Why a High-Performing District Is Changing Everything with Competency-Based Learning

This cozy suburb just outside of Boston is home to an idyllic New England downtown and schools that are good enough to draw young families in droves. Students perform well above the U.S. average and they do even better than their peers in similarly wealthy school districts, according to the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. At no point in recent memory has Melrose Public Schools been failing. But the outgoing superintendent, Cyndy Taymore, is four years into an effort to fundamentally rethink traditional schooling here. The reform model is known by several different names, including proficiency-based education. That’s what they called it in Maine, where, in 2012, state officials mandated that every district adopt it, and then, in 2018, abandoned the requirement. The state’s boomerang confirmed for many critics that proficiency-based education was a failure. But for Taymore, it proved only that Maine went about it all wrong.