By far the strongest claim ACE can make is that their students can work at their own speed. It was this aspect of the curriculum which appealed to me and my parents and ultimately led to my attending an ACE school for over three years.
It sounds fantastic. If you’re bright, you never have to be frustrated by waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, and if you have special educational needs, you don’t have to struggle. Perfect. Even the Guardian’s Natasha Walter, in a generally damning article on ACE, writes, “What is undeniably attractive about this curriculum – even for the sceptical observer – is the way that it moves at the same pace as the child. With ACE, children are assessed on entry and progress at their own speed, working through booklets and doing the tests at the end of each one before they can move on to the next.”
There’s only one problem: It isn’t true.
The ACE system is the opposite of individualised. Every student works through exactly the same material. Professor Harro Van Brummelen writes:
Further, the ACE program was an unbalanced one… The students were processed as identical, de-personalized cogs that could rotate at their own rate but must all go through exactly the same motions.
The students, he adds, were treated as “pieces of machinery that could be processed identically and efficiently.” Dr. Milton Gaither, author of Homeschool: An American History, calls the PACEs “drill-and-kill worksheets.”
Gaither describes “the tedium endured by isolated children working through page after page of dreary worksheets.” The amount of repetition in some of the PACEs, particularly English, is simply soul-destroying. If you’re studying for the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE), you can’t miss any of it out either, because you need to complete every PACE after 1085 as credit towards graduation. The number of exercises that must be completed in order to guarantee mastery of a technique is the same regardless of the student’s ability. That is not individualisation.
To be fair, the ACE system is individualised in the sense that students work individually. Unfortunately, the best educational research on the subject indicates that this is a hideously ineffective way of teaching. ACE is not individualised in the sense of personalised, which is what is often inferred by the term. A good teacher in a reasonably sized class can implement effective differentiation techniques, and that is a far more effective way to meet individual student needs.
Fleming, D. and Hunt, T. (1987) The Word As Seen By Students in Acceleration Christian Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 68, No. 7, 518-523.
Speck, C. and Prideaux, D. (1993) Fundamentalist Education and Creation Science, Australian Journal of Education, Vol. 37, No. 3, 279-295.