Sunday, August 14, 2016

Why Standards Must Die

By:  Cheryl Binkley,  Member BATs Blogging/Research Steering Committee

It has been 30 years since Marc S.Tucker published the New Standards Carnegie report, and launched a series of subsidiary institutions to promote and move forward Standards as the basis for all global schooling and teacher credentialing. 

Through several iterations from his initial 23 States Standards consortium, to assorted bragging rights for states as to which had the most rigorous Standards, to the more recent Common Core which peaked with 46 states’ adoption only to fragment, Standards has come to rule the policy models for every aspect of education.

Even beyond academic Standards, the movement seems poised now to invade the domains of psychological development and emotional health to establish required performance goals for children's social and inner lives, with yet another iteration of Standards as competency based computer programs for more specific standards alignment to become a concept that rules all aspects of children's lives.

At it’s simplest, Standards has been the word used to describe the list of things children must learn and be able to do by the end of each school year; the list of things purportedly planned to be on the standardized test at the end of the year; and the items which teachers must show their students can respond to as prescribed on the standardized tests, or both be deemed insufficient. 

Through hundreds of billions of dollars of high pressure public relations from assorted billionaire venture philanthropists who worked in collaboration with policy support, corollary funding, and Hunger Games style state competitions from the USDOE-- and through the legislative support nationwide of both ALEC and DFER, Standards have become the equivalent of the Holy Scripture of Education, both literally interpreted, and independent of day to day reality in its proclaimed miracles.

Yet, today, in spite of all the billions of dollars, the best efforts of capitalist investors’ campaigns, and massive support from both PR companies and Media outlets in print and video; Standards have become perhaps the worst failure of the last century in a century of many failed education initiatives du jour.

How could that be? Standards, and their implementation were to be the saviors of America’s “failing” education system.  They were to create the shambala of societies and an entire culture filled with bodhisattvas, so perfect they would all just be sticking around to help others attain superiority rather than taking their place among the gods. Standards would make a generation of perfect entrepreneurs, innovators, and winners in the world economic domination contest, who also didn’t mind being on time for rote jobs in an essentially service driven economy which called for long work hours with limited breaks and low salaries.


But here we are 30 years later. Test scores are flat or falling. Field trips, electives, and projects have been abandoned for testing, and the money once spent on schools now goes to data collection on the Standards. Our youth are facing unprecedented physical and mental health and stress issues.  Quality teachers are flooding from the field, and our city schools have been deconstructed.

Though Common Core still survives in various wigs and costumes and continues to be the hope of the current generation of Edu-sperts (who are now busy training teachers how to align and create perfectly matched and standardized gradebooks to match their perfectly standardized curricula), The Common Core, indeed all of this generation of Standards, have been a disaster of near Biblical proportions.

Parents, students, teachers, and even in-school administrators are miserable in the school world that Standards has created. The joy of learning, the excitement of discovery, the invigoration of deep and higher level inquiry and endeavor, the broad creative curriculum, and the dynamic learning communities have all been stripped from our schools and classrooms.

Differentiation for individual students, though given lip service, has been essentially driven from PreK-12 Education in favor of uniformity and replaced with teaching to the test; a test set to at least one to two years above the known developmental spans of children’s ages; tests which neither the parents nor teachers are allowed to see or use as means of future instruction design or support for their children, and whose private student data is expensive shelfware only trotted out when a political opportunist wants a handy campaign or re-development opportunity.

But beyond the poor implementation, the lack of understanding of children, and the total absence of connection to actual learning processes, there is an even deeper and more fatal problem with Standards, and that unconscious tragic flaw is an even more compelling reason Standards as the raison d’etre must go.

As the International Futures Forum puts it:

“The scale of global interconnectivity and interdependence has resulted in a steep change in the complexity, uncertainty and speed of change in today’s operating environment. Many of the concepts we used to rely on to make sense of our world no longer have traction. In many respects we are experiencing a ‘conceptual emergency’.”

Or as Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod so aptly put it in their Shift Happens slideshow:

“We are living in Exponential times….We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist, using technologies that don’t exist, to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet…. The amount of technological information is doubling every 2 years.”  That means information students learn in year one of a four year program is outdated by year three.

Or, put differently,  as Wikipedia tells us:

