The goal is clear: 100% of students at 100% grade-level competency by the end of the school year.
“Having 100% of students at 100% grade level by the end of a school year is impossible!”
That is the typical reaction of most teachers, especially those in public schools in major cities.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of …
What would it take to have 100% of ALL students (*other than those with medical issues) achieve 100% grade-level-mastery?
Ask this today and you are likely to not get an answer other than, “it would be beyond what is possible.” What if we said EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE other than requiring the family be something other than what it is.
I think most teachers would say that if you gave them such a class (which most do not think is possible), then they believe they would be able to have close to 100% of students at 100% grade level mastery at the end of the school year. At the same time, most would say,
“This is not the current situation!
It is an unrealistic dream!”
In the previous section (Why many fail) we saw that the biggest problem for most teachers in schools doing poorly is generally the widely varying prior knowledge/skills and the widely varying home/family situations that result in varying degrees of effective homework and even interest in learning. To bring about the above described situation of having every student enter the next grade 100% prepared for that grade level, we need to:
- Provide appropriate differentiated learning support to all students not currently on track to achieve 100% mastery of the current grade level with the current approach.
- Mitigate the negative impact of families, peers and environment wherever needed.
Before getting into the details of how we can accomplish this, however, we need to address another strategic element that greatly impacts cost and likelihood of success. Assuming we had a solution that would accomplish the above, how do we bring it to the education world. There are 2 basic approaches:
- Call on everyone at all grade levels to get everyone caught up to the current grade level as quickly as possible. After a year or 2 everyone should be caught up and from there all classes should be able to proceed as normal with all students being grade-level-ready with the right attitude to continue to succeed in subsequent years.
- Call on everyone to get a suitable grade level caught up to that grade level so that they will enter the next grade 100% grade-level-ready. The following year expand the program to the next grade level and so on until all grade levels are covered.
Let’s assume there are some 55 million children & youth in the K-12 age range. Lets be very positive and assume that half of these students will be able to achieve 100% grade level mastery in their grade level without special efforts as described above. If we try to get 100% of the remaining students to 100% grade level proficiency at the same time, we will need enough resources (learning tools, mentor/tutors, devices, bandwidth, etc.) for some 27.5 million students all at once. Actually we will need more than that because older students that are behind need significantly more help than younger students: the learning gaps are larger, there are often attitude and discipline problems from repeated failure and long-term exposure to negative environments without effective mitigation, etc. Also, there are often consequences of previous negative behavior that make success even more difficult (substance abuse, gang membership, criminal records, pregnancy/motherhood, etc.). Most important, however, is probably the loss of confidence in their ability to learn the material or the loss of confidence that learning the material will have any future value for them.
The good news is that we will need these special catch-up resources for only a year or two because we have said that if all the students entering a grade level were straight A students the previous year and had 100% mastery of all prior learning materials and had the positive attitude that typically comes with success, then almost all should be able to continue that level of success in the subsequent grades.
It is probably unrealistic to think that we could provide the special additional resources to get 27.5 million students caught up all at once.
- The larger knowledge gaps of older students will take considerably longer to close.
- The attitudes and peer situations of older students present additional challenges that will probably require smaller mentor/student ratios.
- Any mentor/tutors in the higher grades have to be considerably more qualified to be able to help with higher grade subjects like Algebra 2 than those helping in lower grades with simple arithmetic.
- The much higher risk of failure in higher grades put any initiative focused on those grades at greater risk of losing support and ultimate overall failure.
What if, however, we focused all our catch-up resources on a single suitable grade level where:
- we would only need special resources for some 2.25 million students (1/13th the number mentioned above)
- almost no students have a learning gap that can not be overcome in a single year
- where most students do not yet have a significant attitude problem
- where most students are able to get enthusiastic about a special movement in school (especially one that provides them with special recognition and bragging rights)
- where there are far fewer distractions due to extracurricular activities, puberty, etc.
As we said earlier, most students that enter a grade 100% grade level ready and with a history of learning success for at least a year, are likely to continue to do well in subsequent years (or at least take far fewer resources to keep at the 100% mastery level). As a result, if we were to start with the 4th grade, the solution might look like this.
This approach has a number of advantages:
- Only a fraction as many resources (learning tools, mentor/tutors, computing devices, internet bandwidth, etc.) would be needed in early years, making it more likely the needs will be able to be meet.
- More efforts will be able to be devoted to maximizing the effectiveness of a smaller scope of learning tools initially (e.g. maximize effectiveness of 4th grade and prior year’s knowledge/skills).
- The needed academic skill level of mentor/tutors is far less (since we are not dealing with grades 5-12 knowledge).
- The success rate is likely to be far higher since we are not having to contend with as many distractions, attitude and peer influence problems, lasting consequences of prior bad behavior, etc.
Why do we believe 4th grade is the best place to start?
A single grade is still a pretty large scope. As a result, we propose we should start with a single subject that is simultaneously a core subject; a subject that has historically been difficult for many and a subject we believe we can be successful with for almost all students. This should be a subject that has a relatively small vocabulary/scope and has a number of effective learning tools that could support achieving complete grade level mastery in a single year.
Math is best subject to start. Why?
If we were only talking about the most important subject, reading would be the clear priority as this is a prerequisite for almost every other subject. However we are focused on both providing students with a core skill/knowledge upon which to build as well as ensuring students succeed in achieving 100% grade-level-mastery in just 1 year. Math is the best subject to get started for the following reasons.
While Math would be the focus of the first year of this initiative, the second year will focus on adding Reading and Writing. To that end, we will be actively encouraging learning aid publishers to use that first year to accelerate development of their tools in preparation for year two while taking advantage of the experiences gained in year 1. Other subjects will be added in subsequent years.
Do you agree that if we succeed with 4th grade math we will be able to succeed with other grades and subjects?
We hope that most of you reading about this initiative will agree that IF we are successful in getting close to 100% of 4th graders to achieve close to 100% grade level mastery in math in just one year, then the odds are good that we will be able to continue this success in the 5th grade the following year (with almost all students starting 5th grade already 100% grade-level-ready) and then the following year with 6th grade, then 7th grade and so on until we have almost all students succeeding at close to 100% grade level mastery for all grades. Having close to 100% of all young adults being fully prepared for high productivity careers and having the “can-do attitude” that comes with the confidence of knowing you can learn anything anytime you need to would result in a dramatic change of the entire society.
But first, we have to succeed in the first phase of getting 100% of 4th graders to 100% grade-level mastery by the end of 4th grade. Then they will be…
How we will do it!
To see how we will do this, continue to the menu item “Solution“.