CBL – The Biggest Threat to Christian Schools in Decades

In the spring of 2014, I attended the AdvancED national convention. Almost the entire event was focused on education technology. In the midst of this geek-fest, none other than Mark Elgart the CEO came up to the stage to provide one of the keynote speeches. During his state-of-the-organization speech, Dr. Elgart advanced many of the changing paradigms that were occurring on a national level through the use of technology. One of the most profound concepts he espoused was the notion that mastery learning should be the constant and time the variable. Then, a parade of school administrators, parents, and students took to the stage throughout the week to reinforce the new paradigm. As a result of the accrediting agencies and the education establishment-at-large, Competency-Based Learning (CBL) was launched.Competency-Based Learning

One such educator in this cacophony was the former Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, Chris Cerf. In the speech, Cerf noted that student education was being hampered by the inane notion that learning equated with time spent in the classroom. He cited an instance where a parent complained that her son was a cello prodigy with many years of accomplished performance for the symphony, but he was required to take a year’s worth of fine art credit or he could not graduate.

Cerf noted the dilemma and passed through one of the most sweeping statewide policies in the nation. The new policy was that public schools in New Jersey could grant credit based upon competency in the subject matter, rather than time spent in the classroom.

For many years, states like Texas have allowed for students to receive Physical Education credit if they participate in activities outside of school like an Olympic training program. However, this has never bled over to the academic side of the house until states started adopting CBL.

The most recent state, North Carolina, passed laws that allowed for what they call Credit by Demonstrated Mastery or CDM (to see the article click HERE). The CDM program “allow schools to award credits based on mastery without requiring students to complete a course or log a certain amount of seat time.” With cooperation from the U. S. Department of Education, other states like New Hampshire, Michigan, and Ohio are moving to join the fray to allow local districts to experiment with versions of CBL (see source HERE).

Obviously, this is good news to the students. Those who are capable and competent in subject matter will no longer be imprisoned for 180 instruction hours in classes where they already know the subject matter and have the requisite skills.  Bright students can finish high school in two or three years, rather than four.

This is also good news for parents. Those with bright Christian school children may only have to pay two or three years of tuition instead of four. Those with capable public school students may shorten their time spent having to endure issues that are endemic to some public schools. Also, if they enroll them into a state that has universities with CBL programs, they may only have to pay two or three years for their child to enroll in college as well.

Politicians are happy, as this provides a way to alleviate the intense pressure of the high cost of education. As more education is affordable to more students, an educated workforce will be able to keep the business running, which means more tax money for the state’s coffers.

Obviously, this does not make many teachers and school administrators happy. It means they will enroll fewer high performing students as they remain a shorter time in the system. This, of course, will have a chilling effect on high stakes assessments. In addition, it also means the school will retain a higher percentage of those who struggle for all four years. Teachers, who have enjoyed teaching AP and honors courses will find fewer and fewer students to teach over time, as likely commercial and non-profit services will increase to prepare students to test out of these courses.

The jury is still out on the impact this may have on extra-curricular programs. There is a scenario where coaches and directors may need to prepare for losing students who prefer to get through high school at a more rapid pace.

In a recent convocation of guidance counselors in Texas, admissions officers from the UT System shared the frustration colleges already have regarding the effect of college dual-enrollment programs. Higher education was being forced to rethink many of their policies. For example, many require freshmen to live on campus. This causes sixteen-year-old students to live in the same dorms as adults in their twenties.

Although CBL makes common sense, the potential impact of CBL on Christian schools is bone-chilling to say the least. Major restructuring throughout the private sector will place high value on assessment preparation and administration. Hundreds of content providers of all kinds have already flooded the market and driven down expense for curriculum by making course content ubiquitous. As the value of testing goes up and content goes down, the business model of many of our schools will have to change accordingly. CBL’s effects on private schools will likely drive some schools to extinction if they do not start preparing now.

CBL poses the greatest threat to the public schools since the school choice laws. Nationwide, the public schools funding formulas center around attendance. Schools are allocated funds by the state and bases it on how many days and how many students are attending school. This has created an obsession with attendance issues in schools because of the funding mechanism tied to it.

In my next blog, I’ll provide some practical advice on what Christian School administrators should be doing now to prepare for the coming onslaught. So, what do you think? Does CBL pose a threat to Christian schools? Any ideas on how we can prepare ourselves for this paradigm change?

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