The Pros and Cons of Accelerated Learning
I remember sitting in the front of the class and working my own way through the math lessons. I was bored, felt insecure to be so different, and really just wanted to be normal because by 6th grade I had learned that normal meant that kids should be learning at a specified and pre-determined pace, all together.
While the modern American school system does now offer more higher placement level classes, where students aren’t always just sitting by themselves in the front of the room, there are many parents still looking for something more for their children. I recently read of one school district that is struggling to serve students who are bored, not challenged, and yet capable of more. Parents desperately want their children to have opportunities to learn at accelerated paces (without necessarily skipping a grade), but budgeting and lack of staff training are keeping kids in classrooms that don’t help them thrive. The American school system is heavily based on birthdates and grade levels – instead of abilities and interests.
Can you imagine the outcry that would happen if children who were struggling in schools were left without extra classes and assistance? Schools and communities appear to be much more concerned with bringing struggling kids up to average than they are with providing kids who are ready for more with deeper classes. Communities like the one featured in the report I referenced are drowning in the struggles to make sure that kids are passing their tests, instead of worrying about if their students are learning as much as they possibly can. The traditional classroom isn’t modeled to handle any more – with 30 students of varying abilities, teachers often have the goal of getting everyone to average. This means the focus becomes bringing up the score of those who aren’t doing well, instead of continuing to improve the scores of students who are already above that average mark.
Some parents are requesting that their children be allowed to skip grades in order to have classes that serve their needs. However, in the typical American school setting, grade skipping can open a whole new set of issues for parents, students, and teachers. And not all parents want their children to accelerate – some are redshirting their kids in order to set them up to be at the top of their class.
Benefits of Accelerated Learning
I have the joy of letting my children learn at the pace that suits them as a homeschool family. They are all different, and they all benefit from the ability to move forward when they are ready, or remain on a plateau as needed. I am honestly not sure where I would want my children placed if they were to attend a traditional American public school system. But I do know that accelerated learning, or skipping grades, can benefit children.
- Students who are in the top percentage in their classes are often underserved and can be left suffering with extreme boredom in classes. Accelerated learning can alleviate this.
- Students who are allowed to move ahead as their skills and abilities allow learn that they have the power and responsibility to take charge of their own education.
Drawbacks of Accelerated Learning
I never could have imagined the excitement one of my sons would have for all things sports related. And when you’re a child in America, sports are regulated by birthdates, grades, and gender. I’ve even had to bring copies of my son’s birth certificate to baseball tournaments. However, I also never imagined the implications of bumping him ahead a grade. Instead of competing with other similarily aged students on the junior varsity team, he competes with boys one and two years older. Fortunately for my son (and my paranoid mom-heart), he is tall and athletic for his age, giving him an edge when his actual birthdate doesn’t. Accelerated learning, when done in the traditional school system, can have several drawbacks (including the focus of athletics).
- Social Differences – If your child attends a traditional public school but has been bumped up a grade there can be several social implications. Milestone markers for students, such as when they get their driver’s license and when they go through puberty can make accelerated learners feel, once again, different from the rest of their peers.
- Academic Differences – Not all students who are in accelerated learning classes or who have skipped a grade do well. There is more to academic progress than just understanding mathematics at a higher level. True academic success includes the ability to put ideas and concepts into context. That context is sometimes only possible with maturity and experience, and age does influence maturity (although it doesn’t control it).
If my children’s lives are all about sports or keeping up with children who celebrated birthdays within 6 months of each other, then I should let this determine their grade levels. However, that is not how I parent – holding my children at levels predetermined by decades of institutionalized learning. If we hold our school districts accountable for teaching children according to interests and abilities, instead of only by ages, we can help all kids excel for where they are in life, even if they aren’t yet ready to accelerate.