Warning: Florida’s CBE Pilot Program May Sound Like A Great Idea But May Turn Out To Be Not So Great.

“Pilots are great because some of my great ideas turned out to be not so great, so doing it on a pilot basis is a smart thing to do…” Jeb Bush 11/15/17

In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed SB1714/HB1365, which established a Competency Based Education (CBE) Pilot Program in 4 counties (Lake, Pinellas, Seminole and Palm Beach) and PK Yonge, the University of Florida’s Developmental Research School. The pilot program was to be created within the Department of Education and administered for a period of 5 years (f.s. 1003.4996).

The CBE Pilot Program defined “competency-based education” as “a system in which a student may advance to higher levels of learning after demonstrating a mastery of concepts and skills instead of after a specified timeframe.” We have already written about our concerns regarding competency based education. You can read more concerns here, here and here. The biggest concern expressed is that, despite their popularity in the “reform crowd”, there is no sound research proving these CBE/Personalized Learning programs are effective educational models. In 2016, Florida’s pilot program was presented as a way to determine the effectiveness of CBE. It is becoming more apparent that expansion of CBE, regardless of effectiveness, was the real goal.

Way back on 2/17/16, I testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K – 12 Education in opposition to SB1714, the original CBE Pilot bill, saying “I hope the pilot will be completed and you’ll look at the data, and you’ll have a real conversation about Competency Based Education before you spread its to all our children.”

No. Such. Luck.

After the first year of the pilot program (2016-17), the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) provided the Governor, Senate President and Speaker for the House with the statutorily required annual report, “summarizing the activities and accomplishments of the pilot program and any recommendations for statutory revisions.” That report, which is NOT found on the FLDOE website but must be personally requested, contains NO outcomes measures (not a single data point!) and makes NO requests for statutory revisions. The FLDOE does report that Lake County has dropped out of the pilot program, 2 counties (Pinellas and Seminole) spent the entire year in “planning mode”, and one county (Palm Beach) enrolled gifted 3rd-5th grade math students only. Now, despite NO report of success in any of the participating pilot districts, there are legislative plans to expand the “pilot program” to all counties. Why? Perhaps because Competency Based Education or “personalized learning” is a priority of reformers like Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), or maybe because this was the plan all along.

From the beginning, there were questions about the CBE Pilot. The “pilot” allowed participating school districts to create their own programs, leaving it up to the individual school districts to develop the performance outcomes and measures. Such measures were to include, but not be limited to, achievement on state standardized assessments, graduation rates, retention/promotion rates and “indicators of college and career readiness.” The lack of clear definitions and parameters made it unlikely that definitive conclusions could ever be made regarding the overall effectiveness of CBE. In 2016, the initial CBE Pilot Program bills allowed the Commissioner of Education to expand Competency Based Education to all counties and charter schools before completion of the pilot. At the time, Senator Bullard raised concerns about the lack of defined parameters, warning “the potential of exponentially expanding the program without any tangible feedback or data related to whether or not this works, because it is not defined in the bill, so there is a very slippery slope we’re about to go on.”  This ability to expand the program before completion of the 5 year pilot was amended out of the final bill before passage.

Senator Jeff Brandes and Representative Jennifer Sullivan have filed this session’s bills (SB968 and HB1035, respectively) which rename the pilot the “Mastery-Based Education Pilot Program,” allow alternate credit and grading systems, delete the retirement that the State Board of Education adopt rules, and allow all 67 districts to apply to participate in the “pilot” program. Keep in mind that any program that expands to all districts should no longer be called a “pilot program”; this is definitely the slippery slope Senator Bullard warned us about.

Why is the pilot program being expanded in the absence of positive outcomes data or any relevant data at all, for that matter. What we do know is that districts dropped out (Lake) or remain in planning mode.  Why expand a pilot that is mostly still in the planning phase? In the absence of data, legislators should be proceed with caution, not move full steam ahead.

Florida statute requires that the FLDOE annually, by June 1, provide to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a report summarizing the activities and accomplishments of the pilot program and any recommendations for statutory revisions. The Competency -Based 2016-17 Annual Report which was delivered late, on June 9, 2017, summarizes little more than the participating districts self-reported successes and challenges. As previously mentioned, there is no mention of any need for statutory revisions and there are no outcomes measures. This may be partly due to the mandated requirement that the report be presented by June 1… before most state test scores are reported and leaving little time for any real evaluation of any useful data.

Finding the annual report was difficult as it is not posted online. I had to contact the FLDOE directly and they had to “make sure it was okay to send it to me” before they emailed. In fact, there is no “Competency Based Pilot” link on the FLDOE website.  This is unusual since the law requires this pilot program to be created within the Department of Education and administered for a period of 5 years.

It is NOT difficult, however, to find reports of CBE successes in Florida if you search the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s website. They have been celebrating Florida’s success and their involvement for several years. Here is the Foundation’s 2016 Report “POLICY, PILOTS AND THE PATH TO COMPETENCY-BASED EDUCATION: A Tale of Three States.” On page 16 they explain that the original CBE Pilot Program bills (SB1714/HB1365) were drafted by the Foundation for Florida’s Future, the Florida “arm” of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The Foundation for Florida’s Future also helped to coordinate communication between district leaders and legislators to shape not only the policy language, but the related communication efforts as well. In other words, theFoundation for Florida’s Future  wrote the bill and provided the legislators and the districts with the talking points.

