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“Competency-based learning” is one of the new pushes in school reform — and there is a growing debate in the education world about whether it is a positive or negative trend. The basic idea is that kids learn a lesson, master it and move on to the next at their own pace. It sounds reasonable, but critics say it is really just a way of pushing computers into classrooms, opening the way for a new era of computer-based tests that students would have to pass to prove their “competencies.”

In this post, a parent in Florida and a public school advocate writes about why she wants “a person” teaching her children, not a computer. She is Sue Woltanski, founder of Minimize Testing, Maximize Learning and the mother of two children in Florida’s Monroe County public school system. This appeared on FlKeysNews.com, and I have permission to republish it.

By Sue Woltanski

During a recent discussion on the release of this year’s school grades, Monroe County School Superintendent Mark Porter reported that the Florida district has intentionally pulled back on the number of students advanced into high school algebra during middle school and would no longer be aggressively pursuing points in the “Math Acceleration” portion of the state’s complicated middle school grading formula.

He explained this was because they had found that, in the long term, it was not in the best interest of students. What seems like common sense, to not do the things that are not good for students, is actually a very bold move, and very rare in Florida these days. As a parent, I want to thank Mr. Porter for these actions.

This made me wonder: How would education in our classrooms be different if, 15 years ago, districts had refused to be distracted by school grading formulas and other reform nonsense and had remained focused on what was in the best interest of the child. What if districts had remained focused on education-best practices? Would we have the same system we have today?

I ask my Monroe County School Board members these questions: When you walk into a kindergarten class and you see small children filling in bubbles on worksheets, do you ever wonder what you could have been done to stop this? When you see the results: unchanged or falling SAT, ACT and NAEP scores and relatively untouched achievements gaps across the country, despite the retention of tens of thousands of third- graders, do you ever wish we had never given this arbitrary school grade system, or these test-based reforms, any credence?

I know the excuses: There were state mandates. School boards take an oath. Hindsight is 20/20. But, still, do you ever wonder?

We are now at another transition point in public education. State mandates and powerful education reformers, funded by billionaires, are pushing us towards Competency Based Education (CBE), a tech-laden system that suggests computer programs will provide a more personalized, higher quality education system than a qualified teacher. The plan is to roll out CBE on a global scale. Such a system will make a few very, very wealthy. But will CBE provide a high quality education experience? So far, there is no evidence to support that.

Let me be clear, by definition, a computer can NEVER provide a child with a “personalized” education — only a person can do that. Please provide my child a person.

For most of us, outside of our families, teachers were the most important people in our childhood. The same will not be said for computer program facilitators. Please, my children need a teacher.

Recently I was disturbed to hear that since the top 10 districts in Florida are relying heavily on tech programs, Monroe has decided it must do the same. Is this the direction we want our schools to go? Does anyone want a computer algorithm making educational decisions for their children? I trust my kids’ teachers to make those decisions.

Please, unless the elite private schools (the ones those billionaires are sending their own children to) are relying on Competency Based computer programs instead of teachers or until such tech laden, teacher deficient classes have demonstrated students are better prepared for anything besides passing tests, please just let my children have teachers.

Being “only” the 12th “best” district in the state is just fine with me. Let’s encourage our dedicated teaching staff to create novel and creative learning environments. Do not relegate them to being facilitators of test prep computer programs. Technology is a nice tool, but my children, all our children, they need teachers.