NH’s Journey Toward Competency-Based Education

cbe

Reposted from Education Next:

In 2005, New Hampshire began to build a competency-based education policy and has eliminated the Carnegie unit in its high schools. As the first effort of its kind, New Hampshire’s example demonstrates both the power and limitations of statewide competency-based education policy. The state’s move has enabled many innovative schools to transform the schooling experience for students. But spreading competency-based practice has also proven challenging in a state with a strong tradition of local control. One superintendent captured the wider sentiment when he said in an interview last year, “Frankly, a lot of superintendents don’t like the state telling them what to do in their districts.”

The state has struggled to balance a culture of autonomy with furnishing school districts with supports and guidance to move away from time-based practices. “The state is supportive in theory,” a New Hampshire school leader said. “They like the idea of competencies. I don’t think they’ve really thought through what has to happen for those things to be viable.” The challenge of providing meaningful supports is made more acute by the fact that the field at large is still attempting to research and understand exactly what is required—logistically, pedagogically, and culturally—to transition to a fully competency-based system. As a result, the state has found itself tasked not only with providing what districts say they need, but also with identifying still-emerging best practices in how to transition from time- to competency-based systems and structures.

Today, some New Hampshire school systems have embraced the flexibility that the state policy offers, whereas others remain tied to time-based practices. To support those early adopters and move those that are further behind, the state continues to develop and hone the guidance and infrastructure that can ease the transition. New Hampshire’s experience offers valuable lessons in what policies and practices stand to loosen the stronghold of the Carnegie unit on the nation’s approach to education.

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