Still Learning from Delivering on the Promise

It continues to be a pleasure to read the story of Chugach School District’s journey of transformation described in Delivering on the Promise: The Education Revolution (DeLorenzo, Battino, Schreiber, and Carrio, 2009). Even though the term competency-based education is not mentioned once in the book, it continues to be one of the best books to date to explain the basics of competency-based education.

Much of the Reinventing Schools Coalition’s approach (purchased by Marzano Research Lab several years ago) still holds true, although we now know so much more.

  • We know much more about the importance of an empowering, inclusive culture in making the new structures of competency education sing rather than dribbling away into a series of checking the boxes.
  • We are gaining confidence that clarifying the learning philosophy and pedagogical principles, including the research-base of the learning sciences, will make the rest of design and implementation much easier. When a district and school agree about what it means to do “what is best for kids” in terms of their academic and emotional development, the rest starts to fall into place.
  • We know much more about the role competencies play in setting a broader set of expectations that stretch across academics, higher order skills, and lifelong learning skills as well as an understanding that mastery requires the application of knowledge and skills.
  • We know much more about student agency. Rather than simply declaring that students are empowered, we are on the edge of deepening our knowledge about how to support teachers in building the knowledge and skills to help students develop the “building blocks of learning.”
  • We now know that we have to build responsive capacity in districts and schools to actually repair the skills and knowledge that students are missing. This isn’t about time being the variable; its about the commitment of schools to build the instructional and support capacity to meet students where they are and help them get them to life/college/career readiness.
  • We are just beginning to understand the importance of moderation processes, touched on in Delivering on the Promise, in building the understanding of the proficiency needed to credential student learning consistently and catalyzing the alignment of instruction and assessment with the competencies and standards.

As much as I appreciate the story of Chugach, the real value of this book is the outline of the basics of the RISC approach. I’m sure that districts and schools will want to look to other resources to think more deeply about the aspects bulleted above. However, as a introduction to the very basics of competency-based education as a school-wide (or better yet, district-wide) approach, this will provide a good start. The Organizational Self-Assessment Tool (OSAT) tucked away at the back of the book is a great starting point for leaders to think of the organizational health of their organizations on the way to becoming a district or school that keeps on innovating until every student graduates and every student leaves schools with the knowledge and skills to be successful in their next step beyond high school.

There are some issues raised in the book that, as a field, we haven’t paid enough attention to in our work. For example, although there have been efforts to document the leadership needed for the next generation education system (See CCSSO/JFF and CIE reports), we have not delved into strategies for actually leading second-order change processes (when the underlying beliefs and assumptions change). Referring to Marzano’s book Leadership for Second-Order Change, seven processes are identified:

  • Shaking up the status quo;
  • Expectation of some new things to seem worse;
  • Proposing new ideas;
  • Operating from strong beliefs;
  • Tolerating ambiguity and dissent;
  • Talking research and theory;
  • Creating explicit goals for change; and
  • Defining success in terms of goals.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to gather leaders to talk about these processes? We desperately need ways to support leaders to manage second-order change and reshape cultures of schools from compliance to empowered.

For more on Chugach, see Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System.

This is adapted from an article originally published at CompetencyWorks in November 2018.

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