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Rethinking Credit Recovery

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In a world where students have so much choice in the rest of their lives, why not give them more control over their education?

By John Kreick

What if your future depended on something about which you had little or no choice? This is what many students face today. Despite being presented with more choices, control, and expression in every other aspect of their lives, students largely have no say in their own education.

Consider this analogy: Opensignal's phone and mobile device application gathers information on mobile device diversity. In 2014, it identified 19,000 unique Android models alone. That same year, Samsung released close to 60 different smartphones. Those models, along with thousands of others from rival companies and powered by processors more formidable than all of the computer muscle of NASA in 1969, contribute to the 500 million tweets and 205 billion emails sent and received daily.

This is just one example of the real and powerful choice prevalent in the modern world. So imagine your choices being limited to one geographically locked store run by a single company that only offered you one or two models, with restricted minutes and data plan. People would riot. But this is the reality for many students in traditional education settings.

In 1900, the average life expectancy for a United States citizen was 47 years. Today it is 79. Students growing up now are expected to have an average of 10-15 jobs and move 11.5 times during their adult life. Their careers will involve what are popularly known as 21st-century skills: critical thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, analysis, interpretation, information synthesis, and information and communication technology literacy. Students will have to navigate an increasingly interconnected and competitive global marketplace and economy as young adults. Should they decide to pursue a college education, they will have more than 5,000 two- to four-year colleges from which to choose.

Still, the quality and type of education they receive is largely tied to where they are born and raised. If they grow up in an urban area, they will attend schools run by districts where the average superintendent's tenure is 3.2 years. School board members last slightly longer: an average of 3-6 years. If you have worked in a large urban district, you know that it can take months to replace the old coffee machine, let alone shift a system where you have to establish trust and relations, and whose first-year budget was already set the moment you walked in the door.

That district exists within a state that sets its own academic standards and assessments, and where per pupil funding could be anywhere from $6,706 (if you live in Utah) to $18,000 (if you are a citizen of the District of Columbia). I would challenge anyone to disagree that preparing and empowering our students is a national priority. Yet many of the factors that decide a student's fate are governed by location and the whims of a local leadership system defined by churn.

The national significance of the Department of Defense budget--which was $852.8 billion in 2015--is often used in arguments about the relative inadequacy of education funding. You've seen the bake-sale bumper stickers. Primary and secondary education funding was $621 billion in 2015. The federal portion of that was $154 billion.

If we approached national defense like we do education, we'd have a system where each state had its own troops and service people, funded by what each state decided was adequate funding, with local protocols and standards directed by advisory boards and leaders who would move on or be fired every three years. Each state would be on the hook for designing and building Aegis cruisers and stealth fighters. And each state would be defending itself against the rest of the world.

So, what does this have to do with credit recovery? A student in need of credit recovery would be like each state: defending himself, not only against a limited education system, but also the backlash from his peers who may naively see "credit recovery" as a negative thing. What things are called make a difference. This is so true in politics--and education is inherently political.

Consider the connotations of "frankenfood" versus "genetically modified vegetables," or "death tax" versus "estate tax, or "disabled" versus "physically challenged." It is interesting that "learning in a different manner, setting, or timeline than a contemporary" is referred to as "credit recovery." Even more fascinating are the term's Latin roots and definitions. "Credit" means:

"an entry recording a sum received, listed on the right-hand side or column of an account; an amount of money that is added to an account; an acknowledgment of work done, as in the production of a motion picture or publication." The Latin root "cred" means, "believe" or "trust."

Recovery, whose Latin root "recuperō" means "regain, restore, or restore to health," is

"the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost; the act or process of returning to a normal state after a period of difficulty; a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength."

The act of giving students an opportunity to retake a course they failed or could not complete in an arbitrary timeframe for whatever reason is described in words better suited for finance, health, and thievery. It is the antithesis of what Socrates meant when he said, "Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel." 

But, viewing it through a Socratic lens can be useful. According the DOE's National Center for Education statistics, in the fall of 2015, about 50.1 million students attended public elementary and secondary schools. In 2011, ad agency Digitas reported this demographic possessed $1.2 trillion in buying power a year through direct purchases and influencing the buying patterns of their parents.

The fact that companies now spend about $17 billion a year marketing to children as compared to $100 million spent in 1983 speaks to their growing impact. Companies bend over backwards to meet these young students' needs and preferences. So, in a system where they are the only consumer and their learning and success is the only goal, why doesn't our primary and secondary education system approach them the same way?

Children have more options and influence than ever. It is time for that to be true in their education as well.

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John Kreick is a graduate of Brown University whose journey in education began 10 years ago, when he worked with the state of Hawaii to restructure 37 failing schools to increase student achievement. Today, Kreick is the vice president of marketing at Odysseyware, a leading provider of rigorous and customizable online courses for K-12 education. 

 

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