Shedding One-Size-Fits-All Schools for Mastery-Based Education Models

Much of America’s K-12 system operates like a factory—in which students chug along from kindergarten through high school graduation, excelling at some skills quickly while failing to master others in the time allotted. Most schools do not give students clear opportunities to recuperate learning they failed to master the first time around, or the choice to accelerate if they are swiftly showing that they’ve learned new material. The results are learning gaps that persist through graduation, low achievement, and inequity, year after year, generation after generation.

A new report "Necessary for Success: Building Mastery of World-Class Skills - A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education" calls on school systems to shed factory model constraints like mandatory seat time--the amount of time a child must spend sitting in school before getting credit for coursework—in favor of advancement based on demonstrated mastery of a subject. This means that students are given many opportunities to show that they’ve learned the skills they need to succeed in more advanced coursework, and later on, in college and career. Students are awarded credit based on what they have shown they know and can do.

Though not a novel approach at the school level, 36 states are now moving toward competency-based education systems through the establishment of proficiency-based diplomas, credit flexibility, or seat-time waivers. This paper highlights the important work that state leaders are doing to enable systems that can support mastery-based education, with a dual focus on equity and excellence for all students.

The report published by CompetencyWorks and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), a Carnegie Corporation grantee, describes the fundamental concepts on which competency-based learning is built, illustrates how K-12 education policies and practices can be re-designed, envisions a new "culture of competency" at the state level, and assesses progress of some of the states that have begun to move toward this new model.

Read the report.