More schools moving to nongraded classrooms

students studyingLast year, PURE challenged CPS CEO Ron Huberman to stop flunking kids, which costs up to $100 million per year, and instead consider more individualized instruction plans using a nongraded classroom approach.   

At his request, I prepared extensive background materials on nongraded classrooms. That’s the last I heard from him on the subject. 

Fortunately, today there are several superintendent-educators who have seen the wisdom of nongraded classrooms and are implementing this program in such places as Kansas City, Maine and Alaska. 

“The current system of public education in this country is not working”
said Superintendent John Covington. “It’s an outdated, industrial,
agrarian kind of model that lends itself to still allowing students to
progress through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair
rather than whether or not they have truly mastered the competencies and

As PURE also pointed out, the nongraded classroom can take power away from high-stakes testing, which essentially punishes children for not learning at the same pace as others of the same age. In a nongraded classroom, the child moves ahead when he/she has mastered a skill or set of skills, and no one is ‘held back” for not doing so on an artificial age-based timetable. Yet no one is “socially promoted” because no one moves until they are ready.

And in these tough economic times, doesn’t it make a lot more sense to
stop doing something that is expensive and doesn’t work — flunking
students — and start doing something that actually helps them?

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.