Should We Do Away With Grade Levels?
Doing Away With Grade Levels
By Dan Domenech | Dan Domenech Blog | June 17th, 2016
It seems sacrilegious, really, but I am advocating that we do away with the K-12 grade level structure in education. Perhaps because it is how we have organized our schools since we evolved from the one room schoolhouse back in the nineteenth century, the grade level structure is taken for granted. You notice that reform agendas do not include doing away with grade levels. We have vouchers, charters, extended day, extended school year, evaluating teachers and principals if we are not firing them, privatizing schools or closing them and reopening them under new management, but no talk of doing away with grade levels. If anything, there is renewed interest in having students repeat grades as a backlash against social promotion.
We talk about thinking out of the box but no one talks about thinking out of grade levels.
The reality is that many of the problems affecting our education system can be traced to the grade level organizational structure. Back in the day, when there were thirty-some students assigned to a class with one teacher, the modus operandi were for that teacher to teach to the middle of the pack. The class was taught as a group. Consequently, the kids at the bottom were lost and left behind and the kids at the top were bored and frustrated. Teachers lectured and, with so many students, were seldom able to provide individual instruction.
The students who did not grasp the lesson would have to stay after school or come in early to try to get extra help from the teacher. Often that was not enough and thus began a cycle where students were being left further and further behind. Our solution was to provide remediation, summer school, after school, private tutoring. All kinds of add-ons to the school day to deal with students who could not keep up with instruction aimed at children of a certain age at a certain grade level. For the gifted and talented we saw the creation of gifted and talented programs that would either group these students into homogeneous classrooms or provide for their needs at certain times of the day, much like what was being done for their less talented peers.
Eliminating the grades (1st, 2nd… not A, B,C…) is possible. Money is not in the way but the organizational mindset of 100 plus years of how things have been and how folks think of school is the obstacle. Dropping the 1-12 grade structure will come because of its antiquated and irrelevant nature. Can we capitalize on the fact that we’re 40 years into the practice?