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Maine Department of Education Promoting Drastic New Learning SystemEliminate All Grades and All Grade Levels
By: David Deschesne
Fort Fairfield Journal
November 30, 2011
AUGUSTA, Maine—The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) is considering a plan that would not only eliminate our current grading system, but would also eliminate grade levels. Instead of an A, B, C, or D, the new grading system would be comprised of "Exceeds Standards," "Meets Standards," or "Does Not Meet Standards." The current grade levels of 9th (Freshman), 10th (Sophomore), 11th (Junior), and 12th (Senior), for example, would be completely eliminated, with each student working at a computer terminal in a cubicle on his or her own schedule and the "teacher" would exist merely to oversee the cubicle-dwelling students as they attempt to absorb information via computer, in between playing video games, checking their Facebook accounts and listening to music.
The new grading system is called Standards Based grading. "There are some big things brewing in State curriculum. There's a big push at the State Level for Standards-based grading. If we go that way, report cards would change drastically. There won't be any more A, B, C, or D on report cards. There won't be a report for Math, Reading, Social Studies and Science," said Fort Fairfield's Superintendent, Marc Gendron, as he explained the Department of Education's vision to the Fort Fairfield School Board. "We'll have a few content standards. The grading will be changed to however the school board decides, but the way the State's going to push it is you have three grades, 'Exceed Standards,' 'Meet Standards,' or 'Keep Trying' - call it whatever you want. The shoe that's dropping here is they want us to go to no grades. No grades means no Freshman, no Sophomores, no Juniors unless it's for social purposes or for sports purposes.”
The MDOE is also embracing a new form of teaching called, Mass Customized Learning (MCL). MCL is the brainchild of progressive educators, Bea McGarvey and Chuck Schwan who make the presumptuous claim that their system is “inevitable.”
According to their website, www.masscustomizedlearning.com , McGarvey and Schwan distinguish between current education formats and their new style by stating, “The reality in today’s Information Age, is......that it is now possible for: anyone to learn anything from anywhere at any time in any way from worldwide experts. Yet, the reality for most public school learners today is......as it has always been: a specific student can learn specific subjects in a specific classroom on a specific schedule in a specific way from a specific teacher.”
The two unwittingly paint an Orwellian picture of the future of education by showing how MCL can track and trace every thought that enters a child's head while occupying their computer-connected student-cubicle. They say on their website, "Verizon sends me my monthly bill. Gosh, they know who I called, who called me, when I called, how long I talked . . . and I have a sneaking suspicion they know what I said. GEE, how do they do that? Might our learners and the learning system create electronic learning portfolios much like that? In short, the customizing technology to create a Mass Customized Learning Community is already available and has been proven to work very effectively. We, you and I, are experiencing it daily. So, we can start now . . . and does anyone doubt that in five years technology will have advanced far beyond its present capacity."
The proposed plan by the MDOE would eliminate the normal school hours and class schedules. The school would be open from 7am to 7pm, for example, and students would be able to come and go as they please, scheduling their computer modules around their own, personal schedules. As each level of required courses is completed, the student would receive a checkmark on that module. When all modules are completed, they would graduate and receive a High School diploma. The concept of a "teacher" would be rendered obsolete, relegating today's teachers more or less to advisory status at best and babysitter at the worst. Under this system there would be no predetermined Senior Class and the graduates would be merely those who have completed the required work.
A model school using this program in Arizona is what is being touted by the MDOE as a pitch to Maine Superintendents and school boards. “There's a huge room with cubicles, all the kids are in cubicles, they're all on computers, then you have teachers going around and supporting them. The whole thing is not to take our kids and chuck them on computers, but in math they're finding it works real well,” said Gendron. “A student's schedule can be really interesting. You're scheduled for math and you can do math any time you want. But you're required to put in six hours a week in math. So you come in at 6:00 in the morning or whenever the school opens and put in your time. It's not just putting a kid in front of a computer, it's putting a kid in front of a computer, with support.”
In addition to computer/cubicle time, students will be required to attend seminar classes. “You might have a class at 10:00 and there will be fifteen people in the class and that class is just on one standard,” explained Gendron. “It doesn't matter if you are a freshman or a senior, you come in and take the seminar class. They are about six weeks long and two hours a day. Then the student tests on that class and if he or she tests out of it they get a check mark.”
While it has been suggested that the levels of Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior be retained for 'social purposes' those grade levels would be irrelevant in the academic process.
“I'm not saying this is going to happen tomorrow, I just want to give you a heads up,” Gendron told the school board. “Everybody at the Department of Education is reading this book called Mass Customized Learning. The Commissioner bought a copy for every Superintendent in the State. There's really going to be a big push on it. If the governor gets elected again then I think we're going to see some serious efforts in trying to implement some of these plans. I'm not making a judgment on it, I'm keeping my eyes open and I'm keeping my heart open because maybe this is a good thing for kids and that's all that really matters.”
The MSAD #20 school board for Fort Fairfield feels these changes are an interesting concept and are interested in exploring them further.