Will Manchester be Courageous?

The FIRST Robotics competition is an example of how students can learn math, engineering, programming and other skills outside of the traditional classroom.

By Fred Bramante

Inertia is a powerful force:  The century plus old system of public education that is based on time and place as constants (i.e. 180 days, grades K-12) with achievement as the variable (A, B, C, D,) is failing our nation, and our children.  From a historical perspective, it was never designed to educate every child.  It was designed as a sorting mechanism to determine which kids were, supposedly, smart enough to send to college and to let the rest go into the workforce or the military.  Back then, there were plenty of jobs that didn’t require finishing high school.  Today, there are not.  Today, if you don’t have an education, the likelihood of getting a job that will afford you a piece of you American Dream is small.  For Manchester to continue trying to educate every child in a system that was never designed to do so is a fool’s errand and a colossal waste of taxpayer money.  It’s time to change the system.  But, to what?

When you ask most citizens to describe their ideal system of public education, more often than not, they describe a shinier version of what already exists:  the best teachers, smaller class size, new school buildings, more technology. Their comments are understandable.  It’s what they know.

It’s hard, however, to picture something that they had never before considered.  It’s time to paint a new picture of what a public education system could become.

Try to envision the opposite of what we currently have.  Instead of time and place being the constant, they become the variables.  Instead of achievement being the variable, it becomes the constant.  Students move on to the next level when they have demonstrated mastery of the level they are on.

Here’s the one trillion dollar question:  Does anyone care more that our school buildings are the primary source of our children’s learning or do we care more about our students learning regardless of the source?  I’ve asked this question over 1,000 times and have yet to hear anyone argue that the school must be the primary source.  So, if we agree that our students acquiring the skills and knowledge that they need is more important than whether or not they learn it in school, why can’t we begin the process of looking at other sources of learning for our students.  Could students learn automotives at Manchester’s automobile dealerships?  Could they learn music at the Manchester Community Music School and have their learning reflected on their public school report card?  Could someone tutor students in Chinese and have it reflected on their report card?  Could students acquire math skills at banks, with surveyors, with accountants?  Could they learn about government interning with Mayor Gatsas?

The opportunities for fabulous learning experiences for our students here in Manchester are near limitless if Manchester has the courage to move away from our out of date, time-based system and to a system that only cares about whether or not you have mastered required skills.  No more C’s and D’s, yet you still pass the course.  No more passing grades because of homework, attendance, and behavior; yet, you really didn’t learn what you needed to learn.  We are cheating our students, our taxpayers, our city, and our state by perpetuating the time-based system.  It’s time to move to a system where real learning actually matters—a competency-based system.


About the author

Fred Bramante began his journey as an educator in 1970, teaching middle school science in Stamford, Conn. He left teaching in 1976 to dedicate his full-time effort to the fledgling music business he started with his life savings of $600 in order to supplement his teaching salary. At its peak, Daddy’s Junky Music was among the top 20 music retailers in America. But he never stopped being a teacher. Education was in his blood.

In 1992, Bramante was appointed to the New Hampshire State Board of Education. After unsuccessful runs for governor on education platforms, he was appointed Chairman of the New Hampshire State Board and was charged by the Governor with the responsibility to lead New Hampshire’s first full-scale education reform effort since 1919.

The results of Bramante’s efforts led to landmark changes in New Hampshire’s education regulations including the move from credit for seat time (the number of hours a student spends in class, known as the Carnegie Unit), to credit for demonstrated learning (anytime, anyplace, anyhow, any pace). Following New Hampshire’s lead, the concept of a competency-based model is now being considered by virtually every state department of education and is high on the agenda of the Council of Chief State School Officers. In 2012, New Hampshire won the Frank Newman State Innovation Award from the Education Commission of the States.

Bramante’s efforts have received national attention. He speaks around the country and serves as a consultant for numerous national, state, and regional education groups and policymakers, including the National Governors’ Association, the Ohio High School Redesign Team, the Iowa Department of Education, the Association of Education Service Agencies, CESA #1 in Wisconsin, Cabell County Schools of West Virginia, and more. Bramante’s new book, Off the Clock: Moving Education from Time to Competency, hit bookshelves in March 2012.

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