3 Pivot Points to a Performance-Based Education System

In education, there’s a lot up in the air right now: standards, testing, employment practices, budgets, student technology, online learning, and federal policy.  It’s conceivable that if we took advantage of the uncertainty, a few places could emerge with a better and cheaper education system.  Here’s three pivot points that could anchor next generation systems:
1. Merit Badges: the goal of college and career readiness and development Common Core standards will require most states, district to make lots of course and curriculum.  States could use the opportunity to replace the 100 year old seat time and credit system with a new merit badge system—a bundle of assessments would be used to demonstrate learning of a bundle of competencies.  Take ratios and fractions as an example; a merit badge would describe what students need to know and a combination of ways they can show it including content-embedded assessment (e.g., game score), performance assessment (e.g., project), adaptive assessment (e.g., online quiz), and an end of unit test.  Mastery-based learning and merit badge evidence would replace grades and courses as the primary mechanism to mark student progress.
2. Personalized Learning Platform: libraries of open and proprietary learning objects will sit on social learning networks, be informed by rich learner profiles, be driven by smart recommendation engines, and supported by aligned services.  These platforms will emerge as a result of coordinated public leadership, foundation grants, and private enterprise.
3. Sunset State Policies: states should set a date about a year out for the current education code to sunset.  The sedimentary mess of compliance and outcome-oriented policies should be replaced by a new set of polities that incorporate:

  • Mastery-based learning: kids show what they know
  • Bundles of assessments that inform learning and certify progress
  • Performance-based employment
  • Funding that follows students
  • Multiple provider systems and transcripts
  • Accelerated pathways to college credit and career certification

Wouldn’t it be cool if a state or two used the potential of Race to the Top to propose a truly transformational plan like this rather than checking off the boxes in all 19 categores?

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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1 Comment

John Danner

Not to be too obvious, but if we want to transition to a performance-based education system, we need to pay schools for their performance instead of attendance. Take a big chunk of the Title I dollars and pay them based on proficiency on the state test, not how many FRM students you had. That would get people working.


Tom Vander Ark

I'm still a fan of weighted student funding; it's obviously input based but provides incentive to serve high needs kids and drop a margin if you can do it well.
Tricky financially/politically moving to performance-pay; will create death spiral in low performance schools/districts which works in a market (because they get replaced) but is dangerous for a monopoly. How would it work?

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