CBE programs today is working within the confines of a degree program. Especially for those in the business of delivering two- or four-year degree programs, it’s difficult to imagine something else replacing a college degree. Inside Higher Ed recently ran a piece on the undeniable pay-off of a four-year degree. Indeed, earnings premiums are often most promising for those who complete their baccalaureate programs. It therefore seems utterly logical to invest in degree programs. (more…)

Beyond the Carnegie Unit

February 11, 2015 by

Chinese Proverb Quote“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”

– Chinese Proverb

It’s striking, isn’t it – the juxtaposition of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s recommendation that we keep using the Carnegie Unit (CU) because we don’t really have anything better, and Scott Marion’s incredible post describing a new, interlocking system that better defines student learning goals and targets, teacher goals and outcomes, and assessments that promise a more meaningful measure of learning. The contrasts could not be clearer: one is a system to engage students deeply in learning in a competency-based environment where schools claim responsibility for ensuring that students learn, compared to the less than meaningful Carnegie Unit, in which we only promise exposure to a topic, thereby leaving students to sit through one more lecture in a traditional classroom setting.

Across our country, educators are coming to the conclusion that we can’t wait for think tanks or federal policymakers to lead the way to a personalized system. Instead they are creating a new personalized system of education piece by piece. (You can read all about leading states, districts, and schools here at  CompetencyWorks.)

No one expects any one organization to come up with all the answers, but certainly the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) could have offered something more in their report than telling us what we already know – that the CU is rarely a barrier, with the exception of financial aid and getting the full benefit from online learning, but neither is it a valuable unit of learning. Thus, it allows the standardized system to continue to operate with lower quality than our students deserve and contributing to the inequity that plagues the standardized education system. The report by CFAT was a major disappointment at a time when our country needs leadership and creativity about how we can proceed in re-engineering the standardized system into a personalized one in which students are at the core.

There are three major problems with the paper in regard to the K12 public education system. (more…)

What Would Andrew Do?

January 29, 2015 by
Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

(See the second post on this topic Beyond the Carnegie Unit)

Earlier today, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) released their report The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape. [Disclaimer: I was a member of the Advisory Committee.] It’s a beautifully written report with sweeping historical context and fun little details. (Why is liberal arts college four years? Because CFAT, in designing the requirements for institutions of higher education to have access to Andrew Carnegie’s pension plan, said so.) It’s a must-read for the summary of how competency education is evolving in the K12 and higher education sectors.

However, if you are expecting something as big and bold as Andrew Carnegie himself would dream up, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, I imagine that deep under the snow in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York, Andrew Carnegie is wishing he could find a way to join the conversation.

It’s easy to agree with the findings—that Carnegie Unit (CU) rarely acts as an actual barrier, as in actually prohibiting innovation, with a few important exceptions such as federal financial aid. However, there is an enormous difference between an idea acting as a barrier and  catalyzing improvements in the education system. In focusing the scope of the report on whether or not the CU is a barrier to improvements, CFAT trapped themselves in either-or-ness, rather than engaging in an open inquiry into how we might be able to move beyond the confines of the CU to a more equitable, flexible, and transparent system. Even an analytical report that takes us up close to how the CU operates in administering the education system, specifically higher education, would have allowed us to think more deeply about how to re-engineer the system. (more…)

Competency Education in a K-16+ World

November 19, 2014 by

K16+It was a typical Wednesday evening in mid-October at our home. My wife and I were sitting on our couch. She was correcting papers, and I was doing some work on my laptop for school the next day. My wife suddenly exclaimed out loud, but somewhat to herself, “Wow, she’s already completed my course.” It was approximately half-way through the college semester, and a student had demonstrated mastery in all requirements for her course, and had “completed” everything that was assigned.

My wife is a math teacher at the Thompson School at the University of New Hampshire. One of the courses she teaches is a hybrid section of College Algebra, which combines an online component with in-person class sessions to assist students with specific topics. Five years ago when my K-12 district, the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, started implementing competency-based education, I attempted (unsuccessfully at the time) to explain to my wife why competency-based education was superior to the traditional model of education. She was not the least bit impressed, and provided many rebukes to my attempts at convincing her.

Part of this was clearly my inability to adequately articulate what I intrinsically knew to be a better system for learning. Part of it was the “newness” of CBE for my wife and its significant differences from traditional forms of education. We had many ensuing conversations about why (or why not) behaviors should be separated from academics, how a student’s grade/success should not (or could) be decided by their participation (or lack thereof), and why it made no sense that students should have to make up a whole course if they had not demonstrated mastery in a single competency within that course. (more…)

Learn Fast and Adapt, Especially in Education

November 17, 2014 by
Brian Peddle

Brian Peddle

The mantra, “Fail early, fail often,” needs to die a fast death. This phrase has become the calling cry for many startups over the past few years, and I feel as though it has become the safety net in case a company blows through all its money. I understand the underlying meaning—that setbacks can and will happen on the road to success—but the phrasing is all wrong, especially when it comes to education.

This past week I was at iNCAOL 2014, a K-12 conference full of dedicated and forward-thinking educators, and a big topic was competency-based education (CBE). Michael Horn was a keynote speaker, and this phrase was tweeted and re-tweeted from his presentation: “Fail fast so you don’t have a spectacular failure.”

This is no criticism of Michael, but it struck me as the wrong place to talk about failing as an option. A couple of years ago, I may not have noticed the use of this term; however, after working at College for America at SNHU and now spinning off Motivis Learning, I’ve seen firsthand what negative connotation the “F” word has. (I call it the “F” word because Kate Kazin, the Chief Academic Officer at CfA, has drilled that into the entire team’s head.) We don’t talk about students failing, ever. CfA is a full competency-based program where there is no failing; there is only “Mastery” and “Not Yet.” That simple shift in language can lift the dreary weight of failure off of a student’s shoulders—and trust me, that weight is there. (more…)

Ten Ways that Competency-Based Education is the same in K-12 & Higher Education

October 14, 2014 by
Charla Long

Charla Long

Last June, I had the chance to co-present on competency-based education (CBE) with Charla Long, dean of Lipscomb University. Lipscomb is nationally recognized for its pioneering work in competency-based higher education, and Charla has been the star of that work. In our presentation, we each shared about the opportunities and challenges that we have faced building and running competency-based programs – her in higher education and me in K-12.

Charla and I did not talk about our presentation with each other beforehand. So, we were both amazed when almost 50 similarities emerged between her experience and my own.

Here are just 10 of the nearly 50 ways that we found our CBE experiences in K-12 and higher education to be the same:

Opportunities

  1. We find that CBE permits us to focus on student learning and outcomes and operate from the belief that CBE is the best way to equip students with the skills they need personally and professionally.
  2. We find that the CBE experience works best when it is customized and personalized around student needs, interests and future plans.
  3. We have seen key technologies (like blended and online learning programs) help actualize and enhance CBE, but we do think that CBE can exist without these technologies.
  4. We have come to believe that CBE is a better way to organize schooling and learning and that it addresses both “excellence” and “equity” issues, in part by providing a quality education to all students, even those who struggle in traditional schools. (more…)
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