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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In Time vs On Time

When anyone joins a Karate class, s/he is automatically a white belt. It doesn't matter how old s/he is or even hir prior abilities. In a karate class students progress based on skills acquired and are tested frequently using formative assessment routines. Students who should advance, advance according to skills acquired. So when one sees a father and son join a karate class, usually the father accelerates more quickly and finds a level sooner than the son, who in time usually passes the father to go into the black belt stratosphere. Why doesn't education follow this model?


It is that time of year when I read about students not matriculating from one grade to the next "on time." There seems to be a great concern that high schoolers graduate in four years. There is a concern that students stay at age level with appropriate grade. I've always been fascinated with the age at which a child should start kindergarten and at what age a student should graduate from high school. Where does that come from? We seem more concerned with students who are older than their classmates than those who are younger. Why?

As a teacher we know we receive students into our schools who have come from other schools without the skills to do the work in our school. We place students more often by age and not by ability. By forcing students into classes in which we know they will fail, we are creating a future drop out. We have changed our school population drastically in the past century. In my mind, it appears as if we are more interested in having students graduate according to an age chart than to an abilities chart. What is wrong with a student taking five years to graduate from high school rather than the traditional four years?


Not all students in a 10th grade math class are at the 10th grade math level. They are there because of their age and sequence. Why not place a student in the grade appropriate class, so we can assure success and correct advancement and eliminate the fear of failing and creating a potential drop out. Why can't a student with 4th grade reading and writing skills in English be in a 4th grade class and also be in a 10th grade math class? I am sure with more frequent formative and summative assessment tools, similar to those in Karate, we'd move students along quickly and according to their skills. This would keep them interested and in school, because they are moving along in their own time and not on someone else's time. In addition, with more creative use of the technology we could be more efficient and successful in this area.

We are seeing lots of articles and books about student learning based on the brain, on technology and student centered instruction. It seems to me that when it comes to how we place students we are not paying attention to the research about how students learn. We seem to be more interested in herding our students according to age and not according to abilities and capabilities. We are more interested in our students matriculating on time than in their own time.


No wonder schools are in trouble, our drop out rate is increasing, and school is boring to too many scholars. Are we trying to push a square peg through a round hole when it comes to education?

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