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We must effect a change and move from an input-driven system to an output-driven system. In the new model, we decide what we want each child to know and be able to do and then we create a system to get us there. Such a system will bear little resemblance to our current public school system.

The School Year

In our present system, "time is the constant and achievement is the variable." What we need is for "achievement to be the constant and time the variable." That is a 180-degree shift. It means the 180-day year can no longer be the measure. We must have the time necessary to effectively educate every child, regardless of their learning readiness. Summer school will no longer be an exception, but rather we will have extended school for those who require additional coaching. Students will move to the next level when they are ready, not when the next year starts. Assessment will be ongoing, not at the end of a semester or the end of a year. Students will move to the next level upon mastering a given subject. Those who need additional help and more time will receive it, minimizing the number of students who take more than a year to move to a new level.

The School Day

Currently, we have a six-hour day for most students. Again, this is a time-based system that simply does not work for every child. The 50-minute period will need to give way to class times that more appropriately fit the learning objective. We will see two-hour classes, multiple subject classes, team teaching, etc. Whatever will ensure learning will be the measure, not what fills the time. For some students, the day will extend beyond the current time. This will be particularly necessary for those children who come to school unprepared to learn and who need more time to reach standard. The longer day will also allow more time for non-academic subjects such as music, drama, art, athletics, etc. Data has shown that these programs enhance learning, and we will benefit in using them to do just that.

The Classroom

To be effective with every child, we must recognize that every child is different and requires different help at different times. If we are serious about educating every child, then we must individualize our learning system. Individualized learning can be accomplished by increasing the use of technology, adding more adults to the classroom and/or reducing class size, and designing smaller schools.

A computer allows a child to move at their own pace without pressure or competition. Computers are both captivating and challenging and allow children to meet their individual learning needs as those needs occur. Adding adults to the classroom will allow the adult/student ratio to be reduced. Simply adding one adult to a typical classroom of 28 students reduces the adult/student ratio to 1:14. In classes where the children are poorly prepared to learn, a 1:5 ratio may be required. These adults can be teachers, parents, volunteers, or teacher aids. In all cases, these adults would report to and work with the assigned teacher in the classroom to insure the course work is properly administered. Reducing class size is another approach. This is more costly, both in terms of labor costs and in terms of facility costs, but it helps to individualize the educational environment.

Smaller schools or reconfiguring large schools to operate as smaller units is also needed. In such schools, every adult in the building is assigned the responsibility for one or more students. In this way, every student has at least one adult who personally takes an interest in that child's educational and growth progress. Such schools insure that no child is neglected.

Elimination of Grades

In a standards-based system, we no longer need grades A, B, and C. These measures were put in place to help teachers separate good students from the poor or average students. Grades are a way to classify students into groups or to "select and sort." However, if every child needs to meet standard, it is not relevant whether one child learns faster than another child. What is important is that each child achieves standards. Some children will perform above expected levels and they will receive advanced opportunities and/or move to the next level, but all children must achieve standard. Treating learning as a competitive enterprise is unproductive and unhealthy. Today, many children and their parents are more concerned about grades than about learning. Over the years, grades have taken on a life of their own. Curriculums have been "dumbed down" in an effort to give students better grades. We also know that a 4.0 from one high school may bare no resemblance to a 4.0 from another high school. Most universities know this and are now putting less weight on a student's high school grade point average. Few of us have had our lives changed because of the grade point we received in high school, but all of us have been affected by what we actually learned in high school. Our system needs to be changed to focus on learning, not grades.

Elimination of grades 1, 2, and 3 are also appropriate in a standards-based system. Today, we have 5-year-olds who read at the fourth grade level and have been using a computer for two years, but they are in kindergarten because they are 5-years-old. We also have 5-year-olds in kindergarten who have never been read to, don't speak English, and have never seen a computer. These two children are often put in the same classroom, for the same length of time, receive the same curriculum and we expect the same outcome. It is insane! This situation causes the unprepared child to lose self-confidence and the well-prepared child to become bored and slowed down in their learning. Neither child is taught well or inspired to learn. It also presents an impossible situation for the teacher. Instead of grades based upon age, children should be placed in levels based upon competency. Those who are behind will then go to school for a longer day and a longer year so we can minimize age differentials in various levels.

An example of what I am describing now exists in the Boy Scouts. A young person in scouting can become an Eagle Scout at any age from 10 to 18, but no Scout becomes an Eagle without satisfactorily passing every required merit badge. Scouts compete only against themselves and the merit badge requirements, not other scouts. Schools should operate in a similar fashion.

Graduation Requirements

Graduation requirements in almost every state are typically based on time, not achievement. In the State of Washington where I live, it takes 19 credits to graduate. The State Code defines a "credit" as: "One credit equals 180 (50-minute) hours or 9,000 minutes (130 hours) of planned in-school instruction (WAC 180-51-050)." Sadly, nothing in this definition tells anything about what a child needs to know and be able to do in order to graduate. Standards change all that. As a consequence, graduation requirements must change.

In 1992, the Secretary's Commission on Necessary Skills (SCANS) report was published by the U.S. Department of Labor. That report developed a list of five skills all young people should possess to be employable in the 21st Century. Those skills involve the capability to:

Manage resources
Work with others
Acquire and use information
Understand systems, and
Use technology.

Not a single state in this country requires competence in even one of these skills in order to graduate.


The advent of standards forces schools and school districts to change to an educational model we should have had in place years ago. The changes I have discussed not only have implications for the management and operation of school districts, schools, and classrooms, but these changes also force a reevaluation of every State Code and of the funding systems of both state and federal governments. If education is about learning, then funding cannot be about time.

As we change our school system, we must recognize the human factors in education. We need to rethink the professions of teacher and principal - jobs that have not been designed to maximize the talent of the individuals or their productivity and efficiency. We must honor the individual nature of each child and insure that we not become so focused on standards that we lose sight of the whole child. Our task is to teach our children how to live in a civilized society, how to get along with one another, how to both accept and celebrate diversity, and to remember what it means to be a child. These are the truly important issues.

We can no longer afford the educational system designed for a prior society. Creating a responsive educational system that allows us to bring every child to higher, relevant standards requires all of us to rethink our image of school. What you and I grew up with is no longer good enough.

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