It’s easy to get excited about the virtues of mastery, or competency-based, learning.
What’s not to like about a system that guarantees that students learn, as opposed to one that is focused on the amount of time students sit in seats?
My new book, “From Reopen to Reinvent,” makes a full-throated plea for more K-12 schools to adopt mastery-based learning, in which students only move on from a concept once they demonstrate mastery of the knowledge and skills at hand. When done well, it guarantees that each and every student leaves K-12 schools prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce.
Working to improve performance and obtain mastery is the goal. In many ways, that is how the real world works.
Its emphasis on ensuring that all students learn the required standards and competencies is a far cry from today’s schools in which time is held as a constant and each student’s learning is variable.
In our current seat-time system, students move from concept to concept after spending a fixed number of days, weeks or months on the subject. Educators teach, sometimes administer a test and move students on to the next unit or body of material regardless of their results, effort and understanding of the topic. Today’s system signals to students that it doesn’t matter if you stick with something because you’ll move on either way. Mastery-based learning changes that dynamic, as students must persevere — acknowledging failure as a step on the road to understanding — in order to make progress.
Despite its seeming superiority, skeptics have raised four legitimate concerns about mastery-based learning that deserve serious answers:
Michael B. Horn is the author of the new book “From Reopen to Reinvent: (Re)creating School for Every Child.” He is a cofounder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonprofit think tank.
This story about mastery-based learning was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.
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