The Standard Model was then, and is now, notable for its uniformity and rigid order, its separation into distinct parts, its obligatory and required nature, points of reference against which individuals are compared and evaluated being the definitions of regimentation, compartmentalization, compulsion, and standardization, traits that are sometimes associated with Prussian society.
Examples: Grouping kids by birth date; advancing them together grade by grade; dicing up human thought into stand-alone subjects or content; artificially chopping up the school day into periods such that when the bell rings and discussion and exploration of a subject are abruptly ended without regard to levels of mastery and another subject begins; lengthy summer vacations; acquiring knowledge under compulsion; standardized learning; rote memorization; home work; lack of free and unbridled thinking; standardized testing; students sitting passively listening to a one-pace-fits-all lecture delivered by teachers having widely-varying qualifications.
The self-paced model is constrained by no orthodoxy regarding the "right" way to do things. You adopt a questioning and skeptical stance toward the educational customs and assumptions we have inherited, as well as alternatives proposed. Avoid overgeneralization.
In the standard model, "the time allotted to learn is fixed while the comprehension of the concept is variable. What should be fixed is a high level of comprehensiveness and what should be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept." Khan emphasizes this difference because it is central to everything he argues for in his book. He calls the reversal of the fixed and variable time allotments "Mastery Learning." Without mastery, the class moves on in the Standard Model and leaves gaps in student learning which Khan likens to the holes in Swiss cheese. You cannot build on what you haven't learned.
What then does Khan envision in establishing a Computer-Based, Self-Paced Mastery Learning Model of public school education. It is built around an updated version of the one-room schoolhouse, which he calls "The One World Schoolhouse," the title of his book.
These are its features: Kids of different ages should mix. Classrooms should be merged together into a single classroom of 75 to 100 students with three or four teachers, thus allowing teachers to teach in tandem, and focus on what they do best. This will alleviate teacher burnout through professional companionship and peer support, and will allow teachers to become coaches whom students tend to adore because coaches represent what students have chosen to do instead of what they have to do.
Mixing of students of different ages in one large classroom with multiple teachers creates an opportunity for fostering an ability and willingness for students to help others and provide for peer-to-peer tutoring, a beneficial experience (collaboration) for both the peer tutors and the peer tutees.
Computer-based, self-paced mastery learning as so described offers opportunities to solve many of the problems that summer vacation creates, among them students' unlearning much of what they did learn in the previous school year. Because of self-pacing and multiteachers in a single classroom, students could take time off when the family would like to go on vacation for example, and teachers could stagger vacations through the year, all without the need of shutting down the entire system in specific months of the year.
Khan makes a persuasive case that the Self-Paced Model of education would cost less to execute than the Standard Model.
McElwee is a Charleston lawyer with the firm Robinson & McElwee. He frequently writes about education reform.