Have you ever had one of those gnawing ideas that sticks with you? You feel passionately that you want to make it a reality, but are struggling to figure out just how? Well this post is about that idea that is stuck in my head and screaming to be figured out.
I should preface this with how the idea came about. For a while now, I have been living on the edge of seeing how incredibly important education is for all students and realizing there needs to be a better way. I have seen some great ideas come about using technology, alternative assessments, and other progressive movements in education. I love the push for mental health, growth mindset, and gradeless environments. The latter is the catalyst for this concept and possibly this blog. I believe strongly that numerical/letter grades, competition, and the stress they both create hamstring much of our students’ learning before they ever start. Take the fact that much of the achievement gap begins to show at 4th and 5th grade (when we start to give letter grades). Also take into account the millions of teachers frustrated with the question: “will this be graded?” and realizing that learning has become secondary to points, status, rank, and prestige of college.
In studying the idea of removing grades from the classroom, I came across the only true roadblock to things changing. Simply put GPA is still one of the first things that is put on an application to college, and more importantly scholarship applications. So, given that our current system is basically designed around this grading scheme that ultimately says nothing about learning, mastery, or character I decided we need something better.
I am more or less certain, as is the rest of the country, that there has to be a better way to run schools than our current educational model at the moment. We churn students through our system to a diploma. Two thirds of our graduates won’t realize that two thirds is greater than three fifths. Then we send them to college woefully unprepared for a number of their general elective courses. In addition, many of our students don’t have any certainty about what they hope to do with their degree and where they want to go professionally. A growing percentage come home from college lost and jobless. In addition they are being saddled with a mountain of debt from a degree that more or less says you paid tuition for 4 – 6 years and did enough to graduate. Within two years of graduation upwards of 73% of college graduates work in a field that has nothing to do with their degree.
Please don’t get me wrong, I do see a tremendous amount of value in what education does for those who get one. I just also know that the people who are truly getting a solid education are not the same people who are getting degrees. In addition, I also see how the current system only serves the population who can afford the proper support it takes to do well in the current high stakes grading and testing culture we live in. I also know there is a vast population of students who do not get the same opportunities to even attempt to get that degree in the first place. I am merely saying that the trend we’re on can not be sustained and I want to head it off before we go over a cliff.
So, my idea. Create a network of schools, businesses, and universities tied to the same mission, the same fellowship. Students as early as infants (pre-k) come into our model. They work their way through the curriculum we have adopted with advice from business leaders, universities, and our education team (along with adoption of standards). The plan is that many of the ideas in the blog plus hopefully many, many more ideas get infused in the “non-system” by creating a great team and even better culture. The basis of the system is to lower stress, increase student discussion and learning, and to move away from the churning conveyor belt style of education we have now.
Once a student graduates from the secondary level, they move on to an entry level job with one of our business partners. This could happen at 18 if that is appropriate, or at 20 if need be, I don’t know why we arbitrarily send some students out into the world when it is clear that they aren’t ready. Our graduates also become a fellow of our network of universities. During those 4 years students are making money, getting mentorship on financial responsibility, and learning how to be a responsible adult under typical circumstances that post graduates experience (just without a mountain of crushing debt). Once the 4 years of work is up (must work for a company for at least a year at a time) they are accepted into a university that they choose in the network. The idea being that over those four years they have saved money towards the typical college costs. In addition, the partnership between business and university helps to subsidize the student’s tuition to a much more manageable rate (no I don’t know what the contracts would look like). Now upon graduation the degree holder has life/work experience, membership in a strong network of people/organizations, the ability/maturity to find work. Ideally work that is fulfilling, interesting and in line with their studies. Did I mention that they don’t have crippling debt as a parting gift?
I have a lot more to say on this matter, lowering the cost of college degrees is not the only reason I want this to work, but Netflix is calling my name and truthfully, no one wants to read a blog post that is greater than 1000 words. Until next time, have a great evening all, and please let me know what you think of the Fellowship.