Competency-Based Education

Want Competency Ed? Change Teacher Policies First

Districts and schools that want to implement a competency-based learning environment would do well first to focus on educators' skills as well as the policies that could hold them back from success. So asserts a new paper from school improvement nonprofit KnowledgeWorks and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).

The 18-page "Laying the Foundation for Competency Education: A Policy Guide for the Next Generation Educator Workforce" names seven new skills educators will need in order to be effective in a competency model, including being able to provide "differentiated support" to students; aligning instruction to "explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives"; and using formative assessments to measure student progress and mastery.

Helping educators gain those skills, however, will require federal and state policymakers to align policies and programs related to pre-service preparation, teacher evaluation, state credentialing and professional development. In many cases those policies need to start reflecting adoption of competency practices for the educators themselves. For example, the report noted, in the traditional model, teachers earn their degrees by completing a given number of credit hours. In a competency model, those degrees are awarded "after candidates build a portfolio of multiple forms of evidence that demonstrate mastery of...competencies aligned to practice expectations."

Other areas of policy that must be updated are those that touch on accountability, assessment, data, research and funding systems.

Authors Lillian Pace, senior director of national policy for KnowledgeWorks, and Maria Worthen, iNACOL's vice president for federal and state policy, undertook the report to advance "the national dialogue about education reform, inspiring policymakers to implement a new vision for teaching and leading that elevates the rigor and performance of our education system."

Their conclusion: Educators are "the most important factor in the success of students." And education reform requires "educator buy-in and capacity."

"The shift to competency-education must begin with the educator workforce," noted Pace in a statement. "A competency-based system will require educators to take on different roles and develop new skill sets. We must overhaul our educator preparation and development systems to give these educators the support they need to thrive in next-generation teaching environments."

"If we're envisioning a future that supports every student's best chance at success, competency education is a viable option," added KnowledgeWorks president and CEO, Judy Peppler. "Competency education will put students at the center of learning by providing personalized learning opportunities throughout their educational experiences. This paper outlines the policies that will make this transformation possible."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.