Last summer Jeb Bush, governor of the State of Florida, signed a state law that set in motion the replacement of the U.S. high school system in Florida with that of Britain.
As I explained in last issue's article, the advantages of the UK General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE/IGCSE) system are considerable, so it is no surprise that Florida has moved in this direction. The main advantages are:
- The British system is ranked fourth or fifth in the world, compared to around 16th for the USA
- The British examination system is independent of the teaching program
- The system has a huge range of subjects and is very flexible in approach
- The system is by independent examination
- The system is international and operates in over 55 countries. In terms of educational performance, it is the international standard
- The scale of the program means curricula and teaching materials can be produced very cheaply
In an equally interesting development the US Department of Defense (DoD) administration recently made alterations to its policy that may, inadvertently, make funding available for military homeschools following GCSE programs. More on this in my next article!
Another development concerning the introduction of GCSE to the USA is the interest of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and distance learning providers in Scotland in forming links with schools, colleges, and institutional partners in the USA. The aim of these links is to explore the possible delivery of the Scottish GCSE program and the exciting and innovative vocational Higher National Degree to the USA.
The implications of these policy changes and developments are far-reaching for homeschoolers. The UK GCSE, in addition to being one of the largest and most successful accreditation and teaching programs in the world, is also structured in such a way that it makes it an almost ideal program for homeschoolers.
A central feature of the GCSE program is the separation of the teaching function from the assessment and examination program. If the teaching and examination program is available, how you learn is irrelevant. The situation existing in public schools in Florida is that the IGCSE examination is now available to all Florida citizens. A homeschooler, should, in theory be able to apply to any public school in the state to sit the British High School Diploma examinations.
This process of applying to sit a GCSE or IGCSE examination as a "Private Candidate," (an examination candidate who has not studied at the school or college delivering the examination), is routine in the rest of the world, but is actively discouraged, by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) in the USA and the UK.
Go to the British Council site, and you will find a list of 89 countries where you can take standard UK examinations. The list includes European, Asian, African, Latin American, even Caribbean countries, and Canada. Notice how the USA has apparently fallen off the list of countries, which covers almost the entire rest of the world.
In fact, even if you paid to travel at your own expense to England, you would not be allowed to take these tests. As it says on CIE's site, "Please note that after the June 2003 examination session, Cambridge International Examinations will not accept entries from private candidates in the UK and USA."
The reasons why this should be so are unclear. Is there a deliberate policy of discrimination against homeschoolers by the CIE? Will the State of Florida follow suit?
Homeschoolers need to find out why one of the most exciting developments in U.S. education is being deliberately withheld from them.
Fortunately the UK education system is not a monolith controlled by CIE. There are at least 6 other examination boards that can deliver GCSE and other British exams to the U.S. market, including the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA, www.sqa.org.uk) and EDEXCEL (www.edexcel.org.uk).
In many respects the other examination boards, if they can be encouraged to operate in the USA, may well be a better option for homeschoolers.
Cambridge International Examinations is an international examination system. Most of the people studying for the examination are not using English as a first language. The need to produce examinations in a wide range of languages restricts the variety of courses available through CIE. Whereas they offer an IGCSE exam in "Chinese - First Language," they don't offer a GCSE exam in "Dance" or "Archeology," as the UK-focused examination boards do.
Another feature of the Cambridge program is that IGCSE exams in particularly American subjects are likely never to be made available. If they chose, the SQA or EDEXCEL would have no difficulty deploying a GCSE in "US Citizenship" or "US Government." CIE, with its established base in the Middle East, would find it difficult to market such courses.
Perhaps most importantly, CIE does not produce the HNC/HND vocational skills program that is complementary to the GCSE - but both the SQA and EDEXCEL do.
The HND, or Higher National Diploma, is a two-year course that is roughly equivalent to the first three years of the U.S. Bachelor's degree. It's aimed at practical skills, such as registered nurse or sea captain. Many of the courses are available online and through distance learning.
Approaching the Scottish Qualifications Authority about making GCSE available in the USA has yielded this positive response:
SQA is currently developing a strategy - with a strong research focus - on computer-assisted assessment. Developments should complement the rapid growth in online learning, particularly in colleges. The main aim is to add flexibility to assessment, both in terms of when and where it can be accessed. This will be more difficult to achieve for external assessment than for internal assessment, the latter being inherently more flexible. Such developments should bring flexibility across Scotland, but may be of particular help to students in remote areas, and indeed to students abroad. [Emphasis mine.] However, developments are not likely to happen quickly. There are many issues to be considered, not least the technical infrastructure involved in delivery of such assessment, and it is also vital that any such assessments developed are at least as valid and reliable as current assessments. Careful piloting will be required.
In simple terms this means that they are interested in making the Scottish Qualification system available to the USA, possibly through the process of online assessment. However, no current infrastructure exists to deliver the program.
For that infrastructure to develop, U.S. school boards, schools, colleges, and major homeschool organizations need to ask British examination boards like SQA how things can be pushed forward.
Without that pressure, homeschoolers will be doomed to watch the expansion of IGCSE in the USA while being locked out of the system.
In the UK, GCSE is essentially a competitive market with different examination boards competing with each other to produce the widest range of curricula and assessment. CIE and their IGCSE examination in the USA currently are under no such competitive pressure and are in a position to dictate who they make the program available to.
It's up to the homeschool community whether GCSE is made available to you. Only you can apply the pressure.
For further information on GCSE check out the following site: