What’s Competency Based Education?

This week a large group of Utah legislators will be attending a conference at Southern Utah University (click link for agenda to attend events) on something called competency-based education (CBE). The conference was set up by Senator Howard Stephenson, a legislator I’ve worked with for about 10 years on education issues. This is a topic where I think there are benefits to the concept, but the way it’s being introduced troubles me and unless a number of significant issues are dealt with, I think Utah should steer clear of CBE. I will explain why and share two letters I’ve received on the subject.

First, the idea behind CBE isn’t necessarily a bad idea. At it’s core it espouses the notion that when a student has learned a set of skills, demonstrated by assessment mastery, they can move on to the next level of learning. This is a natural progression and common sense. This would also mean that homeschoolers returning to school could potentially just test out of classes and get credit for them (if they wanted to earn the credit) rather than sit through a class logging time being bored with something they already know. It would also mean parents would probably see exactly where their students were at and be able to know where they need help in a given area.  This has the potential to eliminate the current grading system and let mastery of a subject be the determining factor of advancement at each student’s pace. On-demand assessments could let a student who has prepared, take a test and move on. An article outlining the benefits of CBE can be found at this next link. It is written by someone who favors Common Core.


If CBE could be done in a context of true local control of education, I would have few worries about it and would support it for the reasons above. However, some of the major players in the move toward CBE completely oppose local control of education and actively state it should be done away with. They are central planners who desire to move us toward a national education system where children are tracked from birth into school and the workforce, with specific training along the way to meet national economic goals.

Alyson Williams said it well on a Facebook thread when she wrote:

“Competency based education at the true meaning of words means if someone can prove competency in something, say Algebra, they shouldn’t have to take a class in Algebra, but should be able to move on. Competency Based Education (Outcome Based Education, Standards Based Education, School to Work, Goals 2000, NCLB, Common Core, Career and College Ready) as a reform movement is more central planning of the workforce/society through education (enforced by assessment/data profile/certification monopolies) where an individual must prove certain “competencies” in order to fit well in the workforce/society.”

When you examine who Senator Stephenson has invited to the conference, there are several people who are directly tied into these national goals. The list includes Marc Tucker, a proponent of CBE, and I believe someone Utahns should not be listening to or giving voice to. In 1992 Tucker wrote Hillary Clinton a now infamous letter congratulating her on Bill’s election victory and seeking to have her work to implement a national education system that would track children from birth to death and implement a school to work training program. In 1998, Rep. Bob Schaffer fought and succeeded in having this letter entered into the Congressional Record because it was viewed as dangerous to America’s education system.

Yong Zhao, one who favors personalizing education to meet the strengths and passions of students and opposes personalized digital learning driven by big data, and is very concerned with Marc Tucker’s view of education. He points out here that Tucker’s view of national testing is actually a lot higher than we already have, and Tucker admits to this charge.


Diane Ravitch agrees.


Here are some of my concerns with CBE, which not only outnumber the pros I can find, but in my view, they represent an exponentially more troubling scenario.

  • Who is setting the competency/mastery levels?
  • Who is developing the assessments?
  • Who is grading them? A person? A computer?
  • This heavily relies on data collection from students.
  • What else is counted in “competency?” Values, attitudes, and beliefs repeatedly get mentioned.
  • Competency doesn’t necessarily equal literacy in the subject
  • You can’t opt out of CBE assessments like you can with SAGE so if they are geared toward one political viewpoint or one way of thinking your child can’t avoid being influenced or graded in accordance with someone else’s agenda.
  • Further diminishes local control by putting the feds and states in charge of academics. This is also specifically part of Marc Tucker’s goal as you’ll see below.
  • Epitomizes workforce training instead of education by its focus on skills, dispositions, and attitudes, over literacy.
  • CBE makes a child “human capital” for the state instead of educating a child to the best of their ability in accordance with agency and freedom principles.
  • Where does art & music fit into a CBE world?

Here’s a good article expounding some of these things.


The other day I received two excellent letters from Christel Swasey and JaKell Sullivan to legislators. I am including them below to help further explain why I believe CBE can only exist in a locally controlled education setting, and even then it’s not what I’d call an ideal education plan. We cannot allow national interests to destroy local control of education. The end result will be the cradle-to-grave, school-to-work training program that will destroy the creative freedom loving spirit that made this nation great.

JaKell Sullivan’s letter


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Re: Competency-Based Education – Fulfilling the Fundamental Transformation of America By Changing Student’s Core Values

Dear Utah Legislators, State Office of Education Leaders and State Board members,

As many of you prepare to attend the education conference at Southern Utah University (SUU) next week to learn about national competency-based education reforms, I ask you to consider that federal competency-based education reforms have the potential to forever change America’s political structure. This is a difficult concept, but one need only look at the effects of ObamaCare to see how a major policy shift can dismantle local governance. The Obama administration is selling competency-based education reforms and personalized learning as a way to achieve college “affordability.” This is a deception, just as “affordability” was the deception to get ObamaCare implemented.

