Our country has been talking about ways to improve secondary education for at least thirty years: school-to-work, small schools, senior year transition, early college, project-based learning, service learning, online then blended learning, deeper learning, authentic learning, ninth grade transition, inquiry-based learning, community-based learning, portfolios, and exhibitions. In the last year, there has been a whole new push, starting with a White House convening on high schools and XQ. Now add the Barr Foundation’s courageous and insightful effort to help secondary schools build their capacity to better serve students who are missing the skills or credits they need to graduate, (i.e. they are “off track”).
One has to ask why hasn’t there been more progress or why these models and practices haven’t had more scaling power, more staying power. Of course our analysis at CompetencyWorks is that the traditional structure of education is going to be a significant challenge, if not a barrier, to any new educational strategies for the following reasons:
- Students are passed on even when they haven’t learned what they need to learn.
- Traditional scaffolding strategies usually fail to help students to actually learn and master the pre-requisite skills they need to engage in high school curriculum. We insist on grade level curriculum even when students need something else in order to succeed.
- Even with the highest engagement strategies, the traditional point systems and GPA only motivate the highest achievers.
- Students simply do not have enough information to know what they need to do to do better (and in many cases the teachers don’t know either) and don’t have the support they need.
- There is too much variability in how teachers determine proficiency.