Competency Based Education, a solution worth waiting for?

A number of public school leaders, faced with budget cuts and school choice, are now speaking out about moving toward a personalized learning approach to teach our children.

Dr. Dan Domenech is the Executive Director of the AASA. He represents state superintendents across the nation.  He claims, of the 13,658 public school districts in the United States, hundreds have already made pledges to move toward a competency based approach to education "We're beginning to see this growing movement, which is movement in the right direction. This is a departure from traditional education as we know it."

The competency based education model basically allow students to learn at their own pace. The teaching method is tailored to the needs and learning abilities of the student. Domenech says that the current system of grade levels, pacing, and seat time is failing students, "We leave children behind.  And we lose children at the other end who are so bored with school that they say I can't stand this anymore."

Dr. Domenech believes competency based education is more of a possibility now because of technological advancements, "Because of the technology, instead of requiring kids to be in school and be sitting down for all these hours to learn, they can learn anywhere. It can be in the classroom. It can be at home. It could be outside on a playground on a beautiful day. Learning can take place anywhere."

In Worcester County, Chief Academic Officer, Dr. John Quinn tells 47 ABC they are now working toward a one-to-one initiative where every child in the school district has some sort of computing device, "We really think that 21st century classrooms should have the kinds of tools that students will eventually use in the workplace."

47 ABC spoke with Superintendent of Wicomico County Public Schools, Dr. Donna Hanlin, who expressed similar sentiments, "I think it's so critically important that we look at meeting the needs of students who are moving in to careers in the 21st century, which are so totally different."

With public schools fighting a poor reputation when it comes to class sizes, technology is now being looked at a solution for that, as well.

"I could have a class of twelve kids," explains Dr. Domenech, "and I could be meeting the needs of some kids that are behind schedule, at the same time I'm enriching some kids who know the material and are ready. Which is different than a traditional classroom, where you're teaching and hoping that the once size fits all instruction is going to meet all needs, which is very hard to do."

Some proponents of competency based education believe that students should be grouped by ability, regardless of age.

Domenech: "We're not in the industrial revolution anymore. We have any educational system today that still hearkens back to the 18th century when Horace Mann came back from Austria with the concept of grade levels. We need to do away with grade levels.  We need to do away with pacing. We need to do away with seat times. We need to use the technology that we have and educate kids the way that we can do it."

Hanlin: "Schools have a tendancy, not just Wicomico County Schools, but schools across the country have a tendancy to want to stay where they are in a very traditional mode of education, and I don't think we can afford to do that anymore. We have to be really looking at how can we engage students in their areas of passion."

Quinn: "Research has shown that students will then become that much more involved and engaged.  So, if you increase involvement and engagement, you have a much better chance of a child really embracing what you want them to learn and running with it."

Dr. Domenech says despite the desire for change, policy still stands in the way, "Seat time. You can't get credit in highschool for a course unless you're in that classroom sitting there for so many periods a day. That's a mistake. Pacing.  Why do we have to insist that kids learn at the same rate at the same time when we know that that doesn't happen anymore."

This is why, at least in Wicomico County, educational leaders are reaching out to all stakeholders with ongoing school system-wide climate studies.  They want to know what students and parents, teachers and administrators, feel is important and what they feel needs to change.

"I'm really going to be focused on that and looking at what can we be doing," explains Dr. Hanlin. "We're already doing work in that area. What can we be doing differently in terms of instructional programming in our schools?"

At this time, competency based education is still very much a goal. And supporters worry budget cuts, specifically President Donald Trump's proposed 2018 budget, will hinder progress.

It proposes more than $9 billion dollars in cuts to public school programs and a $1.4 billion investment in school choice options. 

This is why public school supporters, like Domenech, are now asking stakeholders to contact their legislators on Capitol Hill, "Even though people think 'Well, you're the one that's trying to conserve public education' — well, yes — but not as it stands today. We recognize that it's time for changes and we're pushing for those changes."

47 ABC would know what you think about Competency Based Education, School Choice, the Every Student Succeeds Act or any of the many other topics discussed in our Special Report: State of Education.

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Categories: Delaware, Local News, Maryland

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