“Education reform movements are often based on the fast food model of quality assurance: on standardization and conformity. What’s needed is a much higher standard of provision based on the principles of personalized learning for every child and of schools customizing their cultures to meet local circumstances. This is not a theory. There are schools everywhere that demonstrate the practical power of these principles to transform education.
Standardization tends to emphasize the lowest common denominator. Human aspirations reach much higher and if the conditions are right they succeed. Understanding those conditions is the real key to transforming education for all our children.” SirKenRobinson.com
It seems that every education system in the world is trying to reinvent itself. My interests lie mainly in two systems – Australia and the USA. Of course, neither of these can be understood without reference to what is going on elsewhere in the world. What bothers me is that the focus in both systems is on end points and how to measure if we have reached them.
In Australia there is no fudging that the development is all about curriculum, assessment and reporting. A complex process is afoot to write a curriculum (or standards, since we hope that the implementation and delivery will be left to the professional judgment of educators)and alongside that to design assessment materials that will measure in a standardized fashion the extent to which those end points have been reached at the conclusion of each school year.
In the USA we wait with bated breath as the Core Curriculum State Standards are implemented and each state develops its own standardized assessment tools.
In other words, both countries are standardizing a set of expected outcomes and a battery of ways to measure outcomes in a standardized fashion. For every child, in every context.
Since the standards cover schooling from K – 12, we are making assumptions about the kind of knowledge a child entering school today will need when he or she leaves school in 2025. Wow!
How many times I have listened to the experts tell me that we don’t know what the employment needs will be in five years’ time, let alone thirteen. The rate of technological, economic and social change is accelerating. Our kids walk around with cell phones in their hands today that do the work of large desk computers of five years ago – and more. Yet we believe we can reform education by setting standards for curriculum that specify the kinds of knowledge our kids will need when they leave school.
Don’t get me wrong. We need standards if we are not to flail around in a free for all soup of educational practices. The standards as expressed are sound and significant but the dangers lie in the implementation and evaluation.
Let’s not fall for the standardization myth, the one that says unless every kid reaches the same standard with the same material in the same time frame, our system has somehow failed. Our kids are not assembly line products. The assembly line, quality control model works well for cars and hamburgers. We can control and standardize inputs, ensure a high, common standard of processing and then evaluate each item as it rolls off the end of the line.
But some kids grow up on farms and others in high rise tenements, some kids love to bury their noses in books, others need to push their bodies around, move and do stuff with their hands. Some kids’ brains are eager to accept abstract concepts at an early age and some want images, pictures and sounds with their learning. Some kids can’t sit still. And we really don’t have a clue what they will need to be successful in thirteen years’ time – except for one thing. They will need to be able think flexibly, creatively, effectively and efficiently. Whatever the world looks like in 2025, we know this ability will be a foundation for whatever their lives look like.
My hope is that as we continue to reform our education systems in Australia and the USA we don’t lose sight of the fact that the declaration of standards needs to remain flexible, adaptive to the needs of kids and open to change. The teaching of thinking needs to be explicitly embedded within the standards. It should be foundational, not incidental. In addition, our methods of assessment need to reflect the rich and totally desirable variation among children. We limit our aspirations when we expect every child to meet the same set of expectations, whatever they may be, and penalize those who do not.