Necessary education innovation after COVID-19
With the prolonged shutdown of schools across the USA, local boards of education are struggling to avoid the prospect of interrupted school years and delayed graduations. They are wondering what to do about promoting students to the next grade, if they have not finished this year's grade.
There has long been a solution, even before the internet came along, but as always, the education bureaucracy, and teacher unions, will oppose it.
One of the weaknesses in the current K–12 system is that students begin the school year in (or near) September and end the school year in (or near) June. They take anywhere from five or more separate subject classes, per semester, during that time. At the end of the school year, if the student's grades merit it (or if there are other considerations), the student is promoted to the next grade (or graduates).
What this means is that a student could do very well in one subject area but fail the year. Failing the year can mean having to repeat the entire year, including any subjects in which the student did well. This system is highly inefficient. It is like a truck-driver driving 90 miles of a 100-mile journey to deliver a load of supplies, then getting a flat tire, and therefore being required to go back to the start of the road trip and beginning the journey all over again. That would make no sense.
A better idea is already in practice. The U.S. military trains people in various skills, including infantry tactics, trades such as diesel engine repair, and electronics, among many others. These courses often last several weeks or months. It would be foolish to train someone through eleven weeks of a twelve-week course and, because he fails in the eleventh week, start him all over again at week one. No, the student does not repeat the entire course, but repeats only the week in which he failed. This usually involves being tutored or closely monitored during the week being repeated so that rarely does a student fail again.
There is no reason why this concept should not be adapted to the K–12 system. Students could study subjects in modules, for example — a week of history, or a week of mathematics, or a week of metal shop, and so forth. If a student fails the week, he can repeat that one week, not the entire year.
Another really good idea in the military is that instructors do not test and grade their own students. This removes any incentive that the teacher may have to inflate the scores in his class to make himself look good. Instead, independent course evaluators and test proctors determine who passes and who fails.
Introducing distance-learning by internet adds a level of complexity, but also many levels of benefit, to the proposed system. For example, not every student can afford a computer. It is, however, far less expensive to supply each and every student with a computer than it is to build and maintain a school building.
There are cultural and traditional issues that come into play. When does one hold the senior prom? Who plays on the sports teams? Where is the camaraderie of the lunch room? (On the other hand, the bullies cannot tip over your tray.)
All of the objections to changing to a modular system of education can be addressed and resolved. All that is needed is the will and the determination to overcome the entrenched bureaucracy, especially the teacher unions.
I invite everyone to propose this kind of reform to his local and state governments. We can start an education revolution.