Addressing Equity Issues in Personalized, Competency-Based Learning

June 9, 2016 by

Post 1Innovators and early adopters of competency education want to do right by kids. This means being empowered to make decisions that are based on the educational and developmental needs of students – not responding to policies created at the federal, state, or district level. The vision of personalized education is that every student will be able to engage in meaningful and highly engaging learning experiences – with the right mix of instructional supports when they need it – so that everyone is successful. Failure is not an option; it’s just part of the learning process.

However, my stomach turns when I hear these very same incredible education leaders dismiss equity because “every student is getting what they need.” We need to have the courage to confront equity issues head-on in new learning models, and we need to intentionally guard against implementation strategies that create or reinforce barriers for students.

To address this need, we are kicking off a blog series that tackles the equity issues that often arise in personalized, competency-based and blended learning. The series will include the following topics:

  • How competency education drives equity;
  • How misconceptions about competency education could undermine equity;
  • Tackling issues of equity in personalized learning;
  • Tackling issues of equity in blended learning;
  • Ways to eliminate attribution error on the path to equity in competency-based systems;
  • How blended districts can implement a competency-based structure; and
  • Using flexible time to design higher and deeper learning.

Are there other issues or perspectives that we need to consider in thinking about equity? We’d love to hear your thoughts to make sure that we are comprehensive.

Central to the core of competency education is the dedication and commitment to serve all students – regardless of their different abilities, learning challenges, and family lives. By transforming toward a competency-based system and personalizing each student’s education, we are creating a system that aligns to the specific needs of each student while ensuring they all meet the same learning outcomes needed to be ready for college and careers. Educators and leaders implement these models to create a more equitable system to serve all students. Stay tuned for more in the upcoming blog series.

How do you ensure equity is at the heart of your school and district models? We look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

We can learn from our colleagues around the country about serving special populations of students that have been historically under-served. For example:

For more information:

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  1. Comment by Jason Finley 2:32 pm, June 16, 2016

    The Second biggest problem with guarding “against implementation strategies that create or reinforce barriers for students” is that it is WE OURSELVES that create and reinforce barriers.

    Every educator brings biases, perceptions, and expectations into our work in ways that create barriers to equitable education for all students. The Biggest problem is that we are unconscious of these mental models and implicit biases.

    Worse yet, is that we as individuals believe that while this may be true for other, we are immune to these deeply embedded biases. The research shows, however, that not only are we unaware of our own biases, but our conscious or stated attitudes very often conflict with them.

    I wrote a piece on how educators’ Expectations of competence in students control for those students’ Actual competence. We must first realize that WE are the problem before we can address systems and processes.

  2. Comment by Chris Sturgis 3:54 pm, June 16, 2016

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m hoping that when teachers collaborate more around student work and calibration that some of those biases will start to be exposed. But it obviously takes very intentional practices to seek out bias and address it. It’s an amazing thing how deep unconscious bias goes — we just have to assume it is there and establish practices that will help expose them. I’ll go read your article!

  3. Comment by Elly Ray 12:31 pm, June 22, 2016

    I teach using the Station Rotation blended model in a 2nd grade classroom. I’m also working on my Master’s in Instructional Design. Currently, I’m collecting data on tecnology proficiency of elementary students as one part of a paper I’m writing about hinderances to BL (blended learning). Students need to have the skills to be successful when navigating a learning management system online, and while there are technology standards, I’ve found that many teachers don’t work with those due to the obvious need to focus on mathematical and literacy standards in the primary/elementary grades. So what you end up with is students who have very different, unequal experiences with computers and the online world. To bring BL to elementary schools, it is fair to say that students must have training and the opportunity to practice online skills. Otherwise, when content comes to them online, but some students can’t easily troubleshoot or navigate, more time is spent on fiddling with tech problems than with learning content. Wouldn’t you agree this is an equity issue?

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