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Austin White: Competency-Based Education

Today a few fellow interns and I ventured out to the Capitol for the Congressional E-Learning Caucus Briefing on K-12 Competency-Based Education. Originally I had thought that the speakers planned to center their panel discussion on virtual learning programs to share information about technology’s potential role in the classroom. But virtual learning ended up being the background of a very clear message—education needs to focus on maximizing student proficiency. To do this, they advocated for Competency-Based Education, merely showing how educators can utilize technology as one tool among many for progressive education models.

So what is Competency-Based Education? Competency-Based Education essentially aims to ensure that students only complete their subjects after successfully demonstrating an adequate understanding of the material. Understanding that every child has unique learning habits, it requires individualized learning plans tailored to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Remembering my own educational history, the thought of being able to create a personal pace between subjects was immediately appealing. We all remember feeling rushed through some classes and moving too slowly in others, rarely feeling as though the timing was just right. Whereas the traditional education system locks students into one universally prescribed path in each grade level, these alternative models finally offer students the chance to advance at their own rate.

Further, to meet their needs, students get the chance to blend learning methods between digital learning, internship work, independent projects, and traditional teacher-student face time. As long as they can eventually demonstrate their comprehension of the subject material, they are given a degree of freedom in their curriculum structure. The whole way through, the programs are personalized.

Not only is it exciting to think of the benefits for those struggling to learn at a fitting pace, but the potential for highly motivated students now becomes endless. Think of the possibility

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Annie Bennett: iNACOL Panel Reaction

Before attending the iNACOL e-Learning Caucus held on Tuesday, I have to admit that my thoughts on virtual learning were utterly wrong. The truth is, when I thought of anything regarding “online schools,” I imagined a child sitting alone at home in their pajamas, wading their way through curriculum with only the companionship of a computer screen. Instead, listening to the panel speak about their involvement in the virtual learning and competency based education movement, I began to realize how wrong my pre-conceived notions had been.

Rather than a focus on using snazzy new technology or simply placing a child in front of a computer screen, the virtual learning movement is based around the notion of flipping the education system to be completely student and outcome-based. Proficiency-based education, a term which I was not familiar with, means that only when a student shows proficiency in a subject or unit do they move on, making time the variable and learning the standard. E-learning, therefore, has much less to do with the coolest new app on an iPad or the latest gadget and much more to do with an individualized approach to education that makes sure that every student is empowered to gain the knowledge and skills they need.

Once the idea of competency-based education is introduced, it almost seems common sense. Why should we set goals of mediocrity for our students when they have the potential for so much more? And how can we expect a student who receives a poor grade in 4th grade math to have the foundation they need to be successful in future courses? Instead, a cycle of failure perpetuates that leaves students feeling inept and hopeless, while teachers who are already strapped for time are expected to successfully teach students material to which they have no foundation.

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Macon Richardson: Online and Blended Learning Panel Discussion

The moderator, Susan Patrick, provided an excellent explanation of competency-based learning and technology’s potential to enhance individual educational outcomes. Patrick described a common dilemma in classrooms: students understand concepts and materials at different paces. But this reality is not reflected in traditional classrooms, where students move through curriculum in packs. The student who quickly understands concepts (e.g. the quadratic formula) must wait until his peers also understand those concepts before progressing to a new topic. As an advanced learner, he is disadvantaged and incapable of reaching his full potential.

More alarmingly, a student who fails to learn concepts before the class progresses develops “gaps” in his knowledge. For example, a student who fails to learn the quadratic formula before the class moves on to derivatives has little recourse to ensure complete mastery of the quadratic formula.  He has developed a “gap” in his mathematical knowledge; he does not understand a core concept. Competency-based learning offers a personalized approach to school, solving the dilemma of students moving through material at different paces. It empowers students to take their education into their own hands, to set the pace of their own learning and to ensure full mastery of material.

An advanced student can move quickly through material without being hindered by his peers. A student who struggles with certain subjects is allowed the time and resources to move slower through curriculum and to ensure full mastery of that curriculum. According to Patrick, blended and online learning is the best infrastructure for competency-based learning. Furthermore, blended and online learning can combat teacher shortages and a lack of AP classes in America’s high schools. Students are allowed more scheduling freedom. If a student runs the risk of failing to graduate on time, online learning can make it easy to gain credit. Patrick gave an exceptional

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Newswire: March 19, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 11

THE MAINE EVENT. Earlier this year, Governor Paul LePage expressed his outrage that Maine’s “school systems are failing.” And when the newly-created Charter School Commission rejected four out of five charter applications he called on “…those people, if they’re afraid to do the job, if they can’t put students first, then they ought to resign.” Vowing to go back to square one on reform efforts, the Governor jumping back in the ring to convene a conference this Friday, March 22. The conference will feature sessions on best practices from across the country like Florida’s school performance grading system, school choice, and stretching education dollars. CER President Jeanne Allen, will lead a panel discussion on “Multiple Pathways to Success.”

