Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On Standardization Reforms: Is the Pot Guilty of Calling the Kettle Black?

Much of the current critique and criticism of education policy reforms of our day casts doubt on the motivation, paradigms, and practices that standardize education; here and here and for example (by no means an exhaustive list).  And, while those critiques are not only necessary and, in my opinion, mostly correct, the implication is often that colleges of education and the status quo of preparing future teachers, are by default, better.  However, the blame for the growth of standardizing reforms is not to be entirely had by Pearson, Michelle Rhee, the Gates Foundation or the rest of the lot from the neoliberal reformer camp who view standardization as a mechanism for equity. 

In fact, traditional colleges of education have not done enough to raise the social perception of teachers and the profession, recruit and properly train pre-service teachers, and actively subvert reforms that seek to standardize pre-service teaching.  Colleges of education continue to promote pedagogies of standardization and, in turn, prepare their teachers to do the same.  And with the threatening extinction of foundations courses, colleges of education are considering their work to be limited to preparing future teachers for the privatized and standardized work environments awaiting them – all the while dismantling foundations courses that demand students think critically and challenge what it means to be educated and conversely, schooled. 

With this in mind, it is easy to suggest that colleges of education have adopted the perspective that the teachers they produce are commodities that will, in turn, produce a commoditized product for the schools in which they serve.  

This type of approach to teacher preparation understands teaching to be a standardized hard service rather than a more constructivist approach to teaching and learning.  Deron Boyles makes this point by addressing the dualism of hard versus soft services, I will quote him at length,

[w]hat makes the service “hard” is really the ease of measurement of the topic or process.  Differently, “soft” services in schools include counseling and teaching.  They are traditionally seen as “soft” because they have not been as easy to quantify.  This distinction between the ease of accountancy associated with “hard” versus “soft” services gives us one indication of the larger purpose of privatization: to de-skill teaching and learning such that the traditional “soft” services become subsumed under the behavioristic, scientistic, economistic logics of “hard” services.  A form of reductionism, the ideology of privatization calls for breaking down complex relationships into their most component parts for ease of accountancy. (p. 359)

Accordingly, such narrow views of teachers and the attempt of reducing teaching into standardized segments of “best practices” for duplication/reproduction are an attempt to reduce teaching into measureable units as part of the quest for certainty.
Instead of colleges of education churning out automatons who espouse phrases like “data driven decisions,” and “evidence-based practices,” or anything written by Ruby Payne for that matter (see here and here for examples), colleges of education ought to be producing free thinking agents of change who will stand up against the privatization and commercialization of our nations schools.

Indeed, colleges of education ought to begin to take the lead in confronting and subverting standardized reforms that have become too common in the colleges themselves.  It is one thing to espouse subversive rhetoric in foundations courses while silently abiding by teacher-preparation methods courses that approach preparation in standardized fashions (e.g., methods on test development, behavioristic classroom management techniques, and general strategies for increasing test scores) all in the name of “helping teachers get jobs.”  However, this characterizes colleges of education as complicit in the rapidly growing standardization of teacher preparation and pedagogical methods instead of characterizing them as the true champion of real and meaningful educative learning that follows a democratic training experience.  Juxtaposed to colleges operating with the mantra of preparing graduates for jobs, we need our colleges of education to forgo the standardization movement that is too often linked to the effort to privatize for profit.  Then, and only then, will teachers be equipped to fight standardization in their classrooms because they know their colleges of education and the professors therein have their backs.


Craig A. Cunningham said...

Of course, this is made even more complex by the manner in which standards (NCATE, CATE accreditation, and the "Specialized Professional Associations" or SPAs that create standards for specific programs) are deeply affecting our practices... And by an increasingly aggressive Federal DOE that pushes university administrations to force standardized assessments and outcomes even in foundations courses. Us, it's evil, and bad...and he's, we should resist it... But how?

Craig A. Cunningham said...

Errrr...can't edit a posted comment.. "He's" = "yes" above.