We spend a lot of time applauding college programs that give students credit for “stuff learned” rather than time spent in seats productively or otherwise. That insight is also being usefully applied by DC high schools, for an excellent purpose: to reduce the number of students who don’t complete their high school degrees. As the WaPo reports:
“[S]tarting next school year, students would have multiple ways to earn credit, including passing a state-approved test or participating in a “course equivalent,” such as an internship, community-service project, portfolio or performance that can be tied to the academic standards. Another proposal would create a “state diploma” that would go to students who pass the GED any time after January 2014.The revamped regulations come as the city is focusing new attention on improving graduation rates, which are among the lowest in the nation . Four in 10 high school freshmen in the District do not earn a diploma in four years. The result: More than 50,000 adults in the city are high school dropouts with diminished prospects to earn a living wage. At least 7,500 dropouts are between the ages of 16 and 24, officials say.”
More encouragingly, it looks like DC is following what has become a national trend:
Forty states already have policies that permit districts to experiment with the concept known as competency-based learning. Sometimes called outcome- or performance-based learning, the approach ties credit and course advancement directly to students’ understanding of skills regardless of their time in a classroom.The trend is fueled in part by the rise of blended learning programs, which use computers to make it easier to teach students at their specific ability level and pace. The federal government encouraged competency-based learning reforms in Race to the Top applications.
As long as the alternatives to “time served” are appropriately substantive, the DC plan seems like a very sensible way to go. High school dropouts have a far tougher time in today’s economy than high school or college grads; just as a college degree is increasingly necessary for a well-paying job, a high school diploma is increasingly necessary for any job.As for the wider trend, whether experiments in competency-based learning and “blended classes” allow schools to ensure more students graduate, or give students a totally new alternative to the traditional classroom, they are well worth watching. Let’s hope we see one of the education establishment’s most dated assumptions—that time spent in school is necessarily time spent learning—fall by the wayside as innovation advances.