From competency to credentials

Awarding credentials for competency — not just seat time — is helping workers move up career ladders. But there are concerns about the quality of competency-based programs and whether students should qualify for financial aid.

Also see: After college, what?

Performance funding doesn’t boost success

President Obama’s higher education plan lauds states that link college funding to student success measures, but there’s “little evidence that performance funding improves student success,” new studies find.

Obama also praised competency-based education, but federal financial aid is based on “seat time” rather than learning.

Competency credits ‘unbundle’ college

When nearly three out of four students aren’t enrolled in full-time, four-year degree programs, it’s time to drop “seat time” credits in favor of credits for competency, writes Daniel Greenstein of the Gates Foundation. “Unbundling college will help adult students.

However, documenting students’ competency is challenging.

New Hampshire tries credits for competence

New Hampshire schools have moved away from “seat time” to “competency-based learning,” advancing students when they have mastered course content. Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System, a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, looks at how this is working at two high schools.

“When people are buying a new car, they don’t ask how long it took to build,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Instead, they ask how well it performs.”

Sanborn Regional High School and Spaulding High School have replaced A-F grades with ratings that include “not yet competent” and “insufficient work submitted.” Students who haven’t achieved mastery can use online tools, one-on-one tutoring and student collaboration to improve.

Carnegie eyes replacing Carnegie unit

The Carnegie Unit, which measures learning based on time in class rather than actual learning, may be on the way out. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which developed the measure in 1906, will study ways to measure competency.

Competency vs. the credit hour

Instead of earning credits for “seat time,” colleges are offering degrees based on showing competency — usually by doing well on a test. Southern New Hampshire University is partnering with employers on a $5,000 online, competency-based associate degree.

Connecticut’s community college presidents are worried about a new state law that lets unprepared students skip remediation and take college-level classes. Those who resist — or all 12 presidents, depending on who you believe —  have been told to apply for “expedited termination” by the end of the month.

Colleges design self-paced, ‘competency’ courses

Community colleges are designing self-paced courses that will give credits for demonstrated competence — not “seat time.”

Also on Community College Spotlight: A bridge to trade skills.

Give credit for learning, not time

Give credit for learning, not seat time, argues a new report. As more students learn online at their own pace, the credit hour’s day is ending.

Public won’t buy ‘trust us, we’re experts’

“Trust us, we’re experts” isn’t a persuasive argument for academics, writes Community College Dean in response to professors who reject measuring college students’ learning.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  The U.S. Education Department’s proposed definition of a credit hour measures “seat time” rather than learning, charges the American Council on Education.

Digital learning: Quality is critical

Digital Learning Now, led by two former governors, Republican Jeb Bush of Florida and Democrat Bob Wise of West Virginia, has come out with 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning (pdf).  Recommendations in the “road map” include “abolishing seat-time requirements, linking teacher pay to student success, and overhauling public school funding models,” reports Education Week.

Last month, the International Society for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, released a paper suggesting a move away from seat-time requirements to competency-based pathways that let students advance at their own pace after mastering concepts. Meanwhile, seizing on the budget challenges facing almost all districts in the current climate, the theme for the Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference this upcoming March is “Mastering the Moment,” referring to the opportunity for technology-driven reform fueled by the need to cut costs.

Will digital learning increase “high-quality education” choices? On The Quick and the Ed,  Bill Tucker warns that innovation can go astray.

They suggest, for example, that states evaluate “the quality of content and courses predominately based on student learning data,” yet provide few details on how to accomplish this difficult task. Likewise, recommendations for “Quality Providers” focus heavily on the removal of barriers to competition, but offer little discussion of how to enact the recommendation for “a strong system of oversight and quality control.” Too often, the recommendations assume that quality will naturally result from regulatory relief.

Virtual education is in a time of rapid growth as school districts, for-profit providers, and nonprofit start-ups all move into the online learning world. But without rigorous oversight, a thousand flowers blooming will also yield a lot of weeds.

The report recommends terminating contracts with providers and programs that don’t perform well. Easier said than done, writes Tucker.