Communication critical when introducing competency-based models
- Organizations such as the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) are pushing for a movement toward broad educational reforms, such as competency-based education, with assessment of mastered skills or proficiencies replacing traditional A-F grading systems, according to a column in The Hechinger Report.
- However, some parents and students in Maine and other locations are pushing back against these changes, citing issues such as a lack of clear guidance in the transition, a lack of student voice in the decisions and the feeling that such shifts are being forced upon them.
- Obstacles to these new models can come from both sides of the ideological aisle and may result from factors, such as suspicion of philanthropy-backed reforms, a lack of clear communication about the research behind the models, why such changes are necessary, their long-term impact and the fact that most communication about these changes is couched in educational jargon.
The K-12 education landscape is shifting as states and school districts are adopting new models that affect the way teachers teach, students learn and how parents are informed of students' progress. While educators and lawmakers may spend much time and effort in studying such issues as competency-based education, parents, students and community stakeholders often feel left in the dark about these issues until they begin to affect their lives in a real way. At that point, they may become angry or confused about the changes and may feel disenfranchised by the same educational system they are asked to support with their tax dollars and volunteer hours.
Some parents are also hesitant to support ideas that are promoted by organizations that receive funding from rich and powerful philanthropies. They might mistrust the motives or the political agendas of these organizations. Or they may simply feel that the power of these organizations to fund education and influence public policy robs parents and students of their voices in the process.
As states and school districts make sweeping reforms, it is important that they consider the people who will be most affected by the changes. Parents and students want to know the pros and cons of these approaches. They also want to know what these changes mean for them. How will it affect the learning process? Their transcript? The awards and scholarships they receive? The ability to enter college or find a job?
District and school leaders, who are often used to conversing with peers in the field of education, often revert to education-ese when such questions are posed. Using jargon can also send the message that educators think parents and members of the public can't grasp the issues and should simply leave education up to the professionals. But this fuels feelings of disengagement and forces some parents and students to feel they must oppose the issue until it is made clearer to them.
To avoid these situations, school and district leaders can involve parents and students in the process early on, answer questions clearly and honestly, and remain as transparent as possible about the issues. They should also define terms clearly rather than assuming all stakeholders understand the language, shorthand and acronyms of the education field. By communicating changes in multiple ways and inviting parents and students to add their voice to the conversation, leaders can generate more support and buy-in from the people who matter most in the process.
- The Hechinger Report As states push for new ways of learning, some kids and parents feel left behind