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2 thoughts on “Competency Education: Time to Tackle the Elephant

    This is an important discussion – how to recreate “schools” so that they assist every student along a learning pathway that gets to common ends. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. However, to me there was a key discussion point missing – questions of equity. You say, “When we teach them in their ‘zone’ of proximal development, it is personalized learning;” students who are academically behind “may need to work in their zone to build up the pre-requisite skills.” These students are most likely to be disproportionately low-income, Black, Latino, ELL, and/or students with special needs. By focusing on building up pre-requisite skills in isolation, how do you ensure acceleration rather than (what research has often shown when separating low-performing students out) an increase in the gaps of learning and achievement by subgroup. What we don’t want is a personalized learning movement that doesn’t have equity front and center of the conversation, leading to a new system that mirrors the inequities of the old system we are trying to change. I once read a research article that found that low-performing 8th-9th grade students in math did better in closing the learning gap through taking Algebra I and giving them calculators (to deal with gaps in operational math) than separating them out and focusing on basic (remedial) skills. Similarly, many students would probably learn math faster if they were building a house than if they were in a skills-based math class. How do we engage all students, and in particular historically under-served students, in engaging, rich personalized learning experiences that help accelerate learning gaps and avoid leaving some students behind? That is an important question for us all to grapple with.

    I love your approach. One other frame/consideration is the “why” is the student behind? Often the reason is that the student might have a weaker cognitive skill (working memory, episodic memory, etc) that is the root of why the student is a grade level or two behind (or ahead). If teachers don’t understand the why, it might not matter how much differentiation they do on academic skills. What could be extraordinarily powerful is effectively combining the two–adjusting teaching methodologies based on where a student is academically and which teaching approaches are best-suited to help that student master the material that he/she didn’t master with previous approaches

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