24 Graduation Credits, OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal, and the Push for Competency-Based Learning
After an exhausting presidential election, those in power expect us to checkout and stop paying attention.
Here’s a few good reason to stay vigilant.
In Washington State, the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction was very close. Chris Reykdal ended up winning with a little less than 28,000 votes.
Why is this important?
First, winning with 1% of the vote isn’t a mandate.
Second, there’s some evidence to suggest Reykdal may be interested in promoting or even strengthening competency-based learning in Washington State.
What’s competency-based learning?
Competency-based learning is a form of instruction where the curriculum is delivered by computer, rather than by a human teacher.
There’s different models for this type of instruction, depending on the amount of time students spend using a device to access their class work.
Blended learning mixes face-to-face instruction with student, self-paced learning on a computer or other electronic device.
Virtual schools deliver instruction exclusively online.
The Value of Competency-Based Learning Hasn’t Been Proven.
Here’s something to think about: there’s almost no evidence showing online or the classroom equivalent, competency-based learning, to be effective.
First, let’s look at some indirect evidence.
The Online Charter Study produced by CREDO and The Center for the Reinvention of Public Education found negative academic growth for students enrolled in online charter schools as compared to their peers in traditional public schools.
How bad was the negative impact?
For math, online charter students lost the equivalent of 180 days of learning. Reading faired somewhat better, with a lost equivalent of 72 days.
The NEPC Virtual Schools Report 2016 has more specific information on the performance of the blended instruction model.
Here’s a few of the highlights:
Traditional schools have the best overall performance. Blended schools the worst.
Multiple or expanded measures of school performance reveal that virtual school outcomes continued to lag significantly behind that of traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Blended schools tended to score even lower on performance measures than virtual schools, although this may be influenced by the fact that blended schools serve substantially more low-income students.
Blended schools’ on time graduation rates were half ( 37.4% ) the national average.
The evidence on graduation rates aligns with findings from school performance measures, contributing to the overall picture of school performance. Only 131 virtual schools and 26 blended schools had data specific to on-time graduation in 2013-14. The on-time graduation rate (or four-year graduation rate) for full-time virtual schools and blended schools was half the national average: 40.6% for virtual schools, 37.4% for blended schools, and 81.0% for the nation as a whole. The graduation rates for virtual schools have worsened by 3 percentage points over the past few years, even as graduation rates in the country have been improving about 1 percentage point each year.
This interesting bit was buried in the study’s conclusion.
The rapid expansion of virtual schools and blended schools is remarkable given the consistently negative findings regarding student and school performance. The advocates of full-time virtual schools and blended schools remain several years ahead of policymakers and researchers, and new opportunities are being defined and developed largely by for-profit entities accountable to stockholders rather than to any public constituency.
Jim Horn at Schools Matter found these damning studies.
Both came to the same conclusion: the tech behind competency-based learning has advanced, but the concept itself has not benefitted from these technical improvements and the educational outcome for students remain unimpressive.
From the study, Competence-Based Education and Educational Effectiveness: A critical Review of the Research Literature on Outcome-Oriented Policy Making in Education.
The paper assesses the empirical evidence for outcomes of competence-based education which are envisaged by policy-makers, and gives some interpretations of how the topic is handled in the political processes. This is achieved by a review of the research literature as documented in bibliographical databases which cover academic publications and in more practical material. The searches were generic, and included not only specific competence- expressions, but also terms as ‘outcomes’ and ‘learning’. The staggering conclusion of this exercise is that there is hardly any evidence for the effectiveness of competence-based education despite the long period since the 1970s when the approach came up in the US. Whether this is an artefact of the operationalization of the outcomes of competence-based education or not, it seems that there is only very little attention to testing the policy- assumptions that competence-based education is a worthy educational innovation. As this is quite disturbing, it is recommended that more efforts are being made to prove (or falsify) the putative added value of competence-based education initiatives.
From the study, New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results, and the Need for a New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning.
The pace of technological advancement, combined with improvements technology has brought to other sectors, is leading policymakers and educators alike to take another look at computers in the classroom, and even at computers instead of classrooms. In particular, advances in computational power, memory storage, and artificial intelligence are breathing new life into the promise that instruction can be tailored to the needs of each individual student, much like a one-on-one tutor. The term most often used by advocates for this approach is “Personalized Instruction.” Despite the advances in both hardware and software, recent studies show little evidence for the effectiveness of this model of integrating technology into the learning process.
24-Credit Graduation Requirement: A Backdoor for Online Learning?
Chris Reykdal is very proud of Washington State’s 24-Credit Graduation Requirement.
As a legislator who voted for our state’s robust home-grown teacher-principal evaluation system and one of the authors of our state’s new rigorous 24-credit graduation framework, I am disappointed in the federal government’s decision to repeal our waiver.
Here’s my biggest concern: Achieve is also excited about the possibilities created by Washington’s 24 credit requirement.
Achieve is most famous for it’s work helping the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers create the common core standards. Achieve also acted as the project manager during the development of the PARCC Assessment. Fair warning, Achieve also oversaw the writing of the Next Generation of Science Standards.
Achieve is funded by Corporate America and chaired by Mark B. Grier, who also happens to be Vice Chairman of Prudential Financial, Inc.
