Student progress in Connecticut public schools could soon be determined by achievement “rather than a child’s age, hours on task or credits,” according to an expert report.
The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) has spent two years developing a plan that outlines proposed changes in education. The group believes that some will begin soon, with many more expected within five to 10 years.
The report calls for higher standards and expectations of students which will be achieved by overhauling the methods in which students will be taught. It states that currently, “pace and progress typically occur in grade-level lockstep and the focus is on teaching facts and procedures...” which the report said will not result in the “depth and breadth of knowledge necessary for success.”
Instead of being grouped by age, students could advance at their own readiness level and “credits will be based on mastery of content rather than seat time.”
Larry Schaefer, staff associate for leadership development with CAPSS, drafted the report. “In 2000, the mission of public school was to provide every child with the opportunity to learn." He said, "Whether or not the child learned depended on the child, not the school system. The school system emphasized opportunity, special education, equity, discrimination. It offered opportunity. But the school had no responsibility to whether or not the child learned.”
That idea is changing, Schaefer, said, and the mission today is that every child will learn. “This group of superintendents said we have to redesign the school system if we are going to achieve the new mission.”
Schaefer explained each student will need a personalized learning plan. “You can't look at the regular classroom of today with 25 kids and see that happen. It's going to take some research and development to make this work," he said.
“The personalized learning program will be based on three things,” Schaefer explained. “What a child needs to know, how they learn best and what the student's interests are. If it's art that I love, and I need to learn fractions, and I learn best with hands-on learning, then that is the condition school will need to provide. We will continually need to group and regroup kids.”
“That is a shift of paradigm," Schaefer continued. "Instead of the constant of moving ahead by grade, our recommendation is you only move ahead based on what you learn. Some kids may learn math in half a year and some kids will need a year and a half. Students will get the time they need, and schools will have the responsibility to provide the support. Some need tutoring, some need a different method of learning, but the students don't move ahead until they are ready.”
Superintendents from 161 towns weighed in on the recommendations made by the Core Group of education professionals. Frank Sippy, Ph.D., superintendent of Region 15, which comprises Southbury and Middlebury schools, was one of the Core Group.
Sippy suggested that student learning does not need to be as rigid as state standards now require. He asked, “Where is it written that learning must take place between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.? Learning is a 7/24/365 process. Right now we can't go beyond June 30, we have 900 classroom hours, and 180 days. Why can't kids learn at home?”
“Right now we cover many subjects but none very deeply,” Sippy continued. “Kids always had to take a lot of time to learn state capitals, but how did that impact them? Now, we have to think about how they will use that information to deepen their understanding. We need to look at concepts in a deeper light,” Sippy said.
Sitting at his desk in the Region 15 Board of Education building, Sippy was enthusiastic about the report. “Everything is changing with the information explosion. How we define intelligence is changing. We are looking beyond this nation to international standards. The clear common denominator is that the way the student learns best will help them be able to retain information better.”
“There is state movement towards Common Core standards,” Sippy said, explaining that standards are being developed so that a student residing in one state would meet the exact same requirements in a school in any other state. Sippy said that as many as 40 states have adopted these standards.
The report calls for many options for learning including “magnet schools, charter schools and vocational- technical schools as well as different schedules and curriculums.” It also recommends “challenging, all day kindergarten for all children” and “to establish a relationship between preschool and K-12 education.”
“What is all of this going to look like? We don't know exactly, but laws are going to have to change. This will take some time, we need to think through how to prepare teachers because teaching is going to change,” Sippy said.