The Bottom Line One Size Fits All Should Fall

Enough squabbling has been done on whether or not the current education system works for every child.   New flash, it doesn’t!  Today, about 25% of our students drop out before graduation and another 45% graduate with insufficient learning to qualify them for community college, and in many cases, insufficient learning to qualify to enter the military.   Hardly what one would consider an effective education system. 

Education, particularly K-12 education is meant to prepare a young person to be able to pursue their dreams—whatever they may be.   It could be college, a certificate program in a community college, a trade like welding, coding, electrical, becoming a mechanic or a hairdresser.  Perhaps, its music or the theater; it doesn’t matter what interests the child, it only matters that we prepare him/her to be prepared to follow their dreams.   Unfortunately, we are not doing that for the vast majority of our children.

The issue is not the children or the lack of money.   The issue is the system itself.  Our K-12 system was designed for another era and for a different need.  The system is obsolete and putting more money into an obsolete system simply gives you a more expensive obsolete system.   What is needed is a system change!

A new system would focus on the individual learner and would reach that learner where they are in their learning.   This means that some children, who are well-prepared, would move ahead of children who are not, regardless of their being of similar age.  We would not base learning on time, but rather on achievement.  When a child has learned the material, they would move on regardless of whether the month of June had arrived.  The school day would be different and the school year would vary, depending upon where a child is in their learning. 

A personalized K-12 system is possible; we just need parents to demand it and educators who support it.   Neither is occurring today, but it could.   Here, at the American Center for Transforming Education, we are working with individual states to help them create the opportunity for innovation to flourish in their K-12 system.   When that occurs, we will see that the old “one size fits all” system has been replaced with a system that focuses on the individual child and which prepares that child with the skills needed to follow their dream.

One size fits all should fall!

Donald Nielsen

Senior Fellow and Chairman, American Center for Transforming Education
Donald P. Nielsen is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and Chairman of the Institute's program on public education reform. For nearly 30 years, he has devoted his life work to transforming public education. For two years, he traveled the country studying America's public education system and authored, Every School: One Citizen’s Guide to Transforming Education. Mr. Nielsen was awarded the Harvard Business School's 2004 Alumni Achievement Award. In 2009, he received the Leadership Award from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.
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