How Competency-Based Education Can Lead to A More Equitable Classroom

This article was originally published on the KnowledWorks blog.

It’s no secret that race, culture and other unique circumstances play a role in a child’s educational experience. Yet, many schools and curricula are designed as a “one size fits all” model, ultimately perpetuating inequities in the classroom. With demographics in our schools continuing to become more diverse, a commitment to consciously pursuing equity is imperative now more than ever.

But how do we do it?

There’s no quick fix, but personalized, competency-based education can aid teachers in facilitating a more equitable classroom. The Mastery Collaborative, a team based in NYC, shared a  framework for how certain practices, based on the tenants of personalized, competency-based education, can promote equity during the 2017 iNACOL Symposium:

Practice 1: Transparency in Grading

Personalized, competency-based education promotes educators creating and sharing learning objectives that are clear and fair from the beginning. This helps students in having a deep understanding of what success looks like in the classroom. More importantly, it can help to prevent educators from moving the bar based on bias and/or very subjective standards that could be associated with their cultural norms. With the odds of getting assigned to gifted programs 66 percent lower for black students and 47 percent lower for Latino students than for their white counterparts, it’s important that teachers hold themselves accountable. They can do so by acknowledging their biases and constantly mapping their grading practices with the criteria that was shared with their students from the onset and being clear with students on why a grade was rendered.

Practice 2: Changing Power Dynamics

When teachers place their need for control aside and allow students to take ownership of their own learning, good things happen. Personalized, competency-based education allows for instruction to be varied based on a student’s unique needs. This ability for agency in the classroom allows students to realize that there is not one “right way” to learn or progress. This creates a learning environment where all students can see themselves as successful learners, regardless of differences.

Practice 3: Intentionally Developing a Positive Learning Identity

Since educators in personalized, competency-based education can create unique, customized learning experiences, they can move away from solely Eurocentric perspectives and provide opportunities that are balanced and diverse. Giving students the opportunity to create projects based on their neighborhood, discuss relevant current events, or share about their family life helps them feel valued and accepted, and promotes respect for cultural diversity in the classroom.

It’s a continual process.

While all three of these practices can promote equity in the classroom, it’s important to recognize that these actions will not work without developing self-reflective, culturally competent teachers who celebrate diversity and the uniqueness it brings to a classroom.

There are no shortcuts to creating an equitable environment, but there are steps we can take to get there, and applying personalized, competency-based education tenants with an equity lens is just one.

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Nia Baucke manages public relations for KnowledgeWorks. Connect with them on Twitter: @knowledgeworks 

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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