Tag: getting started

An Addition for Your Library on Competency Education

March 4, 2017 by

Lindsay Unified School District has released their book Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning. If you are contemplating moving toward a personalized, competency-based (Lindsay uses the term performance-based) system, you’ll want to take a look at this book. Many educators have been making their way to visit Lindsay, but not everyone has the time or can afford the travel. This book covers the basics of how Lindsay decided to move beyond the traditional system designed for sorting to one that is designed to help students learn.

You’ll find chapters on preparing for change, creating a new culture, leadership, supporting educators, and transforming teaching and learning. The book provides a strong overview on each. However be prepared to be a bit frustrated. It’s a overview, not a handbook. You’ll be left hungry for tools, details, and examples. My understanding is that with grants from Race to the Top and private foundations, Lindsay will share artifacts of their system.

I know there is a lot of frustration in the field that although Lindsay has been generous in opening up their doors, it remains somewhat difficult to get a deeper understanding of how it all works. Remember, they have been under construction (and most competency-based schools with a commitment to continuous improvement will always say that) – and their first and foremost duty is to get their performance-based system as strong as it can be on behalf of their students and community. Lindsay is building capacity to support other districts, but we should never rely on other districts to become technical assistance providers. Their students will always come first! (more…)

Are You a Newbie to CBE? This Article Is Just for You

December 14, 2016 by

competencyworks-logo1I’m receiving an increase in emails and phone calls from people who are interested in understanding competency education, its design, and how to get started. To help those of you at this early stage, here is a list of resources that can get you going. Also, if any of you have favorite resources or tools you have used in your efforts to get started (I keep thinking questions to guide discussions would be really helpful), we would love, love, love to add them to this list.

What Is Competency Education?

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From the Foundation for Excellence in Education

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Telling Our Story

November 9, 2016 by

I am feeling really good that we are finally filling the gap of videos that communities can use to learn about competency education and launch conversation about setting a new vision for education in their own schools.

Lindsay Unified School District has produced a 30-minute video about why we need to change from a traditional system to a performance-based system that you can use in your communities to generate conversation. The video is Superintendent Tom Rooney telling the stories of different Lindsay learners with people in the Lindsay community acting out the stories. As always, Tom speaks from his heart – even though I had heard him tell some of these stories before, several brought me to tears. In many ways, the video also helps to challenge bias that we may hold about our students and families. For example, the last story about a young man who wants to go to college even though his father’s expectations are that he would join him in the fields is told with stereotype-busting respect.

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What Is Competency Education?

September 20, 2016 by

What Is CEThis is the second article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. For those of you who are new to competency education, you might want to start with this article explaining what it is. For those of you already familiar, jump to the third part of this series.

During the last few years, the phrase competency education has come into vogue. You may have heard it being used to refer to self-paced online learning or to describe innovations in higher education. This series is focused on the transformation of the time-based K–12 system where the focus is on inputs (seat-time, hours in the day, minutes in each class) to a system where the focus is on learning.

Understanding Competency Education

The power of competency education is in its system-wide infrastructure that creates the necessary feedback loops to ensure students are learning. The five-part working definition of competency education describes the elements that need to be put into place to re-engineer the education system to reliably produce student learning:

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery;
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students;
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students;
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

Competency education is often described with the phrase, “Learning is constant, and time is the variable.” We know that students learn differently, requiring more or less time for different reasons. They may be at different points along the learning continuum, each with a different set of skills. Students may have different approaches to learning, with some students preferring to take more time upfront to dive more deeply into learning to master new skills or content. Certainly the levels of academic support available outside of school differ. All of these dynamics lead to students learning at different paces. However, flexible pacing, or the concept that “students advance upon mastery,” is only one of the five elements of the definition. In competency education, timely, differentiated support is equally important, as that is what allows students to continue progressing without being left behind. Teachers work with students to ensure they are filling any gaps in foundational skills, and schools provide timely support so students can get immediate help when they are struggling. (more…)

Organizational Position Matters

August 1, 2016 by

DeskIs competency-based education just for high schools or is it what you want for your entire K-12 system?

