Sunday, October 24, 2010

Standardization: cui bono?

Cui bono? Who benefits from standardization?

If we can admit that children are not simply widgets that teachers manufacture in a linear assembly line, then why would we ever prescribe to standardizing the way teachers teach and/or the way students learn? You can't meet one learner's needs by pretending all learners have the same needs.

As far as I can see it, there are two major benefiters to standardization:

Teachers can benefit from standardization. It can be awfully laborious for a teacher to teach 30+ students in 30+ different ways so they can do 30+ unique projects that they have to grade in 30+ ways. Let me be clear: I don't disparage teachers for this. As a classroom teacher, I can fully appreciate the urge to standardize somethings in a classroom - and I can even admit that in small, mindful doses, standardization can make sense and be appropriate. However, small, mindful doses of standardization are hardly the rule.

I'd like to see standardization at the very least be the exception to the rule, and when we do in fact standardize something, let us be honest and be prepared to give full disclosure: standardization is more for the teacher and less for the learner.

Data mongers benefit from standardization. Because accountability has come to be defined as More control for people outside of the classroom over those who are in the classroom, data has become a necessary evil. If schools are to be ran by people who don't even work in the same building as the kids, they need data to drive everyone else's decisions. But if every learner is off gallivanting on their own pursuit for life long learning, indulging in personalized academic exploration while constructing meaning for themselves, how the hell can we compare one kid to another?

I have a radical solution.

How about we drop our obsession for comparing kids, teachers, and schools to other kids, teachers and schools? If we did that, we might end this mania for reducing everything we do in schools to numbers. While I can admit that quantifiable data may have a place in education, let's not pretend a balance actually exists. Rick Ayers aptly describes the predicament we're in:

There is something in a policy discussion that just loves numbers. We need data. No matter if the data are fuzzy, distorting, or simply unusable...Our holy grail is the standardized test, even though these tests have been shown to be laughable in tracking student knowledge, biased towards those with more wealth and cultural capital, and destructive in narrowing and dumbing down the curriculum as schools focus on test prep to avoid closure. Any attempt to describe what happens in good classrooms in a complex way, in a way that captures the human elements, is dismissed as "anecdotal evidence" at best, and at worst, as granola-fuzzy-hippy sentimentality.
If I asked you who should benefit from school - I would hope you would say the learner. If I asked you who benefits from standardization, I defy anyone to look me in the eye and say the learner.

Cui bono?


  1. Hi,
    I am an EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. I think all that standardization does is make the job of the teacher easy. Also it just sucks the fun out of learning for the learner. I think if the learner is having fun they learn better.

  2. I would argue that standardization benefits the learner as well. I have had the experience of trying to teach mathematics to college students who were manifestly not ready for college-level math, even though they earned good grades throughout high school. It's unfair to the students, because nobody ever told them that they were unprepared. Good standards enable teachers at all levels and employers to communicate their expectations clearly.

  3. Another voice of reason when it comes to our out of control "educational" system and I use the term "educational" loosely because due to the high stakes testing (standardization) we are actually dumbing down our children and students. I encourage all adults to push back for a more well rounded education and one that encourages critical thinking, problem solving, curiosity, creativity, the ability to learn "how to think" not just "what to think"! We are depriving this current generation of this skills that will allow them to become life long learners.

  4. @anonymous don't confuse standards with standardization.

  5. @anonymous points out another beneficiary of standardization. Employers. Yet another stakeholder who is not the student.

  6. High standards indicate creativity, deep thinking, active participation
    In the community. , standardization is a quick route to educational, institutional and social obsolescence


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