A New Era for Education

It’s not every day you get to announce a revolution in your sector. But the Carnegie Foundation is doing exactly that. With our partner, ETS, we are setting out to overturn 117 years of educational tradition.

If you went to college, you are probably familiar with the idea of the credit hour—those little chunks of learning that (somehow, eventually) add up to a degree. The Carnegie Unit, as it is known in the business, has been the main currency in education since it was introduced in 1906. From K-12 through grad school, the Carnegie Unit shapes institutions; determines which courses are offered; decides who gets financial aid; and on and on.

The fundamental assumption is that time spent in a classroom equals learning. This formula has the virtue of simplicity. Unfortunately, a century of research tells us that it’s woefully inadequate.

  • It limits the curriculum to just a narrow band of skills that can conveniently be taught in a traditional classroom.
  • It sidelines a whole range of essential skills, from communication to creativity, that require a more nuanced approach.
  • It disregards learning that takes place outside the classroom.
  • It ignores diversity, both in students’ backgrounds and in the different ways they learn.

From New Hampshire to Utah, individual school districts, non-profits, and colleges have been pioneering alternative approaches. But for the vast majority, the Carnegie Unit is still king.

It’s time to change the paradigm. That’s why ETS and the Carnegie Foundation have come together to design a new future of assessment.


Starting by identifying the skills that most accurately predict success in today’s world, from goal-setting to teamwork.


Developing tools that schools, school districts, colleges, and states can use to measure progress on each of the core skills.


We can’t do this alone, and nor would we want to: organizations that stay in their ivory towers typically do a poor job. So as part of this work, we will amplify the voices of students, parents, teachers, state and district education leaders, civil rights organizations, and employers.

Education opens the doors to opportunity. We must make sure that it does so in a way that is fair and that values the most important things—not just the ones that are easiest to measure. It will not be easy to replace a system that has stood for over a century. But the task is both vital and long overdue. There is no time to waste.