Both Microsoft and Boeing are corporate funders of Achieve. If you live in Washington State, please note both companies have put tremendous effort into avoiding their fair share of state taxes. Taxes, which fund our public schools.
Since its formation, one of Achieve’s main purposes is to give corporations a direct route to state officials. This allows a push for business friendly education policies without the prying eyes of the public or local school boards.
It’s also important to remember that the common core standards were basically the specs for the education software that is now being rolled out with the competency-based education model.
Profit or Public Good?
Remember the part in the NEPC Virtual Schools Report about the expansion of virtual and blended schools being driven by profit seeking edutech companies rather than student need or the public good?
In a 2014 Report [ achievecbptheimperativeforstateleadership ], Achieve outlined how state leaders could leverage college and career readiness to shift away from traditional schools to competency-based learning.
In some states, leaders and educators have determined that to realize the promise of high expectations for all students that reflect a clear learning progression toward and beyond college and career readiness, students will need access to a far more personalized approach to learning. The traditional time-based system, they have concluded, has not served all students well – even when policy and practice were centered on a floor of minimal proficiency. The system holds little hope for helping all students reach, and have the opportunity to exceed, the level of preparation needed for college and career readiness. In these states, there is an increasing urgency to move away from the traditional system that has produced such inequitable results and toward a competency-based system in which students and their mastery of knowledge and skills – not time and the calendar – form the center.
One of the strategies suggested by Achieve to advance competency-based learning was the use of competency based credit accumulation or advancement.
For CBP to advance, states may need to do more than just allow districts and schools to use competency-based approaches for graduation and credit accumulation/advancement. Many states have learned that simply offering flexibility does not necessarily catalyze action and that they need to take actions that range from encouraging or supporting districts to strongly incentivizing use. States may need to take action to define competency-based graduation requirements or competency-based methods of awarding course credit – and to do so with an eye toward ensuring that determinations that students have completed required standards or otherwise reached competency reflect rigor and comparability across districts. States also can take more intermediate steps through policy or practice.
In March of 2016 [ 04cbl-1 ], The Washington State Board of Education met to discuss competency based learning. The key policy considerations were:
- How could competency-based learning fit into a career and college-ready framework?
- Are there gaps in state policy that need to be addressed to best support rigorous and aligned competency-based crediting?
- What guidance would be useful for districts to implement competency-based crediting?
Guess who attended the meeting?
Alissa Peltzman, Vice President for State Policy and Implementation Support for Achieve.
Even more interesting, the guidelines [exhibitf_competency-basedcreditinghandbook ] created for districts to implement competency-based learning includes information pulled directly from Achieve’s white paper: Advancing Competency-Based Pathways To College and Career Readiness Series. The Imperative of State Leadership.
It’s worth reading the whole document. Of particular interest is Table 1, which explains how credit can be earned in Washington State. Here’s some highlights:
Remember how Randy Dorn used ALE’s to skirt the Supreme Court’s ruling against charter schools? They’re mentioned too.
Where Does Reykdal Stand on Competency-Based Learning?
Here’s Reykdal’s response to a question about edutech from a state superintendent questionnaire on Seattle Schools Community Forum:
How does “EduTech” – the increasing use of technology and learning-based instruction – fit into your view about the future of education?
As a former classroom teacher and an almost fourteen year executive in the community and technical college system, I’ve watched edutech evolve. Like so many industry-driven things it was not good as a stand-alone approach in the early years of online learning, competency-based assessments, and open-course materials. While still problematic in places and with some tools, we have learned that blended instruction is the strongest model – teacher led instruction infused with technology. To do this well at scale, it requires professional development. Our educators are growing their skills in the use of edutech but it requires constant investment in their knowledge, skills, and abilities. What we must never do is replace high touch with high tech, especially when the issue for many students is not academic struggle but rather social-emotional needs. There is no software for love, caring, and diagnosing emotional distress. Technology is a supplement to instruction; it should never be used as a parallel system of instruction. When we believe we can ignore income inequality, generational poverty, and racial inequities in our schools with canned software and dynamic standardized tests we are in trouble.
To sum up: Chris Reykdal appears to be OK with blended or competency-based learning which he defines as “teacher led instruction infused with technology” as long as it’s not used to create a “parallel system of instruction” -even though and here’s the kicker – his push for 24 credits, set the stage for the State Board of Education to go ahead and create that edutech reliant parallel system of instruction.
Here’s my concerns about competency-based learning.
First, even though the value of competency-based learning is unproven, the cost in dollars for school districts to implement this experiment is far from neutral.
Second, if this technology is unproven, at best we are experimenting on children – at worst we are robbing a generation of kids a quality education.
Third, the architects of ed-reform see competency-based instruction as a way to finally be rid of those pesky teachers.
The edutech “thought leaders” want a classroom of peers taught by a human teacher to be a premium service for the rich. Our children will get ed-tech and even more data collection.
So much for public education as a social good or incubator for democracy.
So where does Chris Reykdal stand on competency-based education?
It’s anyone’s guess.
I would like to point out that WEA-PAC contributed $85,000 to the Forward With Education PAC which produced and ran TV ads in support of Reykdal’s campaign.
Many dues paying, rank and file teachers may not be pleased to learn their union helped elect a candidate who would, at best, like to see even more ed-tech in their classrooms and, at the very worst, may be opening the door for the demise of their profession.