The Four Systemic Problems in Education

Back in June, Susan Colby, and two other writers at Bridgespan wrote a very good piece on the four features of education that are preventing excellence for all students and pathways to reform. I am slicing out a few of their key points here, and hoping you travel over to their blog to see the rest. I think it’s useful to just show you the four impediments as they  have them:

Problem #1: Lack of personalization of content

Students are sorted by age and progress based on the calendar (a concept known as “seat time”) regardless of their personal needs and interests. As a result, many spend a lot of time unproductively.

Problem #2: Lack of appeal to different learning styles

Students are offered one mode of learning—the traditional classroom setting, with 25-30 students and one teacher—despite documented proof of the value of differentiation in learning.

Problem #3: Inability of teachers to play to their true strengths

The vast majority of teachers are expected to be “generalists” —instructing a classroom full of students en masse, sometimes on a wide variety of topics—despite the fact that individual teachers possess different strengths and specialties.

Problem #4: Lack of effective reforms at a reasonable cost

Reforms and interventions to date have not been able to achieve quality results for students at a cost that permits them to expand their reach, and increase their impact, in tight budget environments.

And it’s probably no surprise that the answer to number one is to reduce the reliance of districts on the Carnegie unit and to implement progressive web-based and technology-based assessment and performance programs for all students. Bridgespan’s writers focus on the work of AdvancePath, and I include their two paragraphs here:

The work of AdvancePath Academics, based in Williamsburg, Virginia, offers another example of innovation that decouples “seat time” from student progress. AdvancePath has developed an educational program focused on students who face high barriers to high school graduation and are most likely to drop out. The organization partners with districts to operate its academies on a contract basis. The schools combine an online curriculum with a team-teaching model that runs in three “shifts” each day. Students work independently, following a pathway to graduation that focuses on the mastery of the curriculum, while teachers provide one-on-one and small-group instruction as needed.
Early results from AdvancePath’s academies show dramatically lower dropout rates and increased post-secondary matriculation for students whom many would consider the hardest to serve. AdvancePath reports that 90 percent of its students either graduate from high school, transfer to another school to complete their studies or are on track to graduate.[4] What’s more, the organization delivers these results at a cost below the average daily expenditures per student of most districts. John Murray, founder and CEO, believes that AdvancePath’s model has wide applicability: “We chose to work with the most challenging students and promised our district partners we would deliver results for students and save them money. We see no reason why we couldn’t serve a broad range of students with our approach. Many students could accelerate their learning and districts could save money doing it.”

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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