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Aurora Institute

Portability and Access

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): State Policy, Base Learning on Mastery Not Seat Time

David Domenici at the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings has been visiting state juvenile justice leaders this spring exploring how they are providing educational services in youth detention facilities.  He has been identifying barriers to ensuring young people who are in the juvenile justice system have access to education, an absolutely critical component for reducing recidivism.  In last month’s newsletter he describes the time-based Carnegie unit’s “especially pernicious impact of this framework on young people in the juvenile justice system, who are older and significantly credit deficient.”

In this month’s newsletter David goes on to highlight two challenges young people face when they are transitioning back from secure settings:a) policy requiring students go to an alternative school before returning to their regular school (increasing the number of transitions and each transition creating more likelihood of disengaging or falling through the cracks; and,

b) districts simply refusing to enroll students, thus forcing them into alternative schools.

It is important to understand these dynamics as we think about state and district policy for competency education as we need to make sure that portability and access to official competency “transcripts” are in our design considerations. These dynamics raise a number of questions for me:

  • What is going to be the implications if each district or every school has their own set of competencies…will there be difficulty in translating them as students bounce between schools?
  • Can we use the Common Core as a skeleton so that schools can use it to understand the structure of competencies from other schools, at least for ELA and math?
  • Can we use lifelong learning competencies as a way for students to be allowed back into school rather than one-size-fits-all policy?  If a student demonstrates that they understand and can show respect for teachers and classmates, or productive ways to manage conflict, can they allowed back in school, regardless of where they developed the skill?

There is real potential for districts to use competency education to help students get “credit” for their growing academic skills regardless if they developed them while in detention, in online learning at a community-based organization or in a church basement, or at a disciplinary school. Competency education could be a missing piece of the puzzle to expanding inclusive policies and practices for serving the students that challenge districts and schools.

It can also be a piece of the puzzle for helping students stay connected to the college and career path even if they take a detour or two. As the Oregon Education Roundtable stated:  In a proficiency system, failure or poor performance may be part of the student’s learning curve, but it is not an outcome. This applies to academic content as well as the lifelong learning skills needed to navigate a complex world.

Chris Sturgis is Principal of MetisNet, a consulting firm that specializes in supporting foundations and special initiatives in strategy development, coaching and rapid research. She is strategic advisor to the Youth Transition Funders Group and manages the Connected by 25 blog.