A student-centric education system recognizes that each student has different learning needs at different times of the year. Therefore, it makes sense to have a bottom-up as opposed to a top-down accountability system that leverages technology and captures how each child is doing in real-time throughout the school year instead of on an annual basis. In addition to recognizing teachers who make the most progress with students, real-time monitoring will also hold our education system to a higher level of accountability, as we will have much more granularity on actual student performance.
Implement “backpack funding.” Currently, Title I and Title II funds go directly to districts that manage and dole out the funds. School leaders are limited in having ownership over their budgets and figuring out the best way to serve their specific student population. The federal government should move the Title I and Title II programs to a backpack funding system, in which dollars follow students. The funds shouldn’t just follow students to their school experience of choice, however. They should follow them to their educational experience of choice. With the growth in online learning courses, it is important to allow students to access great teachers and the right learning experience for their needs, regardless of ZIP code. Fractional funding that enables this is a must.
Support competency-based learning. In today’s education system, time is held as a constant, while a student’s learning ability is a variable that changes from student to student. In a competency-based learning system, this equation is reversed so that students need to prove understanding of a concept or skill before they are able to move on. Competency-based learning returns the primary focus of education back to the digestion of actual learning and comprehension, instead of judging where a student’s knowledge level should be based on the calendar.
The federal government should support, and even offer incentives to, states that move toward competency-based learning systems. Furthermore, the government should eliminate all policies that focus heavily on time, such as the Adequate Yearly Progress accountability measure, that relies on students clearing a minimal bar on an annual test on an arbitrary day.
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Help modernize the schooling infrastructure. The internet is undeniably an important tool in today’s world and arguably a necessity. The sad truth is that many of today’s schools have very limited internet access, which greatly handicaps their ability to move to a student-centric education system powered by digital learning. The internet opens up an entire world of information and resources to both students and educators, and without it, they are at a major disadvantage, both in terms of meeting regulations and working toward future success. To help rectify this, the federal government’s eRate policy needs to be revisited and modified to support modernizing schools’ and low-income students’ access to the internet.
Finally, one of the most important steps the federal government can take is to celebrate, promote, and encourage innovation in the country’s education system. The government has the voice, ability, and resources to reward success in bolstering student-learning outcomes, and it should hardly matter how those gains are achieved. There is no one-size-fits-all way to educate every child, and the federal government should not be in the business of dictating how states and localities educate children.
Highlighting examples of success and rewarding breakthroughs in learning can provide a critical boost to those on the ground who are busy transforming the education system and making it better. Illuminating successes can show others that it is possible to work within the confines of our education system to develop, build, and sustain a student-centric, digitally-powered model of learning that is capable of giving students the opportunity to achieve success.
Michael B. Horn is co-founder and executive director of the education practice of Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to problems in the social sector. He is also the author of several publications and articles, including the book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.
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