The Past and the Promise: Today’s Competency Education Movement

Competency education is attracting significant interest as a promising way to help meet our national priority of ensuring that all young people are ready for college and careers. In competency-based schools, students advance at different rates, based on their ability to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives. Teachers provide customized supports to help propel everyone to proficiency. 

This is the first paper in Students at the Center’s new Competency Education Research Series. It lays a foundation for assessing the potential of competency-based models, grounded in an exploration of the outcomes from previous like-minded efforts. Recent research and theory from the learning sciences shows that a personalized approach to competency education may help better prepare all students from all backgrounds for deeper learning and for life after graduation. New information technologies are making it feasible to try these strategies on a large scale. Putting in place an equitable system necessitates navigating the many—but far from insurmountable—political and implementation challenges facing personalized competency education.