The issue of Competency-Based Education is very much in the news, so I thought I would revive this post.
Competency-Based Education (CBE) is being promoted as the way to “personalize” education, but it is a cold impersonal method of teaching on the computer. It fails to teach to the whole child and merely provides fragmented drill. It will be coordinated with Common Core, and there are concerns about student private information being compromised.
Competency-Based Education (CBE) itself has been around for years. Teachers pretest, or figure out what a child doesn’t know or understand. They provide instruction that addresses what the student lacks. Then the teacher reassesses to see if their instruction made a difference. If the instruction works, the teacher moves on. If it doesn’t work, they rethink their teaching strategy and do something different.
Teachers might not think about CBE much because it is usually automatic. Special education teachers used to hear about CBE quite often because it is used with IEPs.
There is nothing wrong with CBE per se, but let’s be clear. Today’s online CBE is all about sticking students on the computer to get all their instruction on basic skills. What’s new here is that the reformers want to remove the teacher from the equation.
For example, when the President said recently that there would be less testing, many believe he was in fact implying that online CBE was the way to go. Instead of one big test at the end of the year, students will get smaller tests every day…every hour…on the computer!
Tom Vander Ark reinforces what I stated in the above paragraph. Here he outlines, often confusingly, what we can expect with online CBE. Vander Ark was previously the superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools and executive director of the Gates Education Initiative and more. He has no background or degrees in education. He pontificates about education issues and especially digital learning.
There is more involved in the teaching process than skill development, and it is sad that politicians and businessmen with no understanding of children have become obsessed with this kind of instruction. It lacks imagination and destroys the socialization process that is critical in today’s world.
Consider the following areas that computers don’t address:
- Working with other students
- Working through disagreements (this often happens on the playground with young children)
- Being exposed to teachers who inspire
- Involvement in the arts
- Physical education
- Engagement in extra-curricular activities (sports, marching band, drama, cheerleading, etc.)
- Pride in one’s school
- Feeling a part of something larger than oneself
- Learning tolerance of differences
- Hands-on lab work in science
Students who work only on skill development online miss out on a variety of learning experiences that have been valued for generations.
Placing students on tech devices for all of their learning also only focuses on a small part of their education. Technology has its place in teaching but there is no research to indicate it is the best teacher, and certainly it doesn’t come close in doing the job of schooling for which this country has become accustomed.
There should be a vigorous debate about how CBE online and technology are being used to replace teachers and schools. This should be a topic addressed by all Presidential candidates and politicians in state and local races.
If we look back at the reforms that have been done to schools for the last thirty years, we see a trend—a push to teach just skills, and in CBE fashion, without the extras that make schooling a valued, rich learning experience for children.
We’ve seen more testing, a heavier emphasis on skills in just reading and math, high-stakes testing, similar standards for all students, and now Common Core State Standards—fewer but similar goals for every child. Basic skills are a rudimentary part of education, but focusing only on such skills leaves out the education of the whole child. This is far from personalized.
All of this has been leading us to CBE and online schooling. It’s reckless and will hurt especially those students who are not capable of teaching themselves online—which is pretty much what students are being asked to do.
It is truly impersonal that public schools are being shaped into online schooling and the American people are being duped into thinking this will provide something better for their children.
Diane Sekula says
New Hampshire reformers like to call attention to the, “successes” that the state has seen through CBE, reformers see the state as a model. I can assure you that many parents, teachers, and students themselves are deeply dissatisfied with the system. Students are subjected to flipped classrooms, constant assessments, and endless hours of homework; they are anxious. Kids in kindergarten in the district where I live are encouraged to think about careers. (As the mother of a five year old myself, I’m content to let him play with his friends and pretend puppies, because it’s developmentally appropriate.) It’s becoming harder and harder to argue that we aren’t experiencing workforce training in lieu of classical education. I spent twelve years as a public educator, I quit last spring. I also enrolled my oldest in a parochial school I’m amazed at the content of what he is learning, the freedom he has to question, the freedom the teachers have to teach; to INSPIRE, and how much happier my son is. While I am happy for my son, I am beyond upset with the fact that what my son’s school does for its students can easily be replicated (for little money) in public schools, but isn’t. Reformers desire to, “enlighten” with their ridiculous, untested, unproven methods seem mysteriously connected to their desire to control, and earn.
Nancy Bailey says
I am always sorry to hear of a teacher who left…but I understand. You have great insight. And I agree better instruction could take place in public schools. Best wishes.
Sheila Resseger says
“competency based education” online–neither personalized nor higher-order thinking, with exponential data collection/data mining, and an unhealthy dose of wifi radiation–hard to imagine anything worse for children but better for the edtech “geniuses” who dreamed this up
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Sheila.
Linda Chantal Sullivan says
I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the two outcomes these pseudo educators (corporate shills is more like it) profess to address with CBE and high-stakes testing.: skills and/or critical thinking. You can promote both in a classroom. with the leadership of an inspiring teacher and the collaboration of a group of inquiring minds I don’t believe you can get either from a computer.. What can you get from a computer? Loneliness, boredom, discouragement, and a bunch of rote facts – way down on Bloom’s Taxonomy scale. You take the test just after having read the material, and you forget all or most of it immediately. Then, without any contemplation at all, you move to the next “skill set.” What kind of education is that? What kind of children will we raise with this kind of “education?” Who will put the information into a larger context? Will planetary and social concerns be expressed solely with the “like” button on Facebook or other social media? With their mobile devices and ear buds, they’re already self=isolated enough. I fear for them and for their future children.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Linda. It’s a strange new world. “Who will put the information into a larger context?” That’s a great question!