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Aurora Institute

Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Emerging Issues

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

In this fourth post on our annual strategic reflection, the focus will be on emerging issues. Click here for the discussion on our progress, the growing number of organizations and literature in the field, and our lessons learned. You can hear the entire webinar on this topic here.

As you probably know if you follow along on CompetencyWorks, we identified four important challenges that we need to fully understand and address if competency education is going to be fully effective and become the backbone of the new education system. These four issues – equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy that is fit for purpose – were deeply explored at the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education from January – June 2017 with revised papers to be released by the end of this year. You can also find articles on these issues starting here.

At the Summit, we also spent some time talking about emerging issues. Of course, what may be an emerging issue for one person may be a been-around-for-some-time frustrating issue for another. Furthermore an issue may be emerging in one place in the country, but others will have made significant headway (and are hopefully sharing their insights on CompetencyWorks). So it may be better to think of these as challenging issues.

What makes an issue challenging? I think they aren’t easily resolved because they are beyond our experience in some way. Either we don’t have enough knowledge (either research-based or implementation knowledge); they require us to be operating deeply within the new sets of values, assumptions, and beliefs when we still are wearing blinders that cause us to analyze situations through the traditional lens; or they are bigger than any one of us and require strategic collective action.

As you look at this list of challenging issues, do you have something to help understand the issue or resolve it? If so, please do let us know.

1. What Research and Evaluation is Needed to Advance Competency-Based Education? We need to make sure that we are operating on the best evidence about learning, systems, and implementation. What is known and what isn’t? What type of research and evaluation might help us improve competency-based models? What is needed to ensure that we are going in the right direction?

2. How Can Technology Best Support Competency-Based Education? Technology can be used in many ways to support students, parents, teachers, principals, and districts. How can technology can be used to support competency-based education? What is state-of-the-art in terms of student information management systems that support student learning? What are advancements in resolving interoperability challenges?

3. How Can We Build the Critical Elements in Building Balanced Systems of Assessments for Personalized, Competency-Based Education? We know that we need to re-orient systems of assessment to be contributing to the cycle of student learning and organizational learning (i.e., continuous improvement). What are the critical elements of what is needed in balanced systems of assessments that reflect the principles of personalized, competency-based education? What will it take, and who can we learn from in developing and implementing these elements?

4. What Do We Know about Changing Mindsets? If everyone needs to develop a new mindset that believes students and adults can all grow and learn, if everyone needs to shake off old beliefs about learning and learn to make decisions based on the learning sciences, are there ways that we can do this more quickly and easily? We need to share ideas and resources about how to help teachers, parents, students, and community members make the paradigm or mindset shift to competency-based education and personalized learning more easily. What is the wish list of tools, resources, and training to support districts and schools in this important step toward building a competency-based system?

5. What Does Teacher Preparation and Training Look Like in a Personalized, Competency-Based System? We know that we need to catalyze the schools of education to upgrade their programs to meet the demands of the new education system. Similarly, districts and professional development programs need to align their strategies with the needs of personalized, competency-based classrooms. What are the skills and knowledge that teacher prep programs should ensure new teachers have to be hired in a personalized, competency-based school, and what should they have to be considered an effective teacher? What are the implications of competency-based education for human resources, including on-boarding teachers, professional learning, and evaluation? Are there high-leverage approaches to getting education programs to become aligned with needs of personalized, competency education?

6. How Can We Build a Field of Competency Education that Stretches from Kindergarten through Higher Education? There are similarities, differences, and areas of important intersection for students between competency education in K-12 and higher education. Where are the areas we need to advance deeper understanding? What should we do to build bridges between competency education across the two sectors?

7. What are Implications for Ensuring Students are Supported in Building Agency and the Lifelong Learning Skills? We know that for students to become lifelong learners as well as build the skills for college and career readiness, we need to coach them in how to become learners. There are several parts of become a self-directed learner: growth mindset, social & emotional skills, habits of work, and other skills important to building agency. What are the implications are for educators, school/district leaders, and how we design and operate schools? What are strategies to help build this capacity in the education system?

8. What are Implications for Leadership, Management, and Human Capital in Competency-Based Education? We have only begun to explore the strategies for and implications of students being supported in having agency in schools and in their learning. If we are going to empower students, then teachers must also be empowered. Schools must become more agile to respond to changing interests and needs of students. What are the key changes for leadership and management in personalized, competency-based education, and how do we help educators builds these skills?

9. What Are the Ways that Personalized, Competency-Based Schools Can be Innovative and Move Beyond the Traditional Structures to Best Serve Students? Several schools and districts have begun to explore what is possible when a transparent and shared understanding of a learning continuum is used to organize learning rather than grade levels. What is possible for innovating schools when we move beyond the organizing structures of the traditional system? Why are these innovations important, and what can we do to determine their value?

10. How Can Personalized, Competency-Based Education be Scaled? If we want to move the needle on the number of students being educated within competency-based systems, we need to think about how we organize ourselves for scaling. What are the important capacities and activities that need to happen to be able to scale competency-based education to reach 25-50 percent of districts?

11. How Can We Strengthen the Field of Competency-Based Education? More districts and schools are interested in converting to competency-based education. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the field (those organizations that are engaged in advancing competency education) and the most important things to do to strengthen the field for the next five years of expansion?

12. How Can Districts and Schools Prepare for Proficiency-Based Diplomas? Proficiency-based diplomas operationalize the idea that all students will be prepared for college and careers. They also demand that we confront questions and challenges about students who may exceed high school expectations or who have historically not reached these high expectations. What are the strategies and capacities for districts and schools to ensure that students with disabilities, English learners, and students with significant skill gaps when they enter high school all build the skills needed for graduation? What needs to be in place for students to continue learning past the expectations of the diploma while still in high school?

13. How Can We Build Public Understanding and Public Will to Support School and District Policy Development? It is important that parents, communities, and the generate public understand competency education. This is important for supporting districts during the conversion process. Policymakers must also understand competency education to build a sustainable set of policies fit for purpose. What are the key messages for different stakeholders? What are resources, activities, and initiatives that need to be in place to build public will and help policymakers understand competency education and how they can advance it?

14. How Do We Manage Quality and Equity in the For-Profit Sector of CBE? The for-profit sector is continuing to play a role in education by providing resources such as the textbooks of yesteryear and the educational programs of the digital age. It also plays a role in providing contracted services, including operating schools. Yet, the for-profit structure has different incentives than governmental and non-profit organizations. What needs to be in place so that for-profit sector services and products are fully aligned with the commitment to equity and quality that is embedded in competency-based education?

Do you have an emerging issue that isn’t touched on here? Please leave a comment. It’s important for us to know what you are facing. And we might be able to connect you to people who are working on similar issues.

Read the entire series:

Part 1 – Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Where We Started and Where We Are Now

Part 2 – Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Organizations and Literature

Part 3 – Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Lessons Learned

Part 4 – Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Emerging Issues

Part 5 – Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Future Action