A proposal for a performance-based edu system

The fastest way to advance the concept of performance-based student progress and promote innovative school models would be to create several versions of a national performance-based online curriculum.  Here’s a quick outline of one way this could work:

  • ED and DOD (and partners) create a competition for a national merit badge assessment system based on the Common Core and awards $500k prizes to three best submissions.  Each submission includes a series of adaptive assessments, curriculum embedded assessments and performance assessments that certify acquisition of knowledge and skills.
  • Winning assessment systems become nationally certified for award of a DOD diploma.  Future applicants would pay $50k for a review and possible certification.  A content market would form around certified assessment systems (and a market would form around assessment systems as students and school networks make choices).
  • ED and DOD issue an RFP for online curriculum based on one of the certified assessment systems and awards contracts to 3-5 vendors.
  • ED and DOD create national access by expanding access to DOD Online Learning Academy (by providing scholarships for “non-federally connected students”) and open enrollment initially to 500,000 students or more nationwide.
  • States seeking turnaround and restart capacity could issue an RFP for charter operators utilizing the new online curriculum and assessment systems.  Operators would need to demonstrate their ability to takeover at least six struggling schools and would post a performance bond.  These operators would award a local rather than DOD diploma.

I’m proposing expanding DOD offerings because it’s unlikely that we could develop a national charter school authority.  An alternative to the DOD would be for CCSSO and the National Alliance to facilitate a national reciprocal virtual charter agreement (so the internet didn’t stop at state/county/district lines).
Versions of this could be done at a state level but I don’t see the vision or courage to attempt this (while operating under a myriad of restrictive federal laws)—maybe a RttT state will surprise us all.   This would be a cool state i3 grant (with associated policy changes or waivers) but the draft guidelines get in the way of an initiative of this sort.
There are a handful of marginally effective programs that ED could sunset and free up at least $2-3B annually to support the expanded DOD virtual program and the associated charter restart marketplace.
Here’s the point: we need a next gen curriculum and assessment system; we need new performance-based learning models; we need turnaround and restart capacity; we need a market that encourages investment and innovation.  Most of all we need educational leadership.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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