Competency-based education in the context of locally controlled standards, assessments and accountability is a wonderful thing in certain subjects and for certain objectives. But, under an education system that has been restructured—by President Obama’s Race To The Top reforms—big-data and federalized assessment systems now have the opportunity to use competency-based credentialing (known as digital badging) of teachers and students to move education control out of the hands of our local leaders. The Obama administration funded open coding specs for America’s learning and computer-adaptive assessment platforms in order to set the stage for competency-based education—a global education system managed by labor boards using direct assessments.” This is the antithesis of why our country was founded.

The term “competency-based ed” is deceptive because competency in individual skills sounds appealing, and even personalized for every individual. But, as authority for personalization moves away from local leaders, global values can be inserted into learning and testing in ways that are more about conditioning than learning. This will not happen overnight (just like a single-payer healthcare system won’t happen overnight), but it will happen. Colleges are already taking the federal bait. The State School Board should consider what they really control anymore.

The Obama administration funded the creation of the Gordon Commission in 2011 to help state policy makers move states away from high-stakes assessment (at least in public perception) and toward the use of stealth, formative assessments in learning platforms as the means to implement competency-based education reforms. Utah legislators passed a resolution last year to facilitate this. The Commission issued a report in 2013 and stated, “The Common Core Standards, and the rethinking of assessments that they are fostering, provide an opportunity to challenge [the] deeply held belief in local control.”

The Gates Foundation’s KnowledgeWorks published two policy briefs in 2013 (see: here and here) that detail how Obama’s Race To The Top’s end-goal was to bring states’ pre K-12, higher ed and workforce systems under the competency-based umbrella. Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting a father who works as an engineer for Microsoft. He said that when his 3rd-grade daughter talked about the computer adaptive assessment she took at school, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up because he understood that these types of assessments are powerful tools that can assess attitudes, values and beliefs—and change a child’s worldview.

You will be hearing from Marc Tucker at the SUU conference, along with reformers from Jeb Bush’s camp and Google—all folks who are working to implement Obama’s Race To The Top objectives. Marc Tucker’s writings are widely published and his purposes are well-known. It is critical that Utah legislators understand his objectives. He believes that education should be controlled by workforce labor boards—the antithesis of rugged individualism, autonomy and the freedom to become whatever one chooses. He proposed his reforms to Hillary Clinton in 1992 in a letter stating that, with Bill in office, they could “remold the entire American system” into “a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone,” coordinated by “a system of labor market boards at the local, state and federal levels” where curriculum and “job matching” will be handled by counselors “accessing the integrated computer-based program.” Hillary and Marc Tucker have been collaborating with global education reformers ever since to get this system implemented. It wasn’t until President Obama was in office, and was willing to bypass our Constitutional structure to implement the necessary technological reforms, that Tucker’s vision could be fully realized.

Three groups are helping to fulfill Tucker’s vision: the state superintendents’ club called the Council of Chief State School Officers, Bill Gates’ EdSteps and the Asia Society. They admit to using Common Core to shift America’s education system toward assessing competencies. These groups are partnered with the Utah State Office of Education and other state offices of ed.

In this MUST-WATCH 51-second video they show that they’ve designed competency-based education to change children’s core values. They state, “Global Competence is rooted in our changing reality and is constantly evolving with the world. At its core, global competence is the disposition and capacity to understand and act on issues of global significance.” Their definition shows that they want children, and students of all ages, to believe there are no absolute truths, only perspectives. And that education is about “taking action” for social justice, as opposed to becoming a learned person. They will assess students “dispositions” and “capacities” for becoming global change agents who are focused on the societal issues deemed important by global elites.

Hillsdale College recently published, “Frank Capra’s America and Ours.” In it, John Marini talked about the famous movie Mr. Smith written by Frank Capra. He said that “Frank Capra did not see America as many Americans do today, in terms of personal categories of identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. He understood America in terms of its political principles.”

I urge you to consider the implications for our children’s worldview as we implement a global assessment system being funded by the Obama administration—with “competencies” being defined by international elites. If we bestow upon our children an education system with assessments that demote American exceptionalism, then we are choosing to give them an America without freedom.

John Marini continued, “Capra located the corruption of society in the political sphere—it was politicians who had usurped the institutions of government on behalf of their own interests and the special interests.” Marc Tucker represents the “special interests” of the Obama administration to “fundamentally transform America.”

I welcome an opportunity to discuss this information further with any who are interested. It would be prudent for legislators to offer up another conference where the ideas of liberty in education could be espoused. We stand at a crossroads. Will we choose locally controlled assessment systems where parents can rightly remain the stewards over what their children learn with the help of local teachers? Or, will we choose to align our children’s education with the Obama/Marc Tucker global assessment system that changes children’s values and dismantles our political structures?

Kind regards,

JaKell Sullivan


Christel Swasey’s letter


Tucker, a Top Ten Scariest Ed Reformer, to Lecture at Legislator-USOE Conference

I’m surely sprouting new gray hairs at 80 miles per hour.

