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Running in Flip-Flops

flip-flops in child running

We wouldn’t think of selling the same size and style shoes to all nine year olds. We wouldn’t mandate that they wear size four flip-flops, no matter where they are going.

Yet, this is what our current educational system is doing. All students of a given age are expected to go to school for 180 days to learn the same things, read the same books, do the same math, and be tested on the same material. Yet these young minds are as different as their feet, and their interests and talents are certainly very diverse. Some were reading by the age of three, others love science and may not be good readers even at the age of ten. Yet they are all put in a classroom where the teacher is expected to have them "run in flip-flops".

Imagine how different school would be if we measured children’s knowledge, and flexibly grouped them based on what they were prepared to learn. If we let them read in their areas of interest, rather than prescribed genres, we would be nurturing their passions. If we recognized, rather than buried their talents, they would gain self-esteem.

Many of today’s social-emotional issues are created through expectations that all minds are the same, and all children of a given age are peers. Second-graders aren’t likely to find others in their class interested in discussing The Red Badge of Courage, or adaptations in cinnabar moths. How are these children supposed to develop social skills here?

Think about how much of the curriculum is irrelevant, and too far above or too far below what a specific child needs. The consequences of teaching in a one-size-fits-all environment are boredom, disengagement, behavior issues and misdiagnoses. 88% of high school dropouts had passing grades, but dropped out due to boredom.(1) One high school dropout later became a Harvard professor. But few are able to re-do their lives.(2)

In school, we need to allow students opportunities to learn what they are prepared for.

We need to let them change from flip-flops to running shoes for the race. To remove age-based barriers in our educational system, we need to start with adaptive testing. This would measure the current level of each student’s knowledge, independent of the grade where they are currently assigned. Acceleration, curriculum compacting, differentiation, and other strategies need to become common practices. The system needs to be flexible. We need to choose shoes for all students based on their current knowledge, their interests and what is relevant to their world. This will let them run at their own pace into a future that will benefit us all.

This is why I support Massachusetts House Bill 2051—An Act to Document Learning, Readiness, Achievement and Growth of our Public School Students.

(1) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “The Silent Epidemic”

(2) The Myth of Average: Todd Rose at TEDxSOnomaCounty

“The End of Average How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness”, 2017, HarperOne, Todd Rose.

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