book cover

Available now. 

Let me share a bit of the backstory that led me to writing the book, and a brief overview of what it contains.

In spring 2016, with the encouragement of friends and colleagues including Tim Bazemore (Catlin Gabel School) and Nanci Kauffman (Castilleja School), I accepted the kind invitation of Scott Looney, Head of the Hawken School, to attend a convening of educators to launch the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC).  About 60 of us–mostly school leaders, but some writer/consultants too–spent several days at the Cleveland Botanical Garden to learn about Scott’s vision and explore aspects of what such a new form of crediting and transcript-writing would look like, how it would function, why it would be so transformative, and what it’ll take to bring it to fruition.

Like many others there, I was greatly impressed with the model Scott Looney and some of his colleagues,  including Doris Korda,  were designing, and enthusiastic about its potential.   In the year and a half that followed, at Scott’s request, I assisted in the early phases of the project’s evolution, including by

  • preparing draft competency rubrics that the MTC distributed to its members in 2017-18;
  • participating in a two-day planning meeting at Phillips Andover in summer 2017 with, among others, Scott, Trish Russel (then MTC Executive Director), Kevin Mattingly, Eric Hudson, Nicole Furlonge, and Nigel Furlonge, during which we prepared MTC informational programs and resources for the first set of MTC Site Director meetings; and
  • researching, curating, and composing a set of draft competencies that could be used for those Site Director meetings in 2017-18.

That same year, in the Fall of 2017,  I had the opportunity to tour New Zealand for a week, during which I visited four schools, inquiring about and studying the New Zealand National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) system, which, as is explained at length in the book, has many parallels to, and lessons for, the development of a competency (or mastery) based crediting system in the US.   I should express here my gratitude to my many guides and informants in NZ, especially Richard Wells and Claire Amos, two remarkable Kiwi educators.

Accordingly, when an editor at Routledge Press, Daniel Schwartz, with whom I’d been working on another (stalled) project asked me what else I was working on, about what I might like to write a book proposal for, the topic of competency and mastery based crediting was top of mind.   Dan was intrigued, and assisted me greatly in moving this project from concept to, now, completion and publication by Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

I should be clear, and this is carefully explained in the book’s acknowledgements and in the (one) chapter dedicated to the Mastery Transcript Consortium, I have no current affiliation with the MTC  (and haven’t since 2017),  and the book is not in any way authorized or approved by the MTC.   It does not purport to present the MTC as it exists today in 2019 (or whenever it is read in the future) and should not be used that way, given that the MTC has been and will likely continue to be fast-evolving, but instead looks at MTC as described in presentations and meetings I participated in and on its website in 2016-17 as a model of competency-based crediting.

This is a book about the broader model that the MTC is the leading representative of in the US,  the concept and model of crediting students in secondary schooling for the competencies–and/or the “mastery–they have developed and demonstrated, rather than the conventional courses they have completed via meeting minimum requirements and “seat time.”

This shift–a massive shift in defining what a secondary school education entails–has many implications for what happens in student learning, how learning is recorded and reported, and even how teaching and schooling generally is organized and delivered.

No single book–and I believe this to be, but I could be mistaken, the first book-length treatment in the US about this competency-based model in secondary schooling–can fully address all the elements entailed in such a shift.   As Scott Looney has said, it will be likely a decade-long journey in navigating and accomplishing such a transformation, with many obstacles to be surmounted and many lessons to be learned.   Nevertheless, I have attempted to offer information and commentary across a range of the important issues–the why, what, and how–entailed in this model.

In Chapter 1,  the case is made for why now is the time for such a shift, some basic terms and explanations are established, and an overview of the book is provided.    A complete Table of Contents can be found here.

Chapters 2- 4 are about the “what” of competency-based crediting.  Chapter 2 (one of my two favorite chapters) examines three existing models of this type of crediting, two of them in Higher Ed, and one in New Zealand (NCEAs), and identifies what insights can be taken from these other examples of this type of crediting.   Chapter 3 is a thorough consideration of the MTC model as laid out by Scott Looney at that 2016 meeting.   Chapter 4 studies various key elements of the new model such as competencies, rubrics, portfolios, and transcripts.

Chapters 5-7 shift the focus to the how.  In Chapter 5, we look at the “downstream effects” for schools and systems that implement this model,  seeking to understand how schooling and teaching may change as and after this approach is implemented, and offering guidance on how to accelerate this transition.    Chapter 6, my other favorite chapter, carries this discussion further by providing a series of seven short case studies of schools and systems already undertaking the work of implementing competency-based education and competency-based crediting.   Chapter 7 is a how-to guide, composed of five phases and 17 steps, that educational leaders can use to inform their own strategic plans for accomplishing this complicated and comprehensive change.   There is no way for this list to be exhaustive, and it will need to be tailored for the particular needs of each school and circumstance, but it should be helpful for informing that planning.

Chapter 8 is a bit of an outlier, looking at the how from another perspective, that of higher ed.   In every conversation one has about this new kind of secondary school crediting, one question always arises: what about college;  how will higher ed admissions view such a radical departure from the norm?   In this chapter, I consider various reports about how college admission observers of the MTC are already responding, and I share what I heard in interviews with university admission officers in various types of institutions.   Their questions and concerns are categorized in 8 types, and for each I offer a short commentary.

It is my hope that this book offers useful information and instruction for anyone involved or interested in making secondary school learning deeper, more relevant, and more richly engaging and rigorous.  These readers would include school and district leaders, teachers, board members, parents, and students themselves.   It is also possible that some of the hard-working folks in higher ed who are anticipating in their offices the arrival of a different kind of high school transcript might find this book a useful guide into what to expect and how to prepare to receive them.

Kevin Mattingly, a longtime educational leader at Milton Academy (MA), Lawrenceville School (NJ), and Riverdale Country School (NY), and an Education Professor at the Klingenstein Center, Teachers College at Columbia University,  is owed by me a great debt for his conversational companionship during many of the early MTC meetings, for his perceptive comments on this alternate model for organizing secondary learning, and for his kindness in writing a forward for the book.     You can read an excerpt of that forward here, and see a short “blurb” from Kevin’s forward on the book’s Amazon page.

Look here on the blog for a series of shorter posts in the coming weeks sharing short excerpts from the book.