Gaby Chavez: Could mastery-based learning be stigmatizing?

I found Chris Kafoglis’s talk this past Tuesday to be very interesting and very relevant to things that I want to do with education in the future. The thing I found the most interesting, amongst all the different things that he talked about was actually what he does in his job. In particular I was struck by the idea of mastery based learning. I had never heard about it before and so when he was talking about it, I could not even believe that it was real. It sounded like a really great way to help students who need that extra push to understand and grasp material. When he described that they did not have letter grades and that students would repeat material until they fully understood it (meaning they could be in high school for over four years), I thought that this would be a much better system rather than the way that schools work now.

In particular, I was thinking about it in terms of elementary education. When I was in school and also at the school I worked in, many of the elementary students who struggle with material got pushed through, even though they could not read or do other basics that they should have already mastered. The whole lecture I was thinking: could something like this have been beneficial to my kids?

I think one of the things to think over about this programs is that there might be a stigma to repeat grades for some people. I know one of the problems I have seen is that when kids are recommended to be held back, their parents sometimes come in and argue to have their child pushed forward, not fully understanding the consequences of such a decision. Their main reason for doing so was not because they were bad parents, but that they were afraid of the social repercussions that there might be for their child if they are too old for their class and all their previous classmates move forward. However, I really appreciated that there was a system being developed that seems to be aimed more towards helping kids from a certain area learn the way they need to learn. Rather than trying “blanket” solutions, this school seems to be trying to apply something that seems to be working for them, and that also might be a model for other schools in the future.

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