Early Investments in Engagement?

September 26, 2012 by

From Adams 50 website

Over the past few weeks I’ve had conversations with district and state leadership about introducing competency education through different entry points and roll-out strategies. There are certainly many strategies – looking for natural leadership, as in Muscatine, Iowa; transforming credits from time-based to competency-based, like in New Hampshire; or opening the door to credit flexibility, like in Ohio. And many opportunities—improving graduation rates, educating over-age and under-credited students, and online learning.

What’s missing from these conversations is the opportunity for communities, educators, and parents to learn about competency education and decide for themselves whether it is the way they want to go. It’s hard to balance district and state leadership with an empowered process in which communities are part of the decision-making. Usually we depend on getting “buy-in,” which is essentially a marketing strategy rather than an engagement strategy.

That’s not the case in the districts described in the case studies available at the Center for Best Practices at the Maine Department of Education. These districts invested heavily in engaging educators, parents, and the broader community. Educators even had the chance to vote whether or not their schools would embrace competency education. According to the case studies, this unleashed the full creativity and determination of school personnel to shape very dynamic processes in which students were much more empowered.

Adams 50 also invested heavily in community engagement. They were able to sustain a leadership transition because community leaders, parents, and educators understood the value of the competency education reform, even when they weren’t yet seeing results. (Check out the Adams 50 website that describes their Competency-based System.)

So I’m left wondering: Is engaging educators and community the first step that we need to take in every community to build the environment for effective and sustained competency education?


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  1. Comment by Justin Ballou 1:07 pm, September 26, 2012

    Great article, Chris!

    In my opinion, I think it is imperative to have community, faculty, and the district to come together to identify how competency-based education can be implemented and maintained in current systems.

    Having those innovative stakeholders helps to make the work lighter as well as hopefully satisfying the wants and needs of the institution and community.

  2. Comment by Ed Jones 11:35 am, October 10, 2012

    Chris, you’ve hit the nail square on its proverbial head. Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I’ve spent much of 2012 trying to do this with Ohio Credit Flexibility. Developed a web app. Created videos, set up a daily Twitter presence, launched a Facebook Community, made the ed-policy and ed-tech blog rounds. Appeared personally at Ohio ed events.

    The web app allows students to see what other students have done, propose new competency-based projects, explore custom digital learning, share concerns, ideas, successes.

    As it grows, we’ll compile stock learning plans so that each student/teacher team does not have to reinvent the wheel, but can simply choose a plan that fits the student’s learning goals, tailor it if necessary, and move on to completion and assessment.

    As more students use CF, we hope the webapp will bring more adults (retired teachers, subject experts, developers, community leaders) to the arena. Credit flex hits a limitation in the available time of district teachers. To greatly expand it’s use, these teachers need an outside hand. The app encourages this.

    There’s much more that could be done. A student poster contest to increase awareness of Credit Flex. A student video contest. Meeting with education students and faculty. Visiting Educational Service Centers. Having a presence at conferences. Working with potential CF teachers, developers, service mentors, students.

    We’ve set a goal of 10,000 students on Credit Flex by 2013.

    It’s modest if you look at where competency-based learning needs to be.

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