Performance-based learning? That makes too much sense…
The whole idea of imposing a single set of age-based standards on all students rests on a false premise: that children are identical widgets capable of being dragged along an instructional conveyor belt at the same pace, benefiting equally from the experience.
But kids are different — not only from one another, but when it comes to their own varying facility across subjects as well. Any single set of age-based standards, no matter how thoughtfully conceived, will necessarily be too slow or too fast for most children….
[Instead], group students based on their level of mastery in each subject, instead of strictly by age, so that each can progress as fast as he or she is able. By doing so, all children are taught the things they are ready to learn at any given time. No one need be bored into a stupor nor left hopelessly behind.
Not only is this approach feasible in theory, it is already in widespread use with millions of students worldwide, in the for-profit tutoring sector. When a child comes to a Sylvan Learning or Kumon center facing difficulty with trigonometry, he is not taught basic arithmetic or advanced calculus. He is taught the specific material in which his deficit lies. He moves on to more advanced material as soon as he has mastered the prerequisite skills, and not before.
This is easily achievable in high school and even in junior high. I’d venture to say it was basically the form that I followed during my years growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s. My early school years in Massachusetts were spent in a 5 classes/grade system, divided up based on some measure of ability. Upon moving to Maine, to a much smaller town, the classes were smaller, but by Jr. High, a similar model was followed for 6th-8th grade (though only two divisions/class).
But somewhere along the way, we took the noble goal of trying to give all kids the same academic opportunities by not pigeonholing them from an early age and twisted it into a system where “equal” often means equally inadequate (at least in the elementary schools). By putting kids of varying academic proficiency in the same classroom, we’ve made fast learners bored and slow learners frustrated. And we’ve made the job of teachers exponentially more difficult as they have to teach at different levels–from highly proficient to multiple individual learning plans–all within the same class room.
The model of yesteryear that I grew up in may not have been perfect, but it seems, looking back, to have been better than what we have now.