“Mere seat time” is the charge. All of that time you spent sitting in high school class seats doesn’t prove anything, according to the education reformers who have brought us an unending cascade of failed experiments for the last 30 years. Now they want to kill the Carnegie Unit.
Kansas requires students to take a minimum of 21 Carnegie Units for a high school diploma: 4 in English, 3 in history and government, 3 in science, 3 in math, 1e in PE/health, 1 in fine arts and 6 in electives. The Carnegie Unit, developed in 1906, measures the amount of time a student has studied a subject. 120 hours in one course, meeting 4 or 5 times a week in 40-60 minute classes, for 36-40 weeks earns a student one Carnegie Unit of high school credit. In Kansas, a local school board can increase requirements beyond the 21 unit state minimum.
For the last ten years, educationists have been denouncing the Carnegie Unit and promoting “outcomes” measured by tests given external to the teacher’s course. “What does sitting in a class for a year prove?” they ask, showing total disregard for the learning activities provided by the teacher and ignoring that teachers do indeed give tests. A student who has not learned under this “mere seat time” will get an “F” and have to take the class again.
Outcomes fanatics ignore the fact that it does take time to learn. Veteran teachers, through experience, have refined coursework so it is delivered at a speed that most students can learn. Good teachers also modify lessons for both slower and gifted students. There is no instantaneous learning. Learning takes time. “Seat time” is valuable. None of us are using “mere seat time” to award academic credits. Anyone using this phraseology deserves a trip to the woodshed.
Replacing the Carnegie Unit with outcomes assessment dramatically pushes students into test-prep coursework. All of the in-depth discussions and critical questioning of good classes becomes a “waste of time” when learning is to raise the test score. The students’ attention focuses solely on memorization and preparation for a narrow set of testable items.
We do not allow medical candidates to sit for the medical board exams until they have finished medical school. We do not allow law students to sit for the bar exam until they have finished law school. The reason is simple. You learn the skills to be in the courtroom or surgical ward in classrooms and labs, not by studying for a paper-and-pencil test. The tests are limited to sampling a few measurable benchmarks. Yet educationists are eager to throw away the full and rich learning experience of the classroom for test prep. Simply, they do not know the difference between an education and an examination.
The “mere seat time” attack is now underway at the university level. Here, the drive is from virtual courses that cannot meet the hour-requirements designed for classroom work. Universities do not use the Carnegie Unit, but do have a similar system. One credit hour of coursework is awarded for a lecture course that meets one hour a week for a semester; labs and “clinicals” have to meet 2 or 3 hours a week for a college credit hour. A college credit is supposed to have a minimum of 15 contact hours. And teacher workshops are not supposed to award more than one credit per week. These restrictions are violated regularly. Virtual schools are eager to eliminate the seat time requirements in a headlong rush toward pay-your-money, take-your-test, get-your-degree. Oh, and many award college credits for life experiences, too.
The irony is that seat time, in a class under a good teacher, with passing scores on that teacher’s internal tests, is the only measure that correlate with successful performance after school.