School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Educators Must Look to History When They Advocate for Changes

November 16, 2021 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

While perusing the Education Week website the past week, I came across an opinion essay entitled “Graduation Must Depend on Learning, Not Time” (Oct. 12, 2021). As I read through it, I became aware of a major reason that American education has not really changed a great deal over the past half century.

The authors, all school superintendents, began by asking the question: “What if we flipped the current model of public education on its head and made the standard of learning the constant and time the variable?” In response to this question, the authors say they are “calling for a competency-based system of education that looks nothing like our current model.”

Unfortunately, the authors seem unaware of the long history of both the juxtaposition of time and learning, as well as the many varieties of competency-based education. The need to shift from time to learning was the basis for educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s 1968 paper, “Learning for Mastery,” based on the theoretical framework of psychologist John Carroll. Arguments in favor of competency-based education began to appear around the same time. (Kate Ford of the University of Maryland, University College, published a concise history of competency-based education in 2014.)

If substantial and significant changes in education are to be made, educators and policymakers must be aware of the history of ideas. When did the idea first appear and how did it progress over time? When and, more importantly, why did the idea fall out of favor? Specifically, why did mastery learning fail, and what can we learn from its failure? Answers to questions such as these enable us to learn from our past. Such learning, in turn, makes it possible to make meaningful changes that result in substantial improvement in American education.

Lorin Anderson
Carolina Distinguished Professor Emeritus
University of South Carolina
Columbia, S.C.

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2021 edition of Education Week as Educators Must Look to History When Reimagining Education


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion 7 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers
Listening more than talking is one vital piece of advice for school leaders to help teachers.
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
School & District Management What Schools Can Do to Tackle Climate Change (Hint: More Than You Think)
For starters, don't assume change is too difficult.
7 min read
Haley Williams, left, and Amiya Cox hold a sign together and chant while participating in a "Global Climate Strike" at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Across the globe hundreds of thousands of young people took the streets Friday to demand that leaders tackle climate change in the run-up to a U.N. summit.
Haley Williams, left, and Amiya Cox participate in a Global Climate Strike at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., in September 2019.
Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record via AP
School & District Management 'It Has to Be a Priority': Why Schools Can't Ignore the Climate Crisis
Schools have a part to play in combating climate change, but they don't always know how.
16 min read
Composite image of school building and climate change protestors.
Illustration by F. Sheehan/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty and E+)
School & District Management Some Districts Return to Mask Mandates as COVID Cases Spike
Mask requirements remain the exception nationally and still sensitive in places that have reimposed them.
4 min read
Students are reminded to wear a mask amidst other chalk drawings on the sidewalk as they arrive for the first day of school at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.
Chalk drawings from last August remind students to wear masks as they arrive at school.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP