When Texas public school students return to the classroom later this month, the state’s portion of their educating funding will be based on a number of factors, including whether their seat is in their seat. That’s the current model for school funding in Texas—it’s partly determined by the number of minutes that a student is in the classroom.
The funding model does not consider the quality of education that the student is receiving or even what they are doing in the class. With such a model, schools are incentivized to keep students in the classroom for as long as necessary to earn funding—as opposed to focusing on the skills that the students are meant to learn.
The pandemic made things worse. With kids forced to learn from home, seat time-based funding moved the focus even further from ensuring that students obtain the necessary skills. According to the TEA, attendance for students taking classes online was determined by a single notification that the student logged on—at some point during the day—and turned in at least, one assignment.
This is no way to measure what a student has learned in a class or a year, or to determine which students need additional instruction or have shown mastery.
There’s a better way. Implementing a competency-based education would ensure the mastery of skills. Students would have the freedom to work on a concept for however long they needed until they were deemed to have shown proficiency. Such a model allows for a more individualized learning plan. No two students learn the exact same way or at the exact same pace, so they should not be expected to master concepts in the same amount of time. Competency-based practices incentivize teachers and schools to place more importance on student achievement instead of minutes spent in a classroom.
I experienced the complications of seat-time firsthand. In 2010, I moved to Texas and enrolled in 8th grade. When I created my schedule, I was told that I needed one class each of math, English, history, and science along with three electives. At my previous school, I completed geometry and had passing marks on my transcript to prove it.
Yet there was not a math class more advanced than geometry offered at the middle school level—and there were no virtual options made available to me at the time—I had to take geometry again to fulfill the scheduling requirements of the district. The class was forty-five minutes long and school lasted for around one hundred and eighty days, I spent 8,100 minutes or one hundred and thirty-five hours on concepts that I had already proven I knew. It was clear that my value to the school was in having me fill that seat.
During the pandemic, more students took part in virtual and asynchronous learning than ever before. This could have been a step in the right direction for competency-based practices as virtual learning naturally aligns with competency-based learning because students can go through modules at their own pace if they complete the assignments by a deadline. Higher education institutions style classes as such and the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for K-12 institutions (especially high schools) to follow suit. The choice to stick with seat time—and not implement competency-based practices—was a misstep for Texas schools.
As of 2018, 30 states are considered “advanced” or “developing” in their integration of competency-based applications into their schools, while Texas is in the second to last category— “emerging” —with limited flexibility to include competency-based practices within its schools.
As the pandemic demonstrated, seat time means little. Competency-based education, on the other hand, would challenge all students to progress at their own pace while using the next class as motivation for students to develop and maintain a good work ethic.
Parents and students deserve options and more control over their education. Competency-Based Education gives students and their parents more choices and can enhance not only their education, but the education of all.