How Do States Launch Efforts for Competency-Based Education

by Chris Sturgis

Over the past 15 years there have multiple efforts by states to launch initiatives to modernize schools using the research on learning. Some introduce social-emotional learning. Some focus on personalization based on self-determination theory and others introducing more technology (which may or may not consider the research on learning in how it is used).

All of these efforts can be introduced in the classroom without ever changing the overall design of the school. That’s where competency-based education comes in. It calls into question the entire structure of the traditional school with its emphasis on efficiency, order, standardization, and ranking. It seeks to align the structure of the school, the culture of the school and the classroom instruction and assessment with the research on learning.

Although not evaluated, with the exceptation of Maine’s effort to look closely at implementation, has been documented well enough to get a pretty good picture state strategies to launch CBE:

  • The recent From State Commitment to District Implementation by Research for Action and Knowledgworks offers a comprehensive look at four states efforts (AZ, ND, NV, SC). Of course the jury is still out on how successful they will be. 
  • Reaching the Tipping Point is a look at New England’s leadership a decade ago that launched CBE as a major education reform. (The biggest lesson learned that educators know well is that policy agenda shift and then shift again.)

The one state that hasn’t been well documented, and should be, is Idaho. It’s mastery-based learning initiative had absolutely the best launch, with the help of reDesign, I have ever seen. District and school leaders embraced the essence of CBE, a deep appreciation of child/youth development and the courage to place learning first.You can patch together a pretty good understanding through several sets of resources including, Aaron McKinnon and Laurie Gagnon’s summary of the effort, a look at the first year of implementation, and Idaho’s Staging Guide

Of course, the story of statewide policy advancing CBE isn’t over yet. Keep an eye on Washington. They’ve just launched a first of its kind statewide Mastery-Based Learning initiative that is partnered with Culturally Responsive Sustainable Education (CRSE) modeled on the powerful work of NYC’s Competency Collaborative. Aurora Institute is doing the evaluation. 


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