BATTLE IN THE BAYOU. Today, parents, students, educators and reformers rallied before the Louisiana Supreme Court to defend the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Over 4,500 students across the state benefit from the program which provides scholarships to qualifying students enrolled in underperforming and failing schools, to attend schools of their choice. Former DC Councilman, attorney, advocate, and CER board member Kevin P. Chavous addressed the masses today and said, “I know justice, and it is absolutely criminal to snatch away opportunity from children.” The debate is heating up and attorneys brought their arguments for a showdown today with oral ammunition before the state’s Supreme Court. A ruling on the appeal is not expected for several weeks.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY. As Newswire reported last week, a charter school proposal must still be negotiated in joint House-Senate conference committees. As it stands now, “Mississippi has yet to open the book on what charter schools can really do for the whole of education across the state. Not only is this not significant in any

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New Jersey Hearing On Online Learning

September 12, 2012

President of The Center for Education Reform Jeanne Allen testifies before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools in New Jersey about Online Learning. Her testimony shares facts about the schools that deploy digital learning, the parents who utilize online learning opportunities, and the teachers who lead and instruct in the digital learning world.

Read her full testimony here. You can also access the entire hearing from the New Jersey Legislature’s website.

Newswire: July 24, 2012

Vol.14, No. 30

WORLD SCHOOL. Avenues: The World School, is opening its doors this fall in New York City, the flagship in a planned global network of schools with a unique mission to promote and nurture global preparedness. Pledging to “set an example as an effective, diverse, and accountable school,” Avenues’ rigorous curriculum and forward thinking operational philosophy is designed to prepare kids to be successful, responsible, well rounded, and ethical citizens of the global community, who will have access to any international campus in the Avenues family. The faculty and administrative leaders are virtually a who’s who in rigorous education programs – including founder and entrepreneur Chris Whittle. Avenues shows what big thinking, entrepreneurship and hard work can accomplish.

EMPOWERED ONLINE. Speaking of entrepreneurship and forward thinking philosophies…Silicon Valley technology guru Steve Poizner has partnered with UCLA Extension to create Empowered Careers– an online continuing education certificate program taken entirely via a groundbreaking iPad app. Adult learners can take professional development courses from the comfort and convenience of their iPad, completing a certificate program to enhance or redirect their careers. The College Admissions Counseling course, for instance, might help a teacher who wants to transition from the classroom to the counselor’s office in order to focus on helping students make the jump from high school to college. To see some of the program’s high profile cheerleaders including Pierce Bronsan, James Franco, Sally Field and more, check out the video on their homepage. Looks like online learning is not only good for the gander (K-12 kids), but the goose (adult learners), too.

VIRTUAL VILLAGES…New Jersey just gave the thumbs up to two blended learning charter schools, set to open their doors in Newark, while closing the door to others. The Merit Preparatory Charter School and the

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Oahu Launching Blended Learning

“Oahu school launches innovative E-learning program”
by Lara Yamada
April 12, 2012

From traditional to 21st-century learning.

At Hale Kula Elementary in Schofield, Ms. Cummings 5th grade media awareness class is learning the basics of what will become a full blown, pilot program next fall.

“I like the idea that our lessons are up there and our students can access them at anytime,” said Cummings.

“I’ve had to learn a lot of stuff I didn’t know,” said teacher Rachel Armstrong.

Rachel Armstrong is one of two teachers leading what will be called “Blended Learning,” where kids come to class two days a week, then work from home three days a week online.

“I think it’s a shift in your mindset about how you think about teaching. It’s not you standing up there doing everything. I think that’s great actually. I think it gives you more time to be with the individual student and what they’re needs are,” said Armstrong.

“It’s fun. Yeah. You get to get out of class though. Yeah that’s fun,” laughs 5th grader Mason Wood.

Wood, like most kids in the media class, loves the idea.

He did his book report online.

His classmates finished a video presentation for Olelo.

“Each time we learn new stuff it kind of gets us more into it,” said 5th grader Koa Perman.

“They’re really engaged in what they’re doing and they’re exploring new things that they like to do while they are learning,” said Cummings.

“I think the kids are the main reason why it will work,” said principal Jan Iwase.

With Hale Kula overflowing with 970 students, resources and funding are a big challenge, so and her staff knew it was time to try something new.

They won a grant through the Department of Defense’s education branch.

They’re using the money to buy technology and test out Blended Learning for next year’s 4th and 5th graders.


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Blended Learning Models

What is blended learning?
Blended learning is any combination of digital and face-to-face instruction, also referred to as hybrid learning.
The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning, offers this:

Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brickand-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.

Examples of Blended Learning At Work

Aspire ERES Academy
Aspire Public Schools is one of the nation’s top-performing large school systems serving predominantly low-income students, with 100% of graduating seniors accepted to four year colleges. Aspire decided to introduce blended learning into two of its schools in 2011. Check out this video to see blended learning in action at Aspire ERES Academy, a K-8 school in Oakland, California.

KIPP Empower Academy

BLAST Alliance College-Ready Public Schools

Carpe Diem Schools

For More On Blended Learning…
Check out iNACOL’s Promising Practices in Online Learning report, Blended Learning: The Convergence of Online and Face-to-Face Education, which explores topics like:
„→ How does blended learning fit into current conceptions of online learning?
→ How does blended learning help engage students and support their academic success?
„→ How are online learning and face-to-face instruction being combined effectively?
„→ Is blended learning meeting unique student needs that neither fully online nor face-to-face models can achieve?
„→ What digital content and curricula are being used in blended learning?

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