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Aurora Institute

Who is Helping You Plan and Implement Competency Education?

CompetencyWorks Blog

Authors: Chris Sturgis

Issues: Issues in Practice, How to Get Started


One of the weaknesses we have had in the field is that we haven’t had enough technical assistance providers or Stepping Stonesenough models from which districts can choose. This situation, with its lack of documented results or research on quality indicators, has left us trying to learn from each other without knowing that we are actually learning from “best practices.”

I’m thrilled to say that things are getting a tiny bit better in terms of number of TA providers, and that some have also increased their capacity to better meet the growing demand. Only a few provide assistance on the transformation to a competency-based environment, but districts have mentioned the others because of targeted support that has been instrumental in their process. I’m sure this list (provided in alphabetical order) is not complete and does not include individuals…so please, please, please, add other TA providers you’ve worked with in the comments section and why you would recommend them. It’s also helpful to know about your experience with any of the folks listed below. Where are there strengths? What are the reasons you would recommend them?

2Revolutions: Referred to as 2Revs, this organization has been helping schools using a design orientation in several states including NH including Parker Varney Elementary ,IL, CO and DC.

Center for Secondary School Redesign: CSSR has been a leader in helping secondary schools personalize their schools. They guide schools in reshaping the relationships and power dynamics by engaging youth in leadership roles throughout the school. They are familiar with competency education, but as far as I know, they do not have a specific model that they draw upon. They are well-known for the I3 network on personalization (lots of resources on personalization without using technology) in New England. They have consulted to Pittsfield School District in NH and Springdale, Arkansas.

Competency-Based Education Solutions: This is a new team of technical assistance providers led by Dan Joseph. Joseph was previously principal at James. W. Russell Elementary in Grey-New Gloucester Maine. You can reach Dan at djoseph (at)CBESolution (dot)com.

EL Education: EL Education (used to be Expeditionary Learning) does not specialize in competency education. However, schools are finding that their training can be helpful in developing a high-quality instructional model and aligned system of assessments. Windsor Locks and Kappa International both found their training on personalizing the classroom to be very helpful in making the transition to a competency-based school. (FYI – Casco Bay High School is an EL school that has successfully integrated a proficiency-based structure.)

Great Schools Partnership: GSP is supporting districts all over the country as they convert to competency education (they use the phrase proficiency-based). They’ve helped with policy development, supported medium-sized districts in planning for scale, and provided training and coaching to individual schools. You can read about their approach with a strong emphasis on instruction and assessment on their website. GSP has offered TA and training to NaugatuckNew HavenVermontHenry County, GA; and schools throughout Maine.

Knowledgeworks:  You may have heard of KnowledgeWorks for its work in school development or because of the policy work in competency-based education. KnowledgeWorks is now launching a new effort to help personalize learning for students through competency-based education and early college high school. Virgel Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer for KnowledgeWorks, with experience as both a principal from Lindsay High and a superintendent at RSU2 in Maine, is leading the transformation to personalized learning and competency-based education. His team at KnowledgeWorks will be emphasizing student engagement and ownership of learning.

Mass Customized Learning: Bea McGarvey, on of the co-authors of Inevitable, is often mentioned as influential in helping educators understand personalization and the why and how of “advancement upon mastery.” I was able to sit in a training at RSU2 with McGarvey.

reDesign: reDesign has a strong focus on integrating youth development and inquiry-based learning using Bloom’s taxonomy as a structure. They have a strong understanding of how to help students who are at lower performance levels than their grade level. They also have one of the more racially diverse staff of all the TA providers – which is a pretty good indicator that they are going to have an interest and know-how about how to redesign in a way that challenges bias and patterns of institutional racism. I met up with Lew Gitelman from reDesign at North Queens Community High School. Check out their Making Mastery Accessible resources.

Reinventing Schools Coalition/Marzano Research Labs: RISC has been purchased by Marzano Research Lab, and we still can’t tell what the impact of that is going to be on their model and approach. RISC has had a strong emphasis on helping districts engage communities in creating a shared vision, training teachers for working in personalized, competency-based environment, and embedding transparency and student agency within school values and operations. Marzano Research Labs also offers TA on instruction and proficiency scales. Charleston, Lake County, and RSU2 have all received support from RISC and/or Marzano.

Springpoint: Springpoint has partnered with the Carnegie Corporation’s Opportunity by Design initiative to help districts create new school models that draw on design principles, such as competency-based and strong youth development. Their network includes Building 21, Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design, and UA Maker Academy.

There are also TA providers such as Ed Elements that have focused primarily on personalized, blended learning approaches and are building their capacity around competency-based education.

Who are we missing?

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