States and districts need to think about this question early on – what is the end goal? It is easy for state policymakers and districts to interpret that the policy for proficiency-based diplomas only applies to high schools. New Hampshire’s first step was to change time-based credits in secondary schools to competency-based followed by regulatory changes for the entire education system, from kindergarten through graduation.

Districts might respond by placing the leadership for the conversion to competency-based education with someone overseeing high schools, such as an office of post-secondary readiness. If states have the leadership placed in a department that oversees high schools, it sends a clear message that it competency education is a high school reform.

The problem with doing this is two-fold: (more…)

Five Key Lessons for Mastery Learning Startup

March 15, 2016 by

Sydney Schaef

This post originally appeared at Springpoint Schools on January 5, 2016. 

As I see it, the biggest challenge we face in American public schools today is this: we’ve got an antiquated factory-based school model, and a workforce that has proven particularly effective in implementation. Let’s face it: most of us were taught this way as students, and most of us were trained this way as teachers. I among.

For the last several years, I have had the opportunity to serve as the Mastery Learning Specialist at the School District of Philadelphia, a position made possible by the Carnegie Corporation’s vanguard school design grant, Opportunity by Design. The grant afforded us as a design team a full year to engage in deep research, scan the field, visit exemplary school sites, talk with stakeholders, design, get feedback from experts, reflect, and iterate on our work.

The experience was transformative. Out of this collaborative design experience have emerged multiple open admission, competency-based schools in Philadelphia, and an open-source competency model, designed and developed as a collaboration between the School District of Philadelphia and nonprofit partner, Building 21. We call it the Learning What Matters Competency Model. The LWM Competency Model has been described by experts as “a major contribution to the field,” and “one of the strongest, personalized, competency-based models in conception.” I share that not to boast, but to say, we took the work very seriously, we were set up for success by the resources invested in the project, and we are now keen to explore opportunities to share the model broadly and invite others to improve, and build upon, the work.

I have come to believe that if you are serious about innovation in education generally, and about transforming outcomes for historically underserved youth specifically, you’ve got to study up on competency-based education (CBE). In every way, CBE challenges the dominant pedagogical model of our American public schools and the assumptions on which it is based. It embodies the principles that I believe must guide and ground the work of redesigning our public schools.

Competency-based education is, interestingly, both ancient and nascent. It is the core of our oldest apprenticeship models that span history and pre-date our formal schooling institutions, yet at the same time, it is an emergent and rapidly growing strand within our current education landscape. Schools and school networks are leading the way in practice. Funders are prioritizing “mastery-based” or competency-based (my preferred term) learning models. Many states are making significant shifts in policy in order to provide the flexibilities needed, such as removing seat-time mandates, rethinking the Carnegie credit as the time-based unit of learning, and exploring flexible promotion, crediting, and graduation pathways and policies. In other words, this is happening – and it’s a powerful and important tide of change in our time. (more…)

Introductory Webinar on Competency-Based Education, April 20th

February 22, 2016 by

what is competency-based education_Given that there is growing interest in competency-based education, we thought it would be a good idea to do an introductory webinar. We’ll go over what the working definition means (and doesn’t mean). We will then explore how it is being developed in a medium-sized district and in a very innovative start-up so you can have a sense of how educators are designing around the core concepts. The webinar will also be archived so you can listen to it later if you can’t join us. You can register here. And all the information is below.

Competency education, an educator-led reform, is taking root in schools and districts across the country. The concept behind competency education is simple: learning is best measured by students demonstrating mastery of learning targets, rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom. By redesigning the education system around actual student learning, we will effectively prepare each student for college and a career in an increasingly global and competitive economy.

In this webinar, attendees will learn the foundational tenets of competency education, explore school models that meet students where they are, and glean promising practices from leaders and practitioners pushing the next generation of teaching and learning.

