Fostering competency in Arizona

By:

Feb 13, 2015

Yesterday the Arizona State Senate Education Committee voted 5-2 in favor of a bill that would create opportunities for schools to pilot competency-based education programs. Below is the text of a letter I sent to the committee in support of the bill.

All students in Arizona have distinct learning needs, and each deserves an education that is able to address those needs. But unfortunately, many students today struggle in school because the traditional education system was never designed to provide individualized learning opportunities.

As a research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank devoted to using innovation to fashion a student-centered education system that educates every student successfully, our research shows that we are fortunate to live in a day when schools and teachers are now leveraging technology to personalize students’ learning experiences in an economical and scalable way. A common feature of many new personalized learning models is competency-based learning, in which students advance based on mastery of academic standards rather than based on the number of hours of instruction they receive—a common sense way to learn.

As Arizona works to improve its education systems, however, it faces a difficult tension between fostering innovation and ensuring quality and stability. SB 1244 allows the state to balance this tension through well-designed pilot programs. Under the bill, schools interested in pioneering competency-based learning will be able to apply to the state department of education for flexibility from traditional policies that restrict their efforts to innovate. Over time, the experiments in these schools will allow Arizona to identify and scale successful competency-based models and determine good policies for supporting them.

Your support of SB 1244 will help Arizona develop the personalized education system its students deserve. Thank you in advance for considering this bill.

Thomas Arnett is a senior research fellow in education for the Clayton Christensen Institute. His work focuses on studying innovations that amplify educator capacity, documenting barriers to K-12 innovation, and identifying disruptive innovations in education. Thomas previously served as a trustee and board president for the Morgan Hill Unified School District in Morgan Hill, California, worked as an Education Pioneers fellow with the Achievement First Public Charter Schools, and taught middle school math as a Teach For America teacher in Kansas City Public Schools. Thomas received a BS in Economics from Brigham Young University and an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.