Educators have long-talked about students "learning at their own pace" or individualized education. And yet, we're still only talking about it decades later.


There is no silver lining in the job losses and deaths for COVID-19, but the pandemic is forcing Kansans to rethink things they've long taken for granted. Families with school-aged children are no different.


One approach to individualized learning is called competency-based education. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, CBE is an approach "that describes learning progressions based on mastery of content rather than the passage of time."


In other words, students progress at their own pace and can work on appropriate content regardless of age.


For example, if a student exhibits a mastery of reading at a third-grade level, they move to a fourth-grade content level without waiting until the next school year to move up a grade. It is an approach based on what a student knows instead of the 19th century model of how many hours a student spends in a classroom, mostly sitting in a chair.


Done correctly, thoughtfully, and thoroughly, CBE is what education should be. It has the potential to radically change how students progress through K-12 education.


The Eagle recently reported that CBE is gaining traction in Kansas as the COVID pandemic threatens further school closures.


CBE is not a new concept. Several states have already embraced this model on some level beginning with New Hampshire in 2005 and continues to be the national standard.


The Kansas Board of Education deserves — tempered — kudos for their recent consideration of the topic. On the one hand, it represents the recognition that real student progress is a function of what is demonstrably mastered, not a function of the amount of time sitting in a classroom.


However, it begs this question: Why did it take a public health crisis for the Kansas education bureaucracy to acknowledge that there is more than one way for students to learn and progress? Or better yet, for them to see that the one-size-fits-all approach is not in everyone's best interest?


Commissioner Randy Watson used the word "choice" to describe what CBE can offer in order "to personalize the experience for kids and families." If Kansas is serious about personalizing students' educational experiences, real "choice" must be recognized as more than what is offered within the conventional public school setting's bounds.


Be clear, CBE is a school's choice, not a student's choice.


The education establishment's steadfast resistance to real school choice — e.g., public charter schools or expanded tax credit scholarships — is an integral factor in the education crisis that persists in Kansas.


It is a system that perpetuates low overall student achievement saddled with substantial and stagnant income-based achievement gaps propelled by an insatiable appetite for taxpayer dollars.


CBE is a step in the right direction, but Kansas has a long journey to adequately address and appropriately address the needs of students, families, and taxpayers.


David Dorsey is a senior education policy fellow with the Kansas Policy Institute, an educational and research organization.