Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Competency-Based: It's All about Learning NOT Time

Fred Bramante is a former 8th grade science teacher in Stamford, Connecticut, a former candidate for governor, and the past Chairman of the New Hampshire State Board of Education. Appointed by both Republican and Democratic governors, he served on the State Board of Education longer than anyone in the state's history. In 2003, Mr. Bramante led New Hampshire's first full-scale effort to redesign public education since 1999. His book "Off the Clock: Moving from Time to Competency" has received rave reviews in education circles around the nation. 

It is a great honor for us to have had the opportunity to interview Fred Bramante and to share his journey with you. His Ted Talk video (below) demonstrates the passion that he has in competency-based learning and extended learning opportunities (ELO's). He wants every learner to find their passion and have a mentor that can help them realize their hopes and dreams. At the end of this article, read Fred's bio and discover how he plans to revolutionize education.

What personally drives you to change education as we know it?

What drives me to change education is that I was a terrible student. I finished 206th out of 212 students. School taught me that I wasn't very bright. Life taught me that the school was wrong. I felt like too many other students like me that go through the system. They get taught bad things about themselves, and, in most cases, things that are not true. I know what personal pain I went through. As I was seeing more and more success in my business life, it became more important for me to find a different way to do school so that kids like me do not have to go through what I went through.

You co-authored "Off the Clock" with Rose Colby. Could you tell us why competency-based systems will make the difference for all learners?

A good competency-based system will make a difference for all learners, because kids will be learning what they love instead of trying to jump through traditional school hoops. They will be the primary drivers of their learning.

Imagine a student saying I would like Mrs. Jones for English, but I was to use my karate lessons for my physical education. I want to play in a rock band for my music and do world history online. I want to learn automotive at the car dealership and want to learn space science at the planetarium. All of these become possibilities in a competency-based world where learning can take place anytime, anyplace, anyhow, and at any pace. I've always said that if kids can own how they learn, where they learn, when they learn, then why would anyone drop out of school?

How do you see competency-based systems the norm instead of the exception?

I see it as a two-tiered strategy, both top-down and bottom-up. The top-down part is that you change the state regulations. You take out time requirements: 180 days, etc. and put in competency-based regulations that make learning flexible. I always tell people you mandate flexibility which is an oxymoron. You make it so that the regulations pass much of the control of who owns the system from the system to the parents and the kids. And then, the bottom-up part is that you have to make so that the kids and parents actually know what's inside the regulations, know that they don't have to do it the way they've always done it. 

When the kids know that they have options that are fun and exciting, they will take advantage of this type of flexibility and more and more kids will start taking ownership of their learning. This thing will spread, and the system will never be the same. The National Center for Competency-based Learning is to establish a unifying sense of purpose in our communities by fully engaging the resources and talent to transform education in America from a system structure of time and place to an anytime, any place system designed to optimize the potential of every learner. The mission is to advance and implement competency-based learning by serving as a prime catalyst and harnessing community resources, influencing public opinion, and changing education policy at the local, state and national levels. That's a pretty ambitious undertaking, but I am convinced that we can make this happen.

Can you tell us about your National Center for Competency-based Learning organization and it's vision?

There are organizations and individuals around the country that are committed to moving in a competency direction. There has to be some type of an organization that ultimately can start connecting all these people together so that we build the army that is going to change the dinosaur of an education system we currently have. I'm confident that the National Center can help serve that purpose.

Can you tell us about the ELO project in New Hampshire, it's goal and how this can be a national model?

I also started a group called New Hampshire Extended Learning Organization. It's similar to the National Center for Competency-based Learning (NCCBL), but it's really doing it at the state level. What we're trying to do is to ultimately make it so that the world becomes the classroom for every student. In order to do that, we are working with manufacturers, marketing people, farming, software developers, chambers of commerce, higher education, and non-profits who are all working with public school educators.

We are going to take on the task of identifying and enlisting the services of 10,000 mentors in New Hampshire. These mentors include doctors, lawyers, accountants, surveyors, guitar instructors, sculptors, farmers, etc who will provide opportunities for kids to learn in real world, hands-on ways. Things that never could have been offered by schools so learners can choose from online offerings, traditional classrooms, and experiential opportunities. If we can successfully pull this off, it can be a model for other states. I'm very excited about it. This will take us a while, but I have confidence that we will get there.

Fred Bramante’s Ted Talk - It's Not About Time; It's About Learning”

In this Ted Talk, Fred Bramante shares that in 1964, he graduated 206th out of 212 students in his high school; that year his application for admission to both colleges were rejected. Refusing to give up on himself, he persevered and received his Bachelor's Degree in Science in 1970.

Fred left teaching in 1976 to dedicate his full-time effort to the fledgling music business he started with his life savings of $600 in order to supplement his teaching salary. At its peak, Daddy's Junky Music was among the top 20 music retailers in America. But he never stopped being a teacher. Education was in his blood.

In 1992, Fred Bramante was appointed to the New Hampshire State Board of Education. After unsuccessful runs for governor on education platforms, he was appointed Chairman of the New Hampshire State Board and was charged by the Governor with the responsibility to lead New Hampshire's first full-scale education reform effort since 1919. In 1995, Fred received the Alumni Achievement Award from Keene State College where he received his Bachelor's Degree. In 2009, he was awarded the Alumni Achievement Award from Plymouth State University where he received his Masters Degree in Educational Leadership in 2006.

The results of Fred's efforts led to landmark changes in New Hampshire's education regulations including the move from credit for seat time (the number of hours a student spends in class, known as the Carnegie Unit), to credit for demonstrated learning (anytime, anyplace, anyhow, any pace). Following New Hampshire's lead, the concept of a competency-based model is now being considered by virtually every state department of education and is high on the agenda of the Council of Chief State School Officers. In 2012, New Hampshire won the Frank Newman State Innovation Award from the Education Commission of the States.

Thank you Fred for all you do for our kids and learning!