Thursday, February 2, 2017

Prussian Model

Bob Sornson writes a great article in Medium about the Cover and Test model of education that Horace Mann imported from Prussia in the 1840's. Check it out, it is a convincing read. He writes:
"Cover content, give tests, and sort students. Our existing system does this effectively, year after year, until a vast majority of our students have been sorted away from the love of learning, sorted away from the economic and social opportunities that are part of the age of innovation, technology, and learning..... 
As an observer and participant in this education system, the most amazing thing to me is how tenaciously we hold on to a model that offers such limited success. (my bold) 
The Cover Test Sort education model was never designed to help all students become successful learners. It may have generally served the needs of society in the late 19th and early 20th century, but ...., as learning and complex thinking skills have become more important for us to develop the academic and problem-solving skills that lead to good jobs and social opportunity, the CTS education model is failing our society.
  • All students are limited by standardized one-size-fits-all instruction, but it is a special catastrophe for vulnerable children who are less able to keep up with the pace of instruction.
  • By the beginning of fourth grade only 34 percent of American children are at proficient reading levels (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2013)
  • Only 20 percent of fourth grade children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch are at proficient reading levels (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2013)
  • Among 12th grade students — remember that a significant group of students has already dropped out by this point — 26 percent score at or above proficient levels in math, and 38 percent are proficient or better in reading (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2013)"
1943. School in 2017 in USA looks much the same. 

I'll be the first to say that many things ail American schooling. The Prussian model is only one cause of these dismal stats. Indeed, you can argue that poverty and socio-economic status play a larger role than any instructional method in the failures listed above. What I am struck by most, however, is that the solution offered to any of these problems is usually a doubling down on the Cover and Test model. Sornson is right; it is an amazingly tenacious model.  Kids aren't learning? More cover and test. Poor kids? Extra cover and test. Falling behind the Chinese?* Double down on cover and test. This system is so ingrained that most people find it hard to imagine a different model of schooling. Even worse, our schools perpetuate this. It is one of the most effective lessons we teach. Future voters and stakeholders and policy makers learn very clearly what school is "supposed" to look like. We at least teach that very, very well.

* Arguably, China seems to do cover and test well. But many consider the Finnish system to be the best in the world. The Finns to not Cover and Test.

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