As more and more school systems across the country explore competency-based education (CBE), we need to be attentive to the processes that will actually allow such innovations to thrive.
Current time- and age-based accountability measures have a stronghold on schools, even those trying to break away from the factory model of education. As a result, we would predict that time-based metrics and incentives could thwart many efforts to reinvent learning in a competency-based manner. School systems need to heed this warning and take pains to protect innovative competency-based approaches from the tug of status-quo pressures and performance measures.
How can schools disrupt the traditional mold if they must remain accountable to that mold? According to our research, systems can successfully nurture disruptive efforts, like CBE, with new performance metrics by establishing autonomy beyond the reach of traditional metrics and accountability. Otherwise, schools will find themselves innovating on top of their existing model—perhaps making that existing instructional model more efficient or differentiated—but not wholly competency-based.
Carving out autonomy for competency-based models to thrive can take various forms. Here are five trends that have the potential to allow new models to take root:
1. Well-designed state pilots
Effective state policies should offer coherent visions of the models that schools might adopt, new accountability structures to match those models, and a commitment to providing the tools (i.e., digital learning) to schools to pursue various models, all of which might qualify as competency-based. If policymakers fail to treat competency-based education as a system-wide reform, the movement risks going the way of many education fads that never changed the lives of real students in real classrooms. States also need to provide supports to help districts and schools implement and design programs and competencies that meet their students’ needs.