Why Don’t We Just Standardize the Kids?

You are watching the hurdle races and notice something odd. Some of the competitors are so tall that they can just step over the hurdles while others are so short they just keep getting smacked in the face. But the hurdles are all the same height and the hurdlers are all the same age, so what’s the problem? It’s a standardized test after all. Every hurdler faces the same set of hurdles, on the same day, they all start at the same time and their achievements are all measured using identical instruments and time scales.

Now let’s compare two gold mines. Charlie’s Hope takes ore from a rich seam, crushes it, separates the ore from the surrounding rock, and after this purification the ore is melted and formed into high quality ingots that sell, on today’s market, for around $USD1,617 an ounce. Freddie’s Dream, on the other hand, is working in less accessible terrain, the gold is there but it’s much harder to extract. For every ounce of gold the Charlie’s Hope produces, the cost of production is significantly lower than for the same amount at Freddie’s Dream. We have a fair, standardized way of measuring value added. We simply deduct the cost of production from the value of the product.  If we are looking for value added, Charlie’s Hope wins hands down.

Let’s get back to the kids. In my last school I had around 60 first graders. Some came into grade one able and eager to read. A few were lucky enough to have homes where bed time stories were read each night, where both parents spent recreation time reading and a newspaper was spread around the living room floor over the weekend.  They had been taken to the art gallery, the zoo and the science museum. They were encouraged to watch documentaries as well as cartoons and they ate dinner together around the table, talking about the day and the world. They didn’t look too different, but in their ability to clear the hurdles of grade one, they were giants compared to some of the others.

I also had kids who hardly saw their Mum and never saw Dad. Mum was always tired, trying her best to hold down two minimum pay jobs so she could pay the rent and feed her brood. There were no books in the house and the TV was a boon because it kept the kids out of her hair when she was trying to throw some food together. If she had a day free at the weekend the TV helped there too. It wasn’t safe to let the kids play in the street, so the TV kept them occupied while she tried to catch up on some rest. With no car, little money and even less energy, weekend trips to the zoo or the science museum were out of the question.

For these kids the hurdles of grade one were just too high. But hey! It’s a standardized test based on age and grade, so they all sit the same one.

For some kids – the Freddies – there is an enormous amount of work to be done to get through the environment that hides the seams of gold within. Poverty, stress, language deficits, distracting environments, lack of positive role models, limited experiences … the list goes on and on. With others – the Charlies – it’s easy. They arrive at school in the morning eager to learn, rested, well fed, and lap up everything we offer them. But we have to be fair and administer the same, standardized measures of value added to all the kids, right?

So here’s the solution to the problem – the kids need to be standardized.

Can someone tell me how we do that?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Why Don’t We Just Standardize the Kids?

  1. Bonnie Griffith

    Pat, I remember when you made admirable efforts to offer more enrichment…Peter, Paul, and Mary. Your perspective is why I am a believer in creative, well funded early childhood education programs.

  2. Pat, You capture the absurdity of our new claims about greater accountability. We claim that we are concerned about student progress but we do not even look at the question about student learning. You analogy gets at this–are we interested in progress as is measured in a standardized way or are we looking at progress as is measured by real learning growth? If it is learning growth, we not only have the wrong processes, we have the wrong measures!

    • Agreed. But I also suspect we have the wrong motivation. Most accountability measures have more to do with trying to justify expenditure than with measuring learning. Poor performing schools are an embarrassment to governments and accountability measurements try to focus the blame away from government and onto teachers. The trouble is that teachers are often not given the skills, trust, and freedom to do what is needed. They Re blamed for things outside of their control.

  3. Worth Wren Jr.

    I enjoyed reading what I already agree with. Most people, I bet, agree with Pat. Most educators, I think, agree with Pat. So, how can we change our processes and our measures to become supportive, effective, accurate for the kids? We start with the parents of pre-K children, and we transform the parents and the pre-schoolers into the parents of the “Charlies” and the “Charlies.” How do we do that? We start pre-K programs for parents and children, and we do it with local, state and federal financial support and with respected, wise, skilled educators and early childhood learning specialists. This process has worked in several U.S. cities, going well beyond Head Start, and yes, Head Start came with the right idea. But what I’m talking about is an expanded, enhanced, aggressive “offensive” that goes to the heart of all of our education woes: Start with the kids at the earliest age, with the parents while the children are still in the wombs, with the families that need encouragement, inspiration, support, compassion… What about that Baby College idea in New York? Heard it’s great? What about Early Childhood Matters in Fort Worth? Know it’s very good and headed toward greatness, if the local money doesn’t dematerialize and the federal money dry up. Can anyone lead us all into a nation of learners? Got to start when the attitudes and passions are born!!!! Sure, we still help our older children. But if you really want to make a substantial difference for the future, go to the budding stages….!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Absolutely! I have long thought that we need to be in the maternity hospitals and at the pre-natal classes explaining to Mother’s the importance of talking to their babies, reading to their babies. With the free packages of formula and diapers/nappies we should be giving them picture story books. We focus on ensuring the physical well being of newborns, but we neglect their intellectual well being.

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