Giving Compass' Take:

• As competency-based education (CBE) continues to gain traction, advocates can use these methods to help spread the practice and implement it effectively. 

• What potential pitfalls need to be considered in designing competency-based education programs? How can donors support effective competency-based education? 

• Learn about one of the challenges of competency-based education.

As more and more school systems across the country explore competency-based education (CBE), we need to be attentive to the processes that will actually allow such innovations to thrive.


1. Well-designed state pilots

Effective state policies should offer coherent visions of the models that schools might adopt, new accountability structures to match those models, and a commitment to providing the tools (i.e. digital learning) to schools to pursue various models, all of which might qualify as competency-based.

2. Afterschool programs

An American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) publication looked at the overlap of afterschool programs and competency-based learning models. The authors posit that afterschool programs are increasingly providing academically enriching experiences that could—in a well-run competency-based model—count for credit in school.

3. Supplemental online courses

A la carte online courses can allow students to move at a flexible or individual pace. In a number of states, online course providers can now obtain seat-time waivers to avoid keeping students “on the clock.”

4. Curriculum redesign

To do this well, systems will need to take a “sandbox” approach to rethinking curriculum—that is, allow an autonomous team from the district to rethink a new curriculum from scratch that is not beholden to existing models, scope, and sequence, or publisher content.

5. Alternative high schools

Alternative high schools must meet students where they’re at and graduate them on a flexible basis. This charge inherently puts them in a more promising position to optimize for competency-based performance metrics, unlike traditional schools that by design standardize learning experiences by age- and grade-level, rather than by mastery.

Read the full article about seeding competency-based education growth by Julia Freeland Fisher at Christensen Institute.