Competency-Based Education Approaches in K-12 Schools: Building 21 Model

Competency-based education (CBE) isn’t just gaining ground in higher ed: a number of K-12 educators from across the country are now embracing the approach—with promising results.

In this first post of a two-part series, you’ll learn how educators from Philadelphia’s Building 21 share some of their best CBE resources. Below is a round up of tools and resources focused on competency-based education to help practitioners personalize learning for students.

But First, Get A Student’s Take on CBE
Listen to Nico, a student from E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., talk about how competency-based education has helped engage him as a learner:

This type of agency, engagement, and deeper learning is exactly why I spent so many hours as a classroom teacher pouring over assessment data and planning learning with and for my students—despite the fact that I didn’t have tech tools to support me, and my assessment “hub” was a binder with a section for each student!

Model: Building 21 – In partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, Building 21 (B21) is a non-selective public district school serving students in grades 9-12.

Their mission is to empower all learners to connect with their passions and build agency to impact their world, and this mission is realized by placing students at the center of the system.

Our goal has remained constant since that first day. We wanted to develop a new secondary school design that adapts to meet learners where they are, and then helps them to pursue their interests and passions on a pathway to college and career success.” – Laura Shubilla (Read the full article: Building 21 gives students endless opportunities)

At Building 21, students are supported to design their own pathway to graduation—a pathway defined by B21’s competency-based framework. Within the framework—which is derived from the Common Core standards and other nationally validated standard sets—each student follows a student-driven customized learning pathway to graduation that includes:

  • Studios: In Choice Studios, students design proposals for a class based on interest and passion (such as fashion or web design) and teachers work to ensure that B21 competencies are embedded and content from multiple disciplines is integrated. Traditional courses are also reorganized as studios that incorporate field study, called Core Studios. In core studios, students are grouped heterogeneously. Both studios are project-based.
  • Student-created learning pathways: Student-created pathways can be done individually in Personalized Studios.  During personalized studios, students work towards the mastery of selected competencies through individualized assignments organized around their interests.  Personalized studios also include experiential learning opportunities such as internships.
  • Workshops: Blended learning modules and targeted skill development occur during workshops, which are aligned to the Common Core standards and students are grouped by skill level.
  • Advisories: Believing that relationships need to be at the foundation of their model, students and teachers are organized into advisories, each with the purpose to create safe, open spaces for students to feel ownership of their school experience and to receive personalized support.
  • Internships: Offered across the 9-12 continuum, students extend their learning and ignite their passions by connecting with professionals in their community.

Read the entire article by Stephanie Blouin on Next Generation Learning Blog and check out the additional resources from B21 at

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