Education Reform With a Capital ‘R’

The challenges are no different than those many school districts are facing — unacceptable dropout rates, continually disappointing test scores and an overall environment of "disconnection" between educators and their students.

The solutions for many are to tinker around the edges, adjust a regulation or adopt a policy to try to spark change. While well-intentioned, the results often disapppoint. In an opposite take on the old saying — if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it — education in many places is broke and requires a radical fix.

Implementation won’t begin fully until next year and ultimate results will be years down the road, but let’s give a Denver-area school district kudos for trying. How does doing away with traditional grade levels and strategically involving students in lesson plans grab you for starters? Students will advance when they have proven mastery of that subject. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The district is training teachers to involve students in the lesson plan in a far greater way than before – the students articulate their goals and develop things such as a code of conduct as a classroom. And when children fall short of understanding the material, they keep working at it. The only "acceptable" score to move on to the next lesson is the equivalent of a "B" in normal grading – hopefully showing proficiency and giving kids a better foundation as they move on to more advanced concepts. Advocates sometimes describe it as flipping the traditional system around so that time, rather than mastery of material, is the variable.

While the idea of "standards-based education," as it’s often known, has been around for a while, the only public district where it’s been tried for any length of time is in Alaska, where the Chugach district – whose 250 students are scattered over 22,000 square miles – went from the lowest performing district in the state to Alaska’s highest-performing quartile in five years in the 1990s, a shift the former superintendent, Richard DeLorenzo, attributes to the new philosophy.

Even before the opening bell, I give a hearty "A" for effort. Read the story here. Let us know what you think.