The 2016 report also makes it clear that the “core goal” of the CBE “Pilot” program was never to determine whether CBE “works” but rather to alter state policy, allowing expansion of CBE. From page 21:

“The core goal of a pilot program is to free schools and districts to implement competency-based education policies within current state policy environments in a way that can inform the identication and elimination of existing barriers that may prevent competency-based education implementation at scale.”

In October 2017, The Foundation for Excellence in Education released “The Path to Personalized Learning: The Next Chapter in the Tale of Three States.” The focus of the report is on each participating district’s transition to competency based education. It notes Lake County’s decision to “pause” its CBE work during the 2017-18 school year. Appendix C contained Florida’s outcomes data:

A quick glance at this student outcomes data shows the district (Lake) with the greatest gains, and the only participating district to make gains greater than the state average, is the one that dropped out of the program. Also note that the chart includes data for 2015 and 2016, before the pilot program began and for 3 districts (Lake, Pinellas and Seminole) which are either not participating or merely in the planning stage. The data also includes Graduation Rates, a state mandated measure but hardly relevant in Palm Beach County where the only CBE participants are 3rd-5th grade math students. There is no district comparison data between students participating in the CBE program and those who are not. Basically, this is not useful data to make determinations regarding the effectiveness of these pilot programs. This chart should highlight the need for clear outcomes parameters if usable data is to be derived from this pilot.

The 2017 FEE Report did discuss the results for the Palm Beach County Accelerated Math students (page 20), claiming “the achievement levels (scoring a level 3 on the state assessment) and learning gains of all participating students were at a higher rate than their peers.” It is unclear from the report whether the “peers” in the comparison were gifted math students, like the CBE participants, of grade level peers. To show effectiveness, comparisons should be made between true peers.

The 2017 Report included a timeline of “Florida’s Path to Competency-Based Education”:

Note the “ExcelinEd’s convening of the pilot districts” in September 2017. According to the 2017 FEE report (page 23), “The four participating districts and ExcelinEd have formed a Florida Pilot Network. As such, ExcelinEd and the districts agreed to identify state and local policy barriers and solutions, identify and provide access to resources and share best practices. To launch the network, ExcelinEd sponsored the first convening of these districts in September and created an online platform to provide access to resources and a venue for collaboration. The future sharing of this platform and information will be essential to inform other interested districts of this exciting work in Florida.”

When I asked a senior FLDOE official involved with the CBE Pilot about the September “convening”, I was told the Department of Education was not involved in this meeting and I should contact the Foundation for further information. The end notes of the FEE report include a link to Florida Competency-Based Education Network, “available at” Following the FLDOE’s recommendations, I registered for the network and found their Canvas course reveals all the documentation needed to administer this pilot program. including applications, results, and other links:

Participating Pilot Districts

Palm Beach County (PBC) Schools

Pinellas County Schools

 P.K. Yonge Laboratory School

Seminole County Schools

To be clear, with the exception of the “PBC Competency Based Program Accelerated Mathematics Plan (AMP) and 2016-2017 Results“, there are no outcomes data reported but there is a lot of pilot program documentation.  I could find none of these documents on the website. For example, a search of for “Palm Beach Competency Based Program” results in one relevant document, the State’s Executive Summary of the original CBE Pilot legislation.

If f.s. 1003.4996 requires the Department of Education to create and administered the CBE pilot for a period of 5 years, why isn’t information regarding the pilot on the FLDOE website? Why is Jeb’s Foundation “convening” with participants and not inviting the FLDOE? Who really is administering this pilot program?

Just as Senator Bullard and I predicted back in 2016, Senator Brandes and Representative Sullivan have filed bills this session (SB968 / HB1035) to expand this CBE pilot program despite lack of outcomes data. They are expecting Florida’s Legislature to happily slide our children down that slippery slope. We believe the CBE Pilot Program needs a pause. We believe the Department of Education needs to take responsibility for administering this program. We believe effectiveness should be proven before expansion of these programs.

If changes are to be made to the CBE Pilot, they should include:

  • Return the administration and oversight of this pilot program to the Department of Education.
  • Move the deadline for the FLDOE’s annual report to later in the summer (August 1st?), after state test results are available and outcomes can be assessed.
  • Require control matched, relevant outcomes data from the participating districts, not simply overall FSA scores or graduation rates.
  • Do not expand the program until the pilot is complete and its 5 years of outcomes data has been properly analyzed.

At his recent “Tally Talk“,  former Governor Bush said, “Pilots are great because some of my great ideas turned out to be not so great, so doing it on a pilot basis is a smart thing to do…” We believe lawmakers should consider that is is possible that Competency Based Education (or Mastery-Based Education, if they choose to rename it) may sound like a great idea but may turn out to be not so great We urge lawmakers to insist that the CBE Pilot be properly administered by the FLDOE, collect relevant data and prove effectiveness before allowing expansion to all 67 districts.


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