The co-founders of CompetencyWorks, Susan Patrick, iNACOL President and CEO, and Chris Sturgis, MetisNet, will share competency education’s structural elements. To understand how these elements are implemented in districts and schools, this webinar will highlight two different, emerging competency-based models. Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning, will introduce the model in development at Charleston County School District, South Carolina. Then we will explore the innovative model being designed at Building 21 in Pennsylvania with Sydney Schaef from Building 21(currently at reDesign). Virgel Hammonds will then discuss why educators and communities want to convert to a competency-based structure, and he will share his experiences from Lindsay Unified, RSU2 and as Chief Learning Officer at KnowledgeWorks.

Speakers:

During the webinar, extend the conversation to your personal networks using #CBLearning.

Kids in the Pipeline During Transition to Proficiency-Based Systems

January 12, 2016 by

PipelineI have made the case for “turning the switch” to a proficiency-based model versus “phasing in” a new approach to educating our youth. I have discussed the preparations that I believe are necessary to successfully implement a proficiency-based system. How could I have missed this!? I expected our proficiency-based model to be so much better for our students than the traditional approach, yet many of our learners are struggling. What’s going on and why? What can be done? With hindsight being 20/20, what should we have done differently with our implementation?

What’s Going On and Why?

The jump to expecting students to demonstrate proficiency on clearly identified targets based on national standards is a step up for all, perhaps a bigger step for others. The expectation that students demonstrate proficiency on all standards assigned to a course is a significant change from a traditional system where a student need only score 70 percent (or less) to achieve credit and move on. Of course, we can look at this issue from a different view and state that students have been allowed to move on without 30 to 40 percent of the knowledge, concepts, and skills necessary for success at the next level. Many of us refer to this as the “Swiss Cheese Effect” of what our traditional high school model has allowed for…generations.

Now that we have made the transition to our proficiency-based model, we have students in high school whose clock is ticking toward graduating with their class. They are the kids in the pipeline without the foundational skills required to be able to demonstrate proficiency in required topics. We need to remember that students come to the system with eight to eleven years of “Swiss cheese.” The pressure on learners and our learning facilitators to fill holes in learning and complete graduation requirements is extraordinary. This, to use Chris Sturgis’ analogy, is one of the “elephants in the room” that needs our attention…in a hurry.

What Can be Done?

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How My Understanding of Competency-Based Education Has Changed Over the Years

December 8, 2015 by

StairsNext week, I am excited to be sharing the work that my team and I have done in New Hampshire on competency-based education with a group of South Carolina educators as part of the Transform SC institute on Meeting the Needs of Every Student With Competency Based Progression. My preparation for this institute has been an opportunity for me to reflect on what has now been a six-year journey with competency education with Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. This past week, our school district was recognized for the second year in a row as a “leader in competency education” by Tom Vander Ark’s organization Getting Smart, noting that Sanborn was one of 30 School Districts Worth Visiting in 2015. (more…)

Preparing to “Turn the Switch” to a Proficiency-Based Learning System

November 3, 2015 by

SwitchIn an earlier blog, I discussed the implementation of a Proficiency Based Learning System via a “phase in” approach and the unintended consequences of such a plan. Although I referred to the alternative approach as “overnight,” clearly much work happens prior to turning the switch from a traditional to a proficiency-based system. However, it does avoid the pitfalls of a phasing in approach. When you turn the switch:

  • There are no guinea pigs. All stakeholders transition at the same time; no one group is left facing change year after year.
  • The this will go away syndrome disappears because the change is here, now. It’s not going away. Our work then turns to a cycle of continuous improvement of the system.
  • The pilot doesn’t exist. By making the change across the board, the message is sent that “we are confident this is the direction to take” and it will succeed.
  • Apples to oranges, the comparing of proficiency-based and traditional grades, is a natural part of the transition. However, it does not happen via the structure of the implementation.

Preparing to ‘Turn the Switch”

So what are steps that experience teaches us need to be taken prior to making such a significant change? Make no mistake about it, this is second order change. It is not the “band aid” approach to school reform that has been happening for decades. Well-meaning tweaks to a failed system can only take us so far. This change goes well beyond what has been happening within our schools. (more…)

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