K to 12 public education must shift its paradigm from universal attendance to student-centric universal achievement; not just universal achievement. Universal attendance requires all students to attend school from Kindergarten to twelfth grade. Although students may opt out or be expelled once they reach age sixteen to eighteen under certain circumstances, students are required to attend some form of schooling whether public, private, religious, charter, or homeschooling once they reach certain ages typically ages five to eighteen.
Age-based universal attendance compels many students to remain in the education market longer than their educational needs, family preferences, or intellectual growth may dictate driving up the cost-to-educate in terms of time and money for students, families, and schools alike. Education, under the current paradigm, is an obligation; albeit one with positive externalities. Arguably, the current paradigm served a societal purpose of raising the nation’s education level during the twentieth century.
Our knowledge-based society demands a new paradigm to serve and prepare all students for the challenges of the twenty-first century. Therefore, the paradigm must shift to student-centric universal achievement. Education must be customized to meet individual student needs rather than standardized for every student. The current paradigm of standardized education is a one-size-fits-all model. Like clothing, this one-size-fits-all model fits no one especially the needs of the most gifted and most educationally challenged students. Thus, the current paradigm levels down education to lowest common denominator.
Student-centric universal achievement will provide customized education for all students that not only better meets their needs but also enables all students to achieve to the fullest extent possible during their K to 12 years in school, and leverage their years of education for success in college, the workplace, and everyday life. Nationwide, the education system is wrestling with how best to comply with the demands of both universal attendance and universal achievement. The angst, anger, and antipathy expressed for the current K to 12 public educational system stems from the often conflicting goals of universal attendance and standardized achievement.
The solution is to facilitate the transition to a student-centric universal achievement paradigm. This paradigm will enable all students to participate in student-centric education that meets their educational needs and helps to lower the cost-to-educate in terms of time and money for students, families, and schools alike. This educational system will enable all students to learn and achieve at their pace rather than on age-based scales or on a one-size-fits-none basis.
My proposal recognizes that students differ in terms of interests, skills, and academic pursuits; plus many children learn differently at different times and ages, and in different ways. I propose our K to 12 public educational system shift to a student-centric universal achievement paradigm in which each student achieves at his/her pace, abilities, and most suitable level rather than reducing all students to an age-based system that does not recognize the wide range of student needs, abilities, maturity, and skills.
Specifically, my approach would enable a student who is able, ready, and eager to learn and achieve beyond age-based limitations, to advance to the next grade level when he/she has demonstrated mastery and learning of her/his current grade level material. A student’s advancement to the next grade might occur at mid-year or by mid-spring; alternatively, some students may require extra time beyond the traditional school year. Adopting such an approach would require reorganizing and restructuring the provision and administration of K to 12 education.
However, once fully implemented, my approach could save students, families, and school systems alike a great deal of time and money by enabling students to achieve at their unique pace rather than be restricted by age limitations, and perhaps graduating with mastery of all grades’ material before they would have under the former paradigm. Saving time would save money for all stakeholders. All students differ in different in different and important ways; we should have an educational model that champions and leverages every child’s abilities. Students will be better prepared to meet the challenges of our knowledge-based economy if we shift to providing an opportunity for every child to succeed that is based on his/her needs rather than the lowest common denominator, age, or mass standardization.