Category Archives: CBE

Montessori and CBE

Matt’s comment to yesterday’s CBE post got me thinking and Googling.

In case I’ve left the wrong impression, I will start by going on the record as saying that I think CBE is potentially a great idea, and that I am even cautiously optimistic about the practice of CBE in Iowa. My objections, at this point, are about apparent plans to impose CBE on all Iowa districts.

A disclaimer: my Montessori experience is largely with the primary level (ages 3-6) and some familiarity with the elementary level. There aren’t very many Montessori high schools, and Montessori isn’t trademarked, so my impressions are based more on my understanding of Montessori philosophy and practice at the earlier grade levels rather than at the high school level.

Some links:

I think some of the apparent differences between Montessori and CBE are, to some extent, more of a difference in the language used to describe the programs then a substantial difference. However, I have a few initial thoughts on differences between Montessori and CBE.

Interestingly, Montessori developed from the youngest children upward, while Iowa CBE appears to be starting with the oldest children with plans to add younger children later.

Iowa CBE strikes me as still being driven by external motivation (does my teacher think that I have done enough to earn a credit/grade?) while Montessori attempts to preserve and foster internal motivation, learning for self-satisfaction of the child rather than to please the teacher. Montessori does this in various ways, including independent choice, not having grades, and creating opportunities for children to discover and correct their own errors, through either control of error or having children check their own work, rather than having the teacher correct them.

Iowa CBE seems to be looking at relying heavily on technology and data to facilitate student self-pacing, while Montessori has been facilitating student self-pacing for one hundred years through a combination of teacher observations, uninterrupted work periods, multiage classrooms, independent choice in a prepared environment, and materials designed with control of error or that children can check for themselves.

Iowa CBE seems assessment obsessed to me, though this may be at least partly a function of language. I will say that I have never heard Montessori teachers discuss formative assessments; Montessori teachers are constantly observing students at work in the classroom and noting their development, inviting them to lessons as they appear ready for them.

We Live in a Competency-Based World

The Competency-Based Education Task Force Final Report was released earlier this month.

If you have children who won’t graduate out of the system within the next five years–or are enrolled in one of the ten pilot districts–you may want to read this report plus review the documents available on the Iowa CBE Collaborative page at the Iowa DE website; even though much of the work is yet to be done, plans are already being made for statewide implementation.

Competency-based education may or may not be a great idea–though it seems to me to be an awful lot of effort to reinvent Montessori minus a few essential features–but I am starting to think that there is nothing the DE considers too new or untested that they won’t try to immediately, if not sooner, impose it upon the entire state; if small pilot programs are good, then aren’t Universal Pilot Programs involving every student/school/district in the State even better? See also the Common Core Standards (adopted weeks after the final draft was released), Smarter Balanced Assessments (attempted to adopt before any test items were even pilot tested–and they would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling legislators!), teacher leadership and career pathways, tying teacher evaluations to student assessments, and online classes.

CBE Task Force Report [updated]

Update: Here’s an article from THE Journal about CBE in New Hampshire.

The Competency-Based Education Task Force Preliminary Report is now available for download here.

I am interested in the move to permit CBE in Iowa and have previously blogged about it here and here.  I hope that CBE opens the door for more public Montessori programs in Iowa (we only have one–Cowles Montessori in Des Moines) and I encourage the task force members and anyone else interested in CBE to please go visit a Montessori school to see a version of CBE in action.

A few quick reactions . . .

I recognized quite a few of the names of the task force members–possibly a sign I need to develop some other hobbies and interests.

I now cringe whenever I see Bloom’s Taxonomy or “rote memorization” or “regurgitating.”  Critical thinking didn’t just get invented and there is nothing wrong with knowing stuff–in fact there is an expectation that educated people will know things.  Why else would people laugh when high school graduates are unable to tell Jay Leno which countries fought with us and which against us in World War II?  See also the tree octopus problem.

I think the notion that today’s students are dramatically different from students of the past is overblown.  That doesn’t mean that educational practices shouldn’t change, just that there ought to be other reasons for making the change.  I’ll note here that I think other reasons might exist for offering CBE but I think these reasons should be publicly discussed in communities deciding whether to offer CBE.

. . . and a reservation.

On pages 25-26 of the Preliminary Report, there is a discussion of the merits of asking the Legislature to mandate CBE for all schools.  Given that the two districts highlighted in the Report began offering CBE in January and August 2012 it seems premature to offer the following recommendation.

When that work is significantly underway so as to promote quality competency-based learning environments across the state, we recommend the Legislature mandate that all schools make competency-based pathways available to all students.

The Task Force is exploring interesting territory here, but I am increasingly opposed to programs being imposed upon community schools, no matter how good they might be.

More on Competency Based Education

While I wait to see what, if anything, comes out of the SF 2284 conference committee this week, I have been giving further thought to competency-based education.  (See previous post here.)

Competency-based education presents an opportunity to re-examine how students spend time in school and who directs the use of that time.  As a Montessori advocate, I am interested in seeing schools be able to move away from strict seat time requirements.  This could allow students to flexibly allocate school time among areas of study according to how much time they personally need to master content and skills in those areas.  In addition, CBE could allow students to allocate more school time to areas of personal interest.

I could see CBE potentially opening the door for the expansion of public Montessori programs in Iowa.  I could also see CBE supporting the use of blended learning environments which could allow students to move along at an individual pace in some areas (math, spelling, grammar, decoding, or writing, for example) while still offering group instruction in others (literature, history, music, art, science, or physical education, for example).

While I can imagine CBE done well, I sadly have no trouble imagining CBE done poorly.

Matt Townsley raises one possible pitfall, when he suggests that students, who have mastered basic competencies in the curricular area, could be assigned more complex or challenging competencies to master (teacher directed use of time freed up by earlier demonstration of competency rather than student directed use of that time).  Townsley notes, rightly I think, that students may find that to be a disincentive to earlier mastery of content and skills, which a reader described to me as turning learning into a Sisyphean task.

Another possibility is that CBE could reduce K-12 education even further to little more than test preparation.  That is, the focus on assessment (and individualized pace) may crowd out the immeasurable or less measurable aspects of a good education.  Is there value to moving through the curriculum with a cohort?  Is there value in the opportunity to discuss literature or history or science with other students reading the same literature, studying the same history, or doing the same science experiments?  Is there value to spreading out coursework over a semester or two to allow students time to develop thoughts rather than just rushing through to pass the CBE test and then moving on to something new?*  Do seat time requirements provide space for the less measurable aspects of a good education to happen and can we preserve those aspects while moving towards a competency-based education program?

I do think there is value to moving through a curriculum with a cohort and making the time for thoughtful study.  I also think that CBE can be accomplished while preserving opportunities to form cohorts and provide time for thoughtful study (see Montessori).  What competency-based education ultimately will look like in Iowa remains to be seen.

*I recommend Diana Senechal’s Republic of Noise on these points, including the measurable and immeasurable aspects of education, benefits of thoughtful study, and the importance of testing ideas in both the private and public spheres.

Competency Based Education

Competency based education was included in both the House and Senate education reform bills, so it seems likely to survive the conference committee process.

Matt Townsley, Director of Instruction and Technology for the Solon Community School District, has a good explanation of the differences between standards-based grading and competency-based education here and a post on how competency-based education might work to allow students to move through course work either faster or at a deeper level here.

For those wondering what a competency-based education system might look like, (or standards-based grading, for that matter) consider visiting a Montessori school.  Montessori schools have long offered an education experience that allows a child to move through the curriculum at an individualized pace.