Saturday, April 2, 2011

Illusion of standardization

The beginning of wisdom is a definition of terms.
When "collaboration" is really code for standardization, professional development becomes nothing more than control over actions. 

Just like how mandated sentences strips judgement from judges, so too does standardization deny teachers the ability to teach. Maja Wilson puts it this way:
Mandating practices in the effort to improve teaching paradoxically creates the kind of environment that undermines good teaching. [Standardization] contributes to an environment that actually stunts teachers' ability to make good decisions in the classroom and obscures bad teaching with its illusion of uniformity.
It's not easy to object to standardization; I know a lot of good teachers who believe consistency is a good thing...

While its true that standardization provides us with consistency, it tends to act less like a floor and more like a ceiling. In other words, standardization is attractive because it offers a kind of guarantee, but that guarantee tends to come at an alarming cost.

Seymour Papert describes with chilling accuracy just how costly the illusion of standardization really is:

It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems. They are worried about how to verify that the teachers are really doing their job properly, how to enforce accountability and maintain quality control. They prefer the kind of curriculum that will lay down, from day to day, from hour to hour, what the teacher should be doing, so that they can keep tabs on it. Of course, every teacher knows this is an illusion. It’s not an effective method of insuring quality. It is only a way to cover ass. Everybody can say, “I did my bit, I did my lesson plan today, I wrote it down in the book.” Nobody can be accused of not doing the job. But this really doesn’t work. What the bureaucrat can verify and measure for quality has nothing to do with getting educational results–those teachers who do good work, who get good results, do it by exercising judgment and doing things in a personal way, often undercover, sometimes even without acknowledging to themselves that they are violating the rules of the system. Of course one must grant that some people employed as teachers do not do a good job. But forcing everyone to teach by the rules does not improve the “bad teachers”– it only hobbles the good ones.
If we are to achieve the kind of wisdom that Socrates spoke of, then we need to understand what standardization does and does not do. We need to understand what we are actually prescribing to when we standardize curriculum and assessment.

Children are not widgets that simply require a better regiment of assembly line workers. Children are not interchangeable cogs that would benefit from simply being treated more like their peers.

We have to stop pretending that we can meet one learners' needs by pretending that all learners have the same needs.

We have to stop pretending that highly prescribed curriculums and standardized testing has anything to do with good teaching and real learning.

Our fixation on quantity and control is doing a massive disservice to our children.

In the context of educating children, a proper definition of terms would have us realize that standardization serves to make the shallowest forms of teaching and superficial learning appear successful.


  1. Glad to see someone else taking up the struggle with definitions. ;0)


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