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?