Monday Reading List: Mastery-Based Learning, Veterans in College, and Shady Activism

Tara García Mathewson of The Hechinger Report studied a Connecticut district that ditched traditional "grades" in favor of "mastery":

The small Connecticut town, just south of the Massachusetts border, is in its fifth year under a system that asks students to master specific skills in every subject. They can’t just do all their homework and ask for extra credit projects to obscure the fact that they didn’t truly learn something ... Each semester, progress is the goal. Students who take longer to learn something aren’t penalized for it, and they don’t get the chance to give up and move on. Actual mastery is the new bar for passing classes. Teachers have had to get more creative in helping students understand new concepts, and students have had to take a lot more responsibility for their own learning. Sitting quietly at the back of the room is no longer an option in classrooms that prize student engagement.

In theory, this method of assessing and rewarding progress is far superior to the eighteenth century model we see in most schools. That said, implementing mastery-based instruction is considerably more difficult for teachers; without the concomitant training and resources, this model can fall flat.

Jon Marcus of The Atlantic looks at weak graduation rates for veterans:

Many colleges and universities that eagerly recruit military veterans and the $10.2 billion a year in GI Bill benefits that come with them offer nowhere near as much support, and their student-veterans rarely get degrees, according to data obtained from the Departments of Defense, Education, and Veterans Affairs ... At nearly a third of the 20 two-year schools that enrolled at least 100 veterans receiving GI Bill benefits and who are eligible for degrees, none of them got one. These aren’t for-profit colleges and universities, some of which Democrats in Congress say treat veterans and service members like “dollar signs in uniform,” targeting them for the billions of dollars in education benefits they bring. They’re public community colleges at which student-veterans’ educations are subsidized not once, but twice, by taxpayers: through support of the colleges directly and with those billions in GI Bill money.

Whereas veterans tend to do better in four-year institutions, the public community college system seems ill-equipped to deal with the particular challenges of educating these students. This article also flags the inherent complications of measuring accountability at community colleges. These schools tend to enroll many more "non traditional students" - like the older population of veterans - with different and more varied goals. Whereas students at four-year institutions are somewhat single-mindedly focused on graduation, success at a community college can look quite different.

Chris Stewart of Citizen Ed looks at what happens when ideologues hunt for scandals. When the Network for Public Education tweeted a picture of a Black male educator, alluding to a criminal record in his distant past, they put education politics over human decency:

His name is Koai Matthews and he is an interim principal at a Memphis area charter school called Lester Prep. When hired by Lester Prep’s charter management organization Matthews went through a thorough process that revealed a felony criminal conviction. He never hid it. He was straight up about it. Took responsibility. He had to produce character witnesses and a written personal statement explaining his journey after the conviction. Since his 2005 conviction Matthews earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Education and Leadership, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and Teaching, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration. By most standards that’s considered a successful story.

The Network for Public Education, on the other hand, called this "another charter scandal," without considering the fact that they were perpetuating a series of myths about the criminality of Black men. I truly despise this sort of "activism." You'll never see the Network for Public Education commenting on "scandals" in traditional public schools, because that would compromise their ideological agenda to lambaste a certain kind of school. For the record, I also get pissed off when folks on the other side of the charter debate cherry-pick scandals at traditional public schools to score political points.

Have a great day!