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Aurora Institute

Generating Demand

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): State Policy, Create Enabling Conditions for Competency-Based Education

Chris Sturgis
Chris Sturgis

Every month (if not every week), competency education is being incorporated into other frameworks and organizations. For example, competency-based progressions are included in definitions of personalized learning, student-centered learning, and another version of personalized learning. Organizations continue to include competency education in their national meeting agendas, when launching new initiatives, and for building organizational capacity. There are over forty organizations including, addressing, and/or advancing competency education in their work now. (If your organization isn’t on this list and you want it to be, please email me at chris (at) metisnet (dot) net.)

My concern is that a lot of resources are going toward advancing competency education at the state level when we know that educators need to come to their own conclusions that they can do better by the children in their classrooms and communities. Certainly it is important to help state level leaders understand competency education, begin to build needed alliances, and prioritize a policy agenda. However, I would argue that at this point in our development, it is even more important to begin to generate more demand for competency education from the ground up.

How might we do that? Let’s start by creating opportunities for educators to talk to educators. We should be organizing teachers from competency-based schools to network and present at local, regional, state, and national educator events. We should be organizing briefings at professional organizations and unions so they are fully aware of what competency education is and what it can mean for the teaching profession. We need organizations with substantial credibility with educators, principals, and superintendents to write papers on competency education that highlight the benefits to teachers as well as implementation issues to be considered. We need to invest in identifying and supporting teacher-leaders who are advocates of competency education to advance to becoming principals and district staff. Likewise, we need to invest in building up the supply of superintendents who know what it takes to make the transition to competency education.

My guess is that the introduction of the Common Core and the state accountability tests will also be creating the conditions for educators to be interested in learning more about competency education. Teachers, parents and students have all got to be wondering if there is a better way. Certainly where state accountability assessments are also being used to “hold students accountable” (I find that whole concept to border on the ridiculous when we know that external sticks are not going to lead to intrinsic motivation or the skills students need to develop to have ownership over their education) students are going to start to demand transparency — about what they  are supposed to be learning, exactly what they are going to be assessed on, what proficiency looks like and where they are in the process.

We also need to get our communication strategies worked out. ACHIEVE has moved us forward with their Competency-Based Pathways Toolkit. However, we need more work. We need videos that help people cross the bridge from the standardized paradigm to the personalized, competency-based one as quickly and easily as possible. We need to test our messages with different stakeholders. And most of all, we need foundations to invest in research to document improvements in teacher satisfaction and skills as well as student engagement and achievement. We need to be able to point to some data that confirms we are on the right track.