Report: Scaling and Sustaining Competency-Based Education

Report: Scaling and Sustaining Competency-Based Education 

It's no longer enough to simply begin the journey of competency-based education. Enough schools are trying to implement CBE that it's time to write the second chapter by building on what is already known to work. That's the idea behind a new report from CompetencyWorks, which lays out a course for scaling and sustaining K-12 CBE along four lines: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy.

CompetencyWorks is a collaborative organization that promotes personalized, competency-based education in K-12 and higher education. The initiative is managed by iNACOL, a non-profit focused on K-12 competency-based, blended and online learning.

As "Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education" explained, CBE "is not a method of teaching nor a particular approach to schooling." What it is, the report noted, is a set of design principles and approaches to decision-making districts and schools follow to ensure that "students are reaching proficiency every step of the way — on each standard, in each unit, in each course and in each performance level." Students progress when they're ready, not when they've "reached a certain age," sat in the same class for a given number of days or "performed a one-time task."

While the number of schools and districts implementing CBE has continued growing over the past few years, the report noted, innovations those organizations have tried haven't necessarily led to "greater equity" or "high-quality schools." The report lays out four "key issues" that CBE needs to get "right" to continue growing in the right direction:

  • Equity: The report urges educators to "openly acknowledge and then overcome the history of bigotry, discrimination, and oppression that has shaped communities and institutions, including our K-12 education system." It offers a framework of principles by which schools can develop an "equity agenda" within their CBE systems. The framework covers such areas as school culture; supporting students in building skills and mindsets need to spark intrinsic motivation; and establishing transparency in systems, practices and routes so that students understand their own learning path.
  • Quality: The report offers 16 "quality design principles" for approaching quality in three broad areas: culture, structure and teaching and learning. For example, under the third category are such principles as designing "for the development of rigorous higher-level skills" and ensuring "responsiveness" in addressing student interests and needs.
  • Meeting students where they are, including academic performance levels, the cultivation of a growth mindset, an understanding of the social-emotional skills that shape how well they stay engaged when facing a challenge and cultivation of the interests that will "ignite their motivation." This section of the report does a deep dive into three questions for educators to ask: How do we know where students are academically, emotionally, developmentally and experientially? What do we do once we know that? And how do we get through "systemic constraints" to do what we need to do?
  • Policy: The report tackles the topic of what state policies are needed "to create the conditions for a transformation" to CBE systems. This section of the report opens with an explanation of the "threshold concepts" that policymakers need to understand first, such as certifying learning and how to use evidence to certify achievement. That's followed by models for how states have approached makeovers of education polices to support CBE and what's needed to ensure success, such as professional development of teachers and stakeholder engagement.

"This report provides deep insights into ensuring equity and quality in the design and implementation of competency-based systems, ensuring that all students are achieving at the highest levels, using their skills to navigate their lives and shape their futures and discovering their potentials," summarized Chris Sturgis, co-founder of CompetencyWorks, in a prepared statement.

The report is openly available on the iNACOL website. Also, both CompetencyWorks and iNACOL will be hosting a webinar highlighting aspects of the report on Nov. 8, 2017 from 2 to 3 p.m. Eastern time. Information about that is on the iNACOL website.

About the Author

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