Thursday, April 26, 2007

Self-Defeating Standardization

Note: Over at a new blog worth watching, Next Things, Len Waks comments on "self-defeating standardization." Thanks to Len for allowing this cross-post. - AGR

Self-Defeating Standardization
By leonard waks

The New York Times today reports that Eli Broad and Bill Gates plan to devote $60 Million to push educational reform to the top of the 2008 political agenda.

The two philanthropists call for “stronger, more consistent curriculum standards nationwide; lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures.”

These ideas are self-defeating. Nationwide curriculum standards stifle teachers and nullify our federal system as a “laboratory of democracy” where many innovations can be tested.

Lengthening the school day and the school year are entirely unnecessary if teachers could make curriculum choices that fully engaged students in learning.

Students pay scant attention to the dreary materials served up to them now. Why prolong the agony? Merit pay might attract brighter people to teaching, but not if we measure teacher quality by student achievement on standardized exams.

No bright person wants a job as an operative. A superior approach is to free teachers from standardized curricula and tests so they can apply their full intelligence to reaching and teaching their students.


Kathleen Knight-Abowitz said...

Last week William Galston was on our campus discussing civic education as a visiting scholar, and a number of his comments were related to the topic of Len's posting here. Galston, as some of you know, is a political theorists and was a policy advisor to President Clinton, and has taken a big leadership role in national civic education research and efforts. Right now he's at the Brookings Institute. Galston, a centrist liberal Democrat, was not making a speech on curricular standards but was clearly making a case, in some remarks to students, that national curricular standards were the right direction to be taking U.S. public education. He grounded this view in the standard fare: that U.S. students are being out-gunned in international comparisons, that in order to be prepared for the global economy we need to be competitive with other nations, and implicitly, that academic achievement is equivalent to high test scores.

If a centrist Democrat gets elected in 2008 to the White House, we might look for national curricular standards becoming a much more powerful policy direction. With Gates behind the idea, it's all the more likely.

But I also wonder: is there a real difference between national standards and having an SAT and standardized testing machine currently guiding much of what happens in schools, don't we already have de facto national standards?

Kathryn M. Benson said...

Isn't there always a call for standardization in the face of higher immigration rates? Aren't we experiencing the "browning" of America? So, doesn't it seem possible that these calls are possibly, even at a subconscious level, an attempt to correct the slant? Or, is this part of Dewey's "quest for certainty"? But, no, I agree with kathleen that national standards and having SAT, ACT, Praxis II, GRE, MAT, etc. act as gatekeepers to education. Wouldn't it be more rationale to think that the lower the scores on these things, the more effort we need to make to educate all students? Not shut them out, but draw them in? A failing grade should indicate the need for education, not act as the means to exclude. So, I am drowning, push me under?