Home > Uncategorized > eSchool News Has Great Idea… But It’s Implementation Requires Abandonment of Age-Based Cohorts

eSchool News Has Great Idea… But It’s Implementation Requires Abandonment of Age-Based Cohorts

The more I read about technology-based solutions to schooling, the more convinced I am that the primary reason we cannot implement them is due to our use of standardized achievement tests as the primary metric for public education and, in turn, the sad reality that the use of that metric reinforces our current practice of grouping children by age. An article by Meris Standbury in yesterday’s eSchool News is a case in point. Titled “Can Public Schools Win in an Age of School Choice? YES- And Here’s How”, Ms. Stansbury’s article describes a presentation given by Kevin Baird, chairman of the board at the nonprofit Center for College & Career Readiness. In his recent book, “The Public School in an Age of Choice: How to Compete for the Win, Baird outlines “…the issues public schools currently face in retaining students and staff, as well as the solutions that can lead to higher retention and student success.” Unfortunately, Mr. Baird’s analysis of “the issues public schools currently face” is silent on the grinding effects of poverty on the students, the demoralizing effects of test-driven instruction in the classroom, and the devastating budget cuts that have not been restored in the past decade. He does get one problem correct, though, and it is the fact that student engagement should be the force behind school reform. He concludes that students, not parents, need choices:

To decrease student and staff turnover rate and increase confidence in public schools, Baird says success starts in the classroom.

Schools must provide teachers with the support they need in order to keep engaged and experienced teachers, which means more than one day of PD for new school initiatives.

Students must also be offered more choice in their learning, or else they will move to another platform of schooling, like online education, where they can get that choice. [Read: “Superintendent: Gen Z achievement soaring with student choice.”] Students learn best when they are interested.

He glibly assumes that teachers do not know this or understand it… they DO. Given the opportunity and the wherewithal teachers would gladly provide opportunities for individualized approaches to learning. But the reason teachers cannot afford to offer students choices is because they are focussed on meeting the accountability standards set forth by the states, accountability standards that are invariably tied to standardized achievement tests that, in turn, are based on the advancement of students through age-based cohorts called “grade levels”. It is this slavish adherence to test-based accountability that reinforces the grouping practices that preclude the kind of individualization Mr. Baird and his fellow technology advocates overlook when they offer rosy “solutions” to the problems facing public education like “Students learn best when they are interested.” 

The age-based grade-level paradigm is the intractable and invisible mental formation that ties us to the factory model. Technology DOES provide the means to break out of this mindset but standardized tests keeps us stuck in it. We need to abandon test-based accountability before we can move forward. When charter schools do not have to meet test-based accountability standards and public schools do, the definitions of student and school success change for the better. MAYBE the best way to move forward is to seek legislation that frees public schools from the shackles of test-based accountability.

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