If there was doubt about whether something was truly rotten in the state of education governance here in sweet, naiive Utah, this news should end that doubt: of all the possible gurus, this is who our legislators, USOE and state school board have invited as the out-of-town centerpiece for a joint education conference taking place this Wednesday and Thursday.


Marc Tucker.

You may recall that he’s on the Top Ten List of Scariest People in Education Reform.

He’s the espouser of no more Algebra II in our high schools, the dismisser of classic literature as not so relevant, a disciple of federal power, a conspirator with Hillary Clinton for cradle-to-grave student-citizen micromanagement, and the top crusader against what he calls “the beloved American emblem: local control” –he’s the one.

The  conference is for Utah’s State Board of Education, State Office of Education, and legislators, but it’s open to the public and will be streamed.

If you can attend, it’s  on September 2 and 3, at Gilbert Great Hall, R. Haze Hunter Conference Center, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah.


If you don’t know who Marc Tucker is, learn a little bit more.

Marc Tucker is– unbelievable as it may seem– an open advocate for the complete deletion of local control.   You read it right. This is a direct quote  from Tucker:

 The United States will have to largely  abandon the beloved emblem of American education: local control. If the goal is  to greatly increase the capacity and authority of the state education agencies,  much of the new authority will have to come at the expense of local  control.

Marc Tucker also despises what is –or was– real education, in favor of the robotic efficiency  of cradle-to-grave federal micromanagement of systems.  He wrote the unbelievable NCEE report that advocates for the removal of Algebra II –and any math beyond it from high schools, that also labeled classic literature and student personal writing “less relevant” and dismissable.  If this sounds like impossible, deliberate dumbing down, you have not read Tucker’s reasoning, which envisions a socialist’s factory view of school: a place to create economy-centered worker bees, to generate a collective; not a place to “waste” resources for soaring and free thinkers.  He’s all about efficiency at the expense of individual freedom.

Marc Tucker’s BFF relationship with the creepiest lady in D.C., Hillary Clinton,  is notable.  It is a decades-long collaboration that, back in the 90s, envisioned US education with all federal control rather than any local control. That collaboration was recorded in the Congressional public record.  Tucker and Clinton outlined the entire Common Core/Common Data movement, but used different terminology.  Read that in full sometime.

Marc Tucker’s shameful, anti-freedom philosophies have been repeatedly, successfully put to pasture by great thinkers and scholars– for example, very clearly, by Dr. Yong Zhao.  Dr. Zhao should have been invited to advise Utah this week, not Tucker!

If you want to know more, I’ve written many articles about Marc Tucker.  He’s bad news.  Read my archive on Tucker at this link.

I really can’t believe he’s coming.

What are your thoughts?  Is this okay?


–If he were invited to the university for a two-sided debate, fine!

–If his visit was a University lecture, some attempt by the dean to expose students to radical ideas from extreme ends of a spectrum, fine!

But this is not a university lecture.

It’s a joint legislative – school board – USOE meeting, which just happens to be taking place at SUU.  It could have been at any venue.

No one is slated to debate him.

Marc “end-local-control” Tucker is the only out of town speaker coming to this conference to address the Utah legislature and the Utah State Office and School Board.  He was hand selected for the at-taxpayer-expense conference –as someone to look to for advice.

That decision says more about the state of education politics in Utah than anything more I could write tonight.



For a good perspective on outcome vs. process, check out Yong Zhao’s article here:




6 thoughts on “What’s Competency Based Education?”

  1. This is very concerning. We were introduced to Outcome Based Education in the early 1990s when my children were in elementary school in the state of Minnesota. It sounds like Competency Based Education is just another name for Outcome Based Education. The education reforms and experiments that were conducted on my children left scars for many years. This was my first exposure to problems in the public school and I started asking lots of questions. I learned that Bill and Hillary Clinton were big proponents of Outcome Based Education and were involved in promoting its implementation in our state. When Common Core came to Utah, it looked very close to what we had experienced with Outcome Based Education. I don’t know why the USOE is looking into this. There is not much difference between this and the Common Core with nationalized standards. A skunk by any other name would smell just as bad.

  2. Here in Maine, we are on the cutting edge of the movement toward “competency-based” education… only here it is called “proficiency-based” education. We have been praised by Jeb Bush’s FEE as being the first state to have mandated that all high schools award a proficiency-based diploma. It is rapidly sweeping the nation and has been written into the Senate version of the ESEA rewrite. I encourage you to read my blog for more information.

    1. You were also one of the first states to implement Common Core many years ago and don’t even know it. I have a policy from ME from (I believe) 1989 and it is called Common Core. Hmmmm.

  3. So why are they not allowing or why have they not invited the other side of the story???? When you present one argument for something with no differing opinion you are not educating you are indoctrinating. I would demand equal time for the other side of the argument. And if they do not allow it I would throw the biggest rally outside the building the state of Utah ever saw.

  4. You mention the Gordon Commission. I wonder how many know that their “beloved” Diane Ravitch is part of the Gordon Commission. Her best friend is Linda Darling-Hammond. Look it up. If they removed her name I have a saved snapshot.

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