What Parents Should Know About ‘Competency Based Education’


Despite drawing the ire of parents, teachers, and taxpayers for several decades, U.S. students are still being educated for workforce development and training to meet the needs of Big Business and Industry, rather than to become well-rounded citizens of character and substance who can engage in critical thinking.

In an op-ed at the Hill, senior fellows Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins of the Washington, DC-based American Principles Project note U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s recent address to the Arizona State University + Global Silicon Valley (ASU GSV) Summit in Utah, where she used many of the buzzwords surrounding “competency based education” (CBE).

“Workforce development” and CBE are both concepts embraced by establishment Washington elites, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ASU GSV is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation – both champions of the Common Core standards.

CBE, as Robbins notes at The Federalist, is described by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) as “a system of instruction where students advance to higher levels of learning as soon as they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.”

The concept of CBE is couched in conservative and constitutional-sounding language, such as “personalized learning,” “individual needs of students,” and “students’ unique talents and abilities.” However, to achieve such “personalization” and “individualization,” much non-academic student data is collected, particularly regarding personality and psychological traits.

“FEE’s slick videos claim CBE is superior to traditional education because it personalizes learning, ensuring that a student understands each concept before moving to the next,” Robbins observes. “What’s not to like?”

CBE, however, is essentially just another name for “outcome-based education,” a results-based system against which many parents revolted in the nineties.

Robbins writes:

The goal wasn’t to instill academic knowledge, it was to train children to give responses in non-cognitive realms, to exhibit the psycho-social skills the government considers most valuable. This is what prompted opposition from parents then, and this is what CBE is trying to replicate now.

Many low-income students – who often are without the benefit of two-parent stable families to support them – frequently fail with the more rigorous traditional classical education and are deemed better suited to CBE – which trains them for the workforce. While some students and their parents might choose a technical or vocational track on their own, in this case, it could be the federal government – with the help of the states and Big Business – directing that path for them.

At the ASU GSV Summit, DeVos, while pressing the concept of school choice, said:

Since we have a room full of innovators here today, my question to you is this: if you were to start from scratch, what would America’s education system look like?

I doubt you would design a system that’s focused on inputs rather than outputs; that prioritizes seat-time over mastery; that moves kids through an assembly line without stopping to ask whether they’re actually ready for the next step, or that is more interested in preserving the status quo rather than embracing necessary change.

Here’s how I would answer the question I just posed to you: We would build a system centered on knowledge, skills and achievement – not centered on delivery methods. Traditional, charter, private, virtual, and other delivery methods not yet developed: all would be treated as viable options so long as they met the needs of their students.

“This terminology – ‘inputs,’ ‘outputs,’ ‘seat-time,’ ‘mastery’ – is right out of the CBE glossary,” write McGroarty and Robbins. “DeVos is apparently on board with this new paradigm for public education. Combined with her leadership role at Jeb Bush’s pro-CBE Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), her summit speech clarifies that she’s sold on CBE.”

CBE – and Common Core – are all about “training” for specific purposes, and the reason why Big Business and Industry have been champions of both concepts. Why not support a path to obtain a guaranteed within-country labor force with “certifications” in skills they need?

The controversial DeVos founded and financially supported organizations that have fought parent groups battling against the limited Common Core, yet she said upon her nomination she “certainly” does not support the Core. The secretary also states she supports “high standards” and “accountability” – both buzzwords establishment politicians and education elites have used as alternatives to “Common Core” and federal oversight of education.

DeVos has also said in several recent interviews that “there isn’t really any Common Core anymore,” pointing to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which, she states, has done away with the controversial standards. However, at least 37 states are still using Common Core – and calling it by its name – while others have simply renamed or rebranded the politically toxic standards to something seemingly less attention-grabbing.

DeVos and her department are also currently reviewing states’ education plans to determine if they meet with the approval of the federal government. DeVos said in a statement about the review process that she is “setting the Department up to serve the support and monitoring roles intended by Congress,” even though the Constitution provides no “support and monitoring roles” for the federal government in education matters.

DeVos also says she is “committed to returning decision-making power back to states,” and that may sound like a more hopeful statement to many.

Nevertheless, achieving skill-based, technical education is once again the latest trend. The House Education and the Workforce Committee just approved the “bipartisan” Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.

“Today, my colleagues and I voted to advance bipartisan legislation that will help many Americans obtain the education and foundational skills they need to achieve a lifetime of success,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), who introduced the measure. “As Co-Chairman of the Career and Technical Education Caucus, I value the opportunity to improve workforce readiness through high-quality technical skills and remain dedicated to seeing this important bill signed into law.”

DeVos also recently chose Michigan Rep. Tim Kelly – from the secretary’s home state – to be assistant secretary of Career, Technical, and Adult Ed.

As the Detroit Free Press reports, Kelly has been “a vocal advocate for school choice and a DeVos ally. The Great Lakes Education Project, a school choice and charter school advocacy group formed by DeVos, gave $2,000 to Kelly in campaign contributions over the last three years.”

The Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) is a pro-school choice organization that promoted the Common Core standards and, according to Michigan grassroots parent activists, fought against them as they tried to rid their state of the Core.

Karen Braun, who writes at Stop Common Core in Michigan, told Breitbart News that DeVos and GLEP “do not support local control but a new model of education.”

“It is a centralized competency-based education system for workforce development – which kills creativity and destroys local and parent control,” she explained. “Big data – not parents – drive the decisions and the direction of their student’s future. It is a system to meet the demands of the state and the workforce, but leaves the dreams of the child out in the cold.”

McGroarty and Robbins say while DeVos appears to be on board with CBE, they are hoping technical education tracks remain voluntary.

“The danger is that she’ll use her federal role to advance it, despite absence of any constitutional authority,” the authors write. “She promised at the end of the speech ‘to get the federal government out of the way so that you can do your jobs.’ Let’s hope she’s serious about that.”


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