A Promising Competency-based Model for Historically Marginalized Students

Competency-based education models are complicated organisms, and staging their development and growth is generally a multi-year task, whether one is a launching a new school or re-envisioning an existing program. As the world of CBE picks up momentum our team at reDesign is continually asking ourselves, “Who’s Leading the Way in Serving Historically Marginalized Young People?” In preparation for #iNACOL16 we documented some of our learning in a Prezi (pictured above, and linked in our slide deck). We will continue to add to it over the course of this year, so please let us know about the models you think of when you ask yourself the same question.

What makes a model a “CBE Leader”?

At reDesign, when we look at CBE models, we look through the lens of our Mastery Learning Roadmap (inset, 2015), which identifies over 60 CBE elements that are present in fully-implemented models. While our Roadmap provides a loose sequence for these elements, we’ve seen schools move through the work from a number of different starting points.

Knowing that there is much we haven’t seen, and that programs are continually iterating on their models, we remain incredibly inspired by the creative and successful efforts of Bronx Arena High School in New York City, where ALL of the elements of CBE are currently present. At Arena, 65% of the graduating class enrolls in college, and 82% of enrollees persist beyond the freshman year. In NYC, these numbers are outstanding. But, Arena is all the more impressive because it exclusively serves over-age students who have faced repeated school failure and are now extremely close to aging-out of the system without coming close to meeting graduation requirements.

Hear from the Students>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1laaHPjEl4U

This year, we did a deep dive into the Bronx Arena Model to try to understand and codify the secrets of their success (To learn more about their model Check out >> Learning in the Arena). Not surprisingly, at the heart of their model are two core commitments: a powerful strengths-based approach to youth development coupled with a deeply personalized approach to learning.

(Learn more at >> Learning in the Arena 2016: p. 15)

Over the next couple of years we hope to be able to share the stories of 4-5 additional mature CBE models who have found powerful ways to serve historically marginalized young people. If you know of such models whose story haven’t yet been told, please let us know: [email protected].     

“Creativity follows mastery.” These are the words of Benjamin Bloom, who believed that learners are capable of incredible things if they have access to powerful learning environments. This is why we’ve chosen the name “Bloom” for our knowledge-sharing initiative. Bloom is all about our stake in helping to build the capacity of practitioners and leaders who work with our most marginalized youth to reimagine, recreate, redesign our models for learning–within schools and beyond. For us, this is fundamentally a matter of social justice. Reach out if you’d like to submit a guest post, or sign up for our monthly newsletter: [email protected].

antonia's picture


Antonia is the Director of reDesgin, LLC, an educational design shop committed to developing skills, understanding, projects, and products that increase the chances that historically marginalized students can thrive as learners, creators, contributors, and doers. Antonia currently thinks and writes about the design of strong competency-based learning systems, the need for white allies to support the radical diversification of the education sector, new models for curriculum development, and the opportunities and challenges of meaningful adult development in schools.