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 Response Page - Johnson  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Curt Johnson Interview of



Curt Johnson, of Education|Evolving, calls for a change in the way students are assessed for their postsecondary credentials. He proposes that the traditional system of compiling credits based on hours spent in the completion of courses be replaced by the documentation of proficiency with respect to clear, well-defined, measures for each area of study. Those measures should reflect the higher order intellectual and analytical skills necessary for success in the array of jobs the modern economy produces. Such a change to traditional practice would be a disruptive innovation in postsecondary education. However, failure to make a significant improvement in the way we prepare our workforce will likely mean losing an important competitive advantage for the state.

For the complete interview summary see:

Response Summary: Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Curt Johnson. Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Graduates ill-prepared. (8.5 average response) Too many post-secondary graduates are not demonstrating a level of competency that employers need and expect.

2. Change or decline. (8.1 average response) Unless post-secondary education is fundamentally changed—not just incrementally improved—a decline in quality of the work force is inevitable.

3. Credits gained, not learning. (7.6 average response) When a degree is regarded only as a necessary step to get a job, students learn very quickly how to collect credits, almost regarding credit-counting as a game.

4. Document proficiency. (8.7 average response) Post-secondary education should move from calculating seat time and credits to documenting proficiency.

5. Define course expectations. (8.8 average response) Post-secondary instructors should spell out what students will be expected to know at the end of a course and what they should be able to do consistently to apply that knowledge.

6. Reassert intellectual control. (6.4 average response) Instructors will realize that a proficiency-based system will allow them to reassert intellectual control over the post-secondary environment.

7. Change agents needed. (8.5 average response) The quickest way to disrupt the present system is to allow willing post-secondary institutions to step forward now as models of change.

8. Retain credit model. (1.8 average response) Leave post-secondary education alone. Whatever the problems today, there is no need to move from a credit-based system to a proficiency-based system.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Graduates ill-prepared.







2. Change or decline.







3. Credits gained, not learning.







4. Document proficiency.







5. Define course expectations.







6. Reassert intellectual control.







7. Change agents needed.







8. Retain credit model.







Individual Responses:

R. C. Angevine (10) (7.5) (5) (10) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (0)

1. Graduates ill-prepared. Agreed, especially in the areas of teamwork and communication.

4. Document proficiency. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement but am concerned about the ability for schools to relatively quickly be able to do this. I think part of the solution would be for industry to help with documenting the proficiencies needed.

5. Define course expectations. Absolutely agree.

7. Change agents needed. It needs to begin somewhere so that improvements can be demonstrated. Once that occurs others will follow.

Bert LeMunyon (7.5) (7.5) (5) (5) (5) (5) (5) (5)

1. Graduates ill-prepared. I think the emphasis should be placed on what students know more than what they can do. The workplace is too varied to expect institutions to train students for specific jobs. Employers want prospects to have good communicative and inter-personal skills as well as basic knowledge of math and science. Employers can teach them the rest.

3. Credits gained, not learning. How can we encourage/inspire students to take more difficult and rigorous courses such as math, science and engineering? Will proficiency evaluations chase more students away or will it encourage them? Are the secondary schools doing enough to prepare students for post-secondary education?

4. Document proficiency. Aren't examinations supposed to do that?

5. Define course expectations. Not all aspects of education prepare students for a job, but they should at least prepare them for living. Many students look to grad schools to prepare for a vocation.

7. Change agents needed. Let some institutions change to the new model and see how it works before disrupting the entire educational system.

Chris Brazelton (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (7.5) (10) (0)

3. Credits gained, not learning. Those who can afford to might be able to do this. Credits cost money.

4. Document proficiency. How does one document proficiency? What kind of testing? Can one then "test out" of a class by proving proficiency on the road to certification? Should certification be "graded" based on level of competency? Do we have some of that now with honors designation at graduation?

5. Define course expectations. I thought I had that at Metro State. It was how my work was graded.

7. Change agents needed. How about Work Ethic 101? I see many people not succeeding with employers due to a poor work ethic. I applaud a system in which employers are partners in the process of developing standards and measurements of proficiencies needed.

Don Anderson (5) (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (5) (7.5) (2.5)

Dave Broden (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (7.5) (5) (10) (0)

1. Graduates ill-prepared. While there is an increasing link of business and industry to education units, the disconnect of education with the real world continues. This disconnect delays the employee progress in job search and start up in the job and often causes employee-to-employer stress, etc. A stronger link will benefit both.

2. Change or decline. Fundamental change is required to maintain the quality of work force. The level of decline, though real and certain, will vary. Incremental changes should continue but the focus must be to achieve major change.

3. Credits gained, not learning. The student progress using grades is entirely outdated and has minimal link to real acquired skills for any job. For those who view job entry flexibility the same remains valid regardless of the particular job, etc.

4. Document proficiency. Proficiency measurement is a must objective. The effort to define and measure proficiency will, however, require significant innovation and as a result some form of a hybrid system may be both required and desired. Proficiency via an internship cannot be done for all students and all disciplines.

5. Define course expectations. The problem with the statement is that post-secondary instructors cannot spell out the expectations since they too have little or no knowledge of the real workplace skills and activities. This again suggests that proficiency measurement is a challenge.

6. Reassert intellectual control. This will depend on the proficiency of the instructors--they cannot control something they are not familiar with.

7. Change agents needed. This is a very positive method but some form of overall process and approach is required. To apply this randomly is perhaps not wise but should be considered.

8. Retain credit model. The current system is broken and continued use of the credit-based system is counterproductive.

Bright Dornblaser (10) (7.5) (0) (2.5) (10) (0) (10) (5)

Lisa Lewis (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (5) (10) (5)

5. Define course expectations. This would be extremely difficult for an instructor to do on a detailed basis because so much of what students are learning could be used in ways the instructor may not even be able to envision. However, students may benefit from knowing how they could use calculus, for example. Many uses for information haven't even been dreamed up yet.

6. Reassert intellectual control. Reassert intellectual control? Is that even possible?

8. Retain credit model. It's not the instructors you have to convince. It's the parents; their expectations will influence their children's effort, and to tell a parent that their son/daughter isn't going to graduate because they lack proficiency in an area they deem unnecessary will be asking for trouble.

Keith Ewing (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (7.5) (10) (7.5) (2.5)

1. Graduates ill-prepared. They often don't demonstrate a high level of competency in a course, but it is sufficient to pass the course. Would the same be true for proficiency? Would students be able to game the system (after some experience with it) as they do now?

2. Change or decline. "Fundamental change" is difficult to assess based on evidence available. A concern is that post-secondary education should not be solely focused on creating worker bees. Post-secondary education should teach people to think deeper, more critically, to understand problems and solutions at macro and micro levels as well as long and short-terms, to assess and manage risk, and to act responsibly and ethically, as a foundation to practical participation in the work force.

3. Credits gained, not learning. Students also come to believe that a degree is a credential awarded for effort rather than competence. Both are somewhat aided and abetted by systems and legislatures that treat credits and credentials as commodities to be acquired.

4. Document proficiency. This is akin to the proficiency-based system in some parts of British higher education--although primarily in the tutorial seminars system seen in Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, and a few others. It's an expensive system and logistically complex (as students gain proficiency at different rates in different fields).

5. Define course expectations. An interesting dilemma in this regard is how course expectations, which may emphasize academic knowledge or skills, translate to a workforce environment that emphasize practical knowledge and skills. Students often are unable to translate from one environment to the other--in part because it's not part of the curriculum expectations.

6. Reassert intellectual control. While it is easy to agree with this statement, it is difficult to assert in the current political environment.

7. Change agents needed. There is danger when an institution is part of a public system--especially when it can be viewed as "bucking" the system.

8. Retain credit model. Proficiency accrues over time and often requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and maturity. Education can deal with the first two, but is a weak developer of the latter.

Beth Aune (10) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (0)

5. Define course expectations. And, postsecondary instructors should require students to demonstrate that they have mastered the expectations. (Require the use of well-designed assessments, including performance assessment where appropriate. The criteria for judging student performance should be spelled out for students before their performance is assessed.)

Nan Skelton (10) (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (7.5) (10) (0)

Chuck Lutz (9) (8) (8) (9) (9) (8) (8) (2)

Al Quie (10) (10) (9) (10) (10) (5) (10) (0)

There is much more to education than skills for a job. I am glad Johnson referred to collaborative learning and teamwork.

Roy Thompson (7) (7) (9) (7) (8) (6) (8) (4)

Wayne Jennings (10) (8) (8) (10) (10) (8) (10) (1)

He is right on. I especially like documenting proficiencies or competencies in what students can do and know about real world measures.

Thomas Chisholm (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na)

1. It begins with teachers at all levels. Teachers must be selected from the top of the group as is done in Finland and paid wages equal to their worth, ability, and results. See Smithsonian, Nov. 2011.

2. I see no examples that describe the method so I can better grasp it.

3. First one must read and write--widely and well.

4. Who will do the hard, manual labor, pouring cement, filling pot holes, plowing snow, driving trucks, serving meals, delivering mail, be the handy men and woman, work in hotels at a living wage?

5. How will the great mass of students learn, enjoy and apply morals and ethical principles to lower level as well as more complex jobs?

6. Who will be Romney's 47% and enjoy the beauty of life?

I have a real problem with electricity, changing an electric cord to a lamp and using the correct plug with a ground, among other things. Who measures?

Paul and Ruth Hauge (8) (7) (6) (8) (7) (7) (7) (2)

Tom Spitznagle (8) (7) (9) (10) (10) (8) (8) (0)

The interview notes that the only workforce growth in Minnesota comes from population groups whose educational attainment has been poor. This caused me to wonder what role growing government welfare programs have in acting as a disincentive for people in these groups from pursuing an education. Numerous government benefit programs serve to create a "breakeven" point in many people’s minds, i.e. – why put the energy into an education when one can achieve a minimal or acceptable level of well-being without doing so? Perhaps dealing with this aspect is an equally critical part of improving overall educational achievement – at least for the low-achieving groups noted in the interview.

Another thought – for years the public school system has incented teachers to obtain additional credits and then automatically rewarded them with more pay simply for doing so even though for many teachers obtaining additional credits has no bearing on improving their effectiveness in teaching students. A proficiency model for teachers would be a big step forward for both students and their parents (i.e. – public school’s primary customers).

Robert J. Brown (10) (10) (8) (10) (8) (5) (10) (0)

This should have been done long ago. We have actually gone backwards. I recall when a community college and technical school merged the technical school had to give up its process of allowing students to move ahead at their own pace and instead had to put everyone in a strait jacket of counting seat time – 11 weeks in a quarter, regardless of whether or not the student could have completed the course and developed the competencies in less time (or might have needed more time to complete the competencies. Instead each student was forced into the same seat time. No wonder why bright students hate the system that holds them back and slower students are frustrated because they just get low grades and aren't given adequate time to develop.

Tim Hall (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na)

I think what schools are most afraid of if we put a computer on the desk in the first grade students would excelerate at an uncontrollable rate. By the time students are in forth grade some students would be reading at a forth grade level and others at a college level. A computer would make learning about the student that could be tracked from grade to grade.

In trade schools there are grades, but everything comes down to the production test already. The grading is mostly about if the student understands the vocabulary of the trade they are going into. They will be tested on the vocabulary by the employer weather they are going to school for health care or even a cook.

Larry Schluter (8) (8) (7) (7) (9) (8) (7) (6)

Dave Fisher (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (5) (7.5) (0)

1. Graduates ill-prepared. Learning from material presented in class is baseline, and greater effort at experiential learning -- putting the baseline techniques to use in actual or realistically simulated situations -- is an important development tool. The medical field has this worked out, having established a well-accepted internship and residency program to assure competency in the actual workplace. Other fields, professional or otherwise, do not have this.

2. Change or decline. It is difficult to say what should or could change. It will take far greater focused debate and deliberation among business and academia. My suggestion is to form residency boot camps or apprenticeships to develop workers in actual related work environments.

3. Credits gained, not learning. Testing of students should test not what they have memorized but how they actually use the information/knowledge they have acquired -- or not acquired. Only in this way can be assured they are ready for prime time. 6. Reassert intellectual control. Not sure I understand this question.

7. Change agents needed. I hesitate. Many institutions and their faculty are firmly entrenched at where they are now. This is not a bad thing, really, but creates inertia or even hostility to change. Routine can create blind spots that prevent practitioners from seeing that there are better ways to do things, and better outcomes.

Ray Ayotte (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (10) (0)

The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay,  Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon,
Joe Mansky,  John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and  Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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