Who is Helping You Plan and Implement Competency Education?

September 21, 2016 by

One of the weaknesses we have had in the field is that we haven’t had enough technical assistance providers or Stepping Stonesenough models from which districts can choose. This situation, with its lack of documented results or research on quality indicators, has left us trying to learn from each other without knowing that we are actually learning from “best practices.”

I’m thrilled to say that things are getting a tiny bit better in terms of number of TA providers, and that some have also increased their capacity to better meet the growing demand. Only a few provide assistance on the transformation to a competency-based environment, but districts have mentioned the others because of targeted support that has been instrumental in their process. I’m sure this list (provided in alphabetical order) is not complete and does not include individuals…so please, please, please, add other TA providers you’ve worked with in the comments section and why you would recommend them. It’s also helpful to know about your experience with any of the folks listed below. Where are there strengths? What are the reasons you would recommend them?

2Revolutions: Referred to as 2Revs, this organization has been helping schools using a design orientation in several states including NH including Parker Varney Elementary ,IL, CO and DC.

Center for Secondary School Redesign: CSSR has been a leader in helping secondary schools personalize their schools. They guide schools in reshaping the relationships and power dynamics by engaging youth in leadership roles throughout the school. They are familiar with competency education, but as far as I know, they do not have a specific model that they draw upon. They are well-known for the I3 network on personalization (lots of resources on personalization without using technology) in New England. They have consulted to Pittsfield School District in NH and Springdale, Arkansas.

Competency-Based Education Solutions: This is a new team of technical assistance providers led by Dan Joseph. Joseph was previously principal at James. W. Russell Elementary in Grey-New Gloucester Maine. You can reach Dan at djoseph (at)CBESolution (dot)com.

EL Education: EL Education (used to be Expeditionary Learning) does not specialize in competency education. However, schools are finding that their training can be helpful in developing a high-quality instructional model and aligned system of assessments. Windsor Locks and Kappa International both found their training on personalizing the classroom to be very helpful in making the transition to a competency-based school. (FYI – Casco Bay High School is an EL school that has successfully integrated a proficiency-based structure.)

Great Schools Partnership: GSP is supporting districts all over the country as they convert to competency education (they use the phrase proficiency-based). They’ve helped with policy development, supported medium-sized districts in planning for scale, and provided training and coaching to individual schools. You can read about their approach with a strong emphasis on instruction and assessment on their website. GSP has offered TA and training to NaugatuckNew HavenVermontHenry County, GA; and schools throughout Maine.

Knowledgeworks:  You may have heard of KnowledgeWorks for its work in school development or because of the policy work in competency-based education. KnowledgeWorks is now launching a new effort to help personalize learning for students through competency-based education and early college high school. Virgel Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer for KnowledgeWorks, with experience as both a principal from Lindsay High and a superintendent at RSU2 in Maine, is leading the transformation to personalized learning and competency-based education. His team at KnowledgeWorks will be emphasizing student engagement and ownership of learning.

Mass Customized Learning: Bea McGarvey, on of the co-authors of Inevitable, is often mentioned as influential in helping educators understand personalization and the why and how of “advancement upon mastery.” I was able to sit in a training at RSU2 with McGarvey.

reDesign: reDesign has a strong focus on integrating youth development and inquiry-based learning using Bloom’s taxonomy as a structure. They have a strong understanding of how to help students who are at lower performance levels than their grade level. They also have one of the more racially diverse staff of all the TA providers – which is a pretty good indicator that they are going to have an interest and know-how about how to redesign in a way that challenges bias and patterns of institutional racism. I met up with Lew Gitelman from reDesign at North Queens Community High School. Check out their Making Mastery Accessible resources.

Reinventing Schools Coalition/Marzano Research Labs: RISC has been purchased by Marzano Research Lab, and we still can’t tell what the impact of that is going to be on their model and approach. RISC has had a strong emphasis on helping districts engage communities in creating a shared vision, training teachers for working in personalized, competency-based environment, and embedding transparency and student agency within school values and operations. Marzano Research Labs also offers TA on instruction and proficiency scales. Charleston, Lake County, and RSU2 have all received support from RISC and/or Marzano.

Springpoint: Springpoint has partnered with the Carnegie Corporation’s Opportunity by Design initiative to help districts create new school models that draw on design principles, such as competency-based and strong youth development. Their network includes Building 21, Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design, and UA Maker Academy.

There are also TA providers such as Ed Elements that have focused primarily on personalized, blended learning approaches and are building their capacity around competency-based education.

Who are we missing?

See also:

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  1. Comment by Janice Vargo 6:25 am, September 22, 2016

    Chris, we’re honored to be included on your list! Education Elements has worked with over 500 schools across 100 districts to build and support dynamic school systems. We take an expansive view of personalized learning. We believe that personalized learning means that students get the instruction they need, when they need it. That’s it. We believe there are many good and valid approaches to personalize learning for students, including competency-based learning. Through our design thinking process, we can support any district and school if they want to move to personalize learning for students, regardless of their approach.

    We know from our experience that in order to move a system to competency education, a district has to have many things in place. They have to have a multi-year roadmap that outlines the incremental steps taken at the district and school level. They have to have a culture of innovation in place to sustain the disruptive change. They have to have flexible instructional models and a digital content portfolio that enables students to move at their own pace. They have to identify how support roles will change in this new learning environment.

    We know what it takes to help districts set the conditions for transitioning to competency education. Many of our clients are moving towards a competency approach, including Fulton County Schools (GA) and Piedmont City School District (AL). We are also excited to be part of a competency-based working group organized by the League of Innovative Schools, and expect to see really great things and new ideas emerge from districts on the cutting edge. We’d love to talk with anyone interested in our work — just email info@edelements.com.

  2. Comment by antonia Rudenstine 1:12 pm, September 22, 2016

    Chris, thanks so much for including us in the TA list! We’ve been excited to be part of the CBE community for quite a few years. Early on we collaborated with Nellie Mae in the writing of “Making Mastery Work” (posted on the CompetencyWorks site, under resources). More recently, we’ve been engaged in publishing a growing set of open-source Design Guides and resources to support schools, districts, networks and states in developing strong CBE systems (http://www.redesignu.org/design-lab/mastery-learning).

    Over the years, we’ve been lucky to collaborate with clients on some of their incredibly creative and dynamic projects: supporting the design of problem-based, personalized digital modules; the development of a suite of college/career open-source performance tasks; the articulation of both disciplinary and trans-disciplinary competency sets with accompanying performance level indicators; school model design, refinement, and documentation; and development of professional development institutes to support ongoing learning around competency-based system design and implementation.

    As Chris mentioned, we are deeply committed to issues of equity and social justice and have particularly deep experience in creating practices, tools, systems and models that narrow the achievement gap for our most vulnerable and marginalized students. We love to read about your work through the CompetencyWorks blog. Please get in touch if you have projects that would benefit from collaboration, or if you want to learn more about our work! antonia@redesignu.org

  3. Comment by Chris Sturgis 10:03 am, September 24, 2016

    Hi all– here is an article on 2revs by EdSurge as part of a series on TA providers.


  4. Comment by KnowledgeWorks 3:32 pm, September 26, 2016

    Chris – Thanks for including us in this list! We’ve been forecasting trends in education for the past ten years and the 2012 forecast, “Forecast 3.0: Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem,” clearly laid out personalized learning as a way to meet the ever-changing needs of students and our future workforce. Through competency-based education, students will be more prepared for college and career because they proceed through course material at a pace that is right for them, rather than waiting for their peers to catch up or moving on without having fully mastered the material.

    Is your school or district looking to innovate in ways that provide more opportunities for students? We’d love to hear from you! info@knowledgeworks.org or knowledgeWorks.org/contact.

  5. Comment by Virgel Hammonds 3:36 pm, September 26, 2016

    I’m honored to be mentioned in this round-up of leaders in competency-based education! We started looking at personalized learning and CBE when I was with the Lindsay Unified School District because it was what was needed for our learners. That was much of the same motivation I experienced at RSU2 and I am seeing take place in districts across the country. Through personalized education, we make school relevant for our learners and open the door to lifelong learning.

    I’d love to connect with others focused on personalized learning through competency-based education, whether to network or explore ways to partner with KnowledgeWorks. You can reach me at hammondsv@knowledgeworks.org, info@knowledgeworks.org, @VirgelHammonds or knowledgeworks.org/contact.

  6. Comment by Jeffrey Tsang 4:16 pm, September 26, 2016

    Hi Chris – thanks for including MASTERY DESIGN COLLABORATIVE (http://masterydesign.org) on the list! MDC is a nonprofit founded to help traditional public schools and districts personalize learning at scale. The core of our work is supporting the redesign of schools (in cohorts) to personalized instructional models using our “Guiding Principles of PL” framework (http://tinyurl.com/hcsaoc4). In most of the 50 schools we’ve supported, this has meant helping principals and teachers design solutions to the key practical challenges of implementing competency-based education in the classroom:

    1. How might teachers allow each student to advance upon mastery?
    2. How might teachers provide all students timely, individualized support?

    MDC has worked with a number of districts adopting forms of competency-based education such as Henry County Schools and Fulton County Schools in Georgia and Oakland Unified School District in California.

  7. Comment by Jeffrey Tsang 4:30 pm, September 26, 2016

    MASTERY DESIGN COLLABORATIVE was also just profiled by EDSURGE in a series on TA providers that support school redesign. Check out the article below for a description of MDC’s work.


  8. Comment by Chris Sturgis 11:48 am, October 3, 2016

    Marzano Research Lab just shared two resources to help you better understand their approach and services.

    1) A paper on personalized, competency-based education:
    2) Description of approach:

  9. Comment by Joy Nolan 12:03 pm, December 28, 2016

    Hello, Chris, and thanks for this wonderful list.

    The Mastery Collaborative is a program of the NYC DOE’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness. We would like to invite public middle and high schools in NYC who are practicing mastery to contact us via our site.

    As you know, we have a thriving and ever-growing community of 40+ practitioner schools across the 5 boroughs. We share resources, models, best practices, visits, etc. to support and advocate for mastery-based, aka competency-based teaching and learning.

    Our model is interwoven with culturally responsive shifts to best serve the beloved students of NYC. We’re all learning from each other and from the students every day.

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