Earlier today I commented that “As teachers, we are too constrained by an archaic, overly rigid framework for certifying student understanding…we need to unbundle school to unleash learning!”
A Place to Start
I firmly believe that a form of unbundling needs to be implemented in our public schools. I initially describe an incremental implementation to simplify transitioning to such an approach.
Unbundling in its simplest form could consist of decomposing a traditional course, such as algebra 1, into content knowledge segments blending concept, skill, problem solving, etc.. Content for each segment would be akin to that in the units taught today within a traditional course, yet not tied to a specific pacing calendar. Each content knowledge segment could be worth 1 credit hour with a typical semester’s worth of content yielding five credits, and a school year’s worth providing ten credits. These segments could be graded on a pass / fail basis, removing the stigma associated with grades, and hopefully students’ obsessing over their GPA. Although, given the scarcity of admissions offers to coveted universities, GPA obsession will be replaced by whatever other measure signals student desirability to admissions officers. Removing the use of letter grades, or GPA, is not required either. Keeping them affords more granular designations of student mastery.
Additionally, further gradations in the high school diploma are required that align to various levels of course completion attained by a student. These could range from basic to intermediate to advanced levels of proficiency somewhat correlated to today’s cumulative GPA; the key difference consisting less of performance level than specific concepts learned. There could also be different certificates available akin to that provided at community colleges. In today’s day and age, there is no reason we should continue hobbling ourselves with archaic systems that limit our ability to improve personal and collective educational attainment.
Most importantly, I do not advocate the more radical versions of unbundling proposed by some, such as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. In 2012, he recommended a draft bill that reads as an extreme version of a voucher system for school choice. Rather than shatter public education as it exists today, especially its funding mechanisms, let us help it evolve to meet the needs of a more diverse student population, society, and future with innovative approaches such as unbundling, or creating alternates to the traditional one-size-suits-all high school diploma. Unbundling enables the potential to improve the knowledge and skills of all students by taking advantage of our ability to offer truly differentiated, student-driven learning supported by credentialed teachers who bridge the divide between machine and human.
Moving Towards Unbundling
There are movements in that direction with Khan Academy and its use of badges to denote various achievements, highlighting the potential to obtain credentials for specific levels of content mastery; massive open online courses (MOOCs), offering verified certificates of completion; and widespread discourse about personalized college degrees and the future of higher education. This detailed diagram titled: Unbundling Education: A Simple Framework illustrates one person’s view of unbundling’s benefits for higher ed.
Serious debate about the efficacy of unbundling aspects of education brings the pros and cons of each to the fore, providing the opportunity for the most effective elements to take root.
- How well does Khan Academy Teach?, The Answer Sheet, July 2012
- Disaggregating High School Education: An Approach to Implementing “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace,” Oxford Foundation Michigan, October 2012
- Unbundling Public Education Doesn’t Add Up!, Oakland Schools – Michigan, February 2013
- Disaggregating the Components of a College Degree, AEI, August 2012
To what extent aspects of unbundling find their way formally into public education remains to be seen. In most classrooms, out of necessity, and as a means of differentiation, elements of unbundling already exist. However, the opaque nature of today’s approach obscures potential information content that offers great benefit to our students and our future. If only we could invest the time and effort to do so and not enact laws and policies that further alienate scores of students, future citizens, from learning.