No More Grades? New Program Looks to Recycle Failed Ideas at U.S. High Schools


A consortium of the most elite high schools in the nation are attempting to build a new kind of computerized high school transcript that will embody more than what they see as the “broken” traditional grades and time-spent model currently in use.

The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) proposes a new transcript model based on three principles:

  1. No Required Standardization of Mastery Credits: The performance areas, credit standards (rubrics, etc.) and credits are specific only to the individual crediting school, and will never be standardized across schools.
  2. No Grades: Letter grading (or numerical equivalent) will not be used.
  3. Consistent Transcript Format: Transcript has to be readable by college admission officers (once trained) in less than two minutes. Therefore, the transcript format has to be reasonably consistent across MTC schools.

The consortium states that current transcripts are flawed because they:

  • “Ignore non-cognitive skills, also known as character traits”
  • “Focus on the acquisition of information instead of the making of meaning”
  • “Act as a remnant of the industrial revolution and take cues from the meat packing industry”
  • “Pretend that a grade issued by an individual teacher is replicable, validated, and meaningful”
  • “Encourage the separation of disciplines in an interdisciplinary world”

Apparently the inculcation of logical thinking is not an attribute that this group is looking to embody or promote. While their first principle states that there should be no standardization of elements in the transcript across schools, the third principle states that there must be “reasonable consistency across MTC schools.” These are mutually exclusive. Likewise, in describing how broken traditional transcripts are, they simultaneously decry that a grade from an individual teacher is not “replicable and validated” while at the same time complaining that grades are a “remnant of the industrial revolution” with its standardized, assembly-line methods. The site also simultaneously disparages teacher assessment and wants to support them.

None of this really computes, but that is par for the course when it comes to the emotionally based thinking that is usurping genuine academics and spreading through education circles like cancer cells through a compromised host.

Speaking of emotionally based thinking, this new transcript model is permeated with the principles of social emotional learning (SEL) that are destroying academic education and being used by crony corporations and government agencies that believe education only exists to mold students into ideal citizens and workers. One example transcript on the MTC website as recently as December 5th (and since removed) contained evaluations of the following SEL traits:

  • “Foster integrity, honesty, fairness and respect”
  • “Build trust, resolve conflict, and provide support for others [analogous to empathy in the pre-K standards]”
  • “Persistence [grit]”

The example transcript there now contains a slightly less overt SEL model containing evaluations of the corporate-desired, but still subjective, traits that include “creativity,” “collaboration,” and “self-directed learning.”

As discussed in this space numerous times, the federal government and connected corporations setting norms for and assessing these traits is fraught with peril. Problems include subjectivity, lack of scientific and research confirmation, attachment to Common Core, and issues of political correctness and indoctrination.

The MTC is enamored with the John Dewey philosophy that sees affective processes as more important than intellectual ones. The website quotes Dewey saying:

Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.

Dewey is also known for wanting government schools to control the raising and especially the philosophical education of children. As noted in Beverly Eakman’s very important book, Cloning of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education, Dewey lauded the Soviet system of education, strongly praising:

“. . . the marvelous developments of progressive educational ideas and practices under the fostering care of the Bolshevist government” and “the required collective and cooperative mentality.” He was convinced that “the great task of the school is to counteract and transform those domestic and neighborhood tendencies. . . the influence of the home and Church.

This movement is also part of the competency-based education and school-to-work effort that is seeking to move away from the teaching of students by human teachers and toward computerized skills training with near constant assessment and data mining of five to ten million data points per student per day, including affective data mining and personality profiling. This is the type of education lauded by the National Center on Education and the Economy former chairman Marc Tucker and board member Anthony Carnevale, who clearly support the idea of government-corporate controlled apprenticeships as done in the European social democracies. This Swiss model of apprenticeship has students being funneled into career paths in 6th or 7th grade and then starting apprenticeships in 10th grade. When Bill Gates did a similar career-based smaller learning communities model in the U.S. before pushing Common Core, it failed miserably. Unfortunately, that is not deterring Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Swiss government to expand such programs in the U.S.

The Mastery Transcript hearkens back to the concept of “mastery learning,” a building block of Outcome Based Education that failed miserably after experiencing parental wrath and rejection, just as is happening to Common Core and hopefully soon to SEL. Education must focus on academics and allow students to choose their destiny, not have their learning and career paths determined by big-government bureaucrats and self-interested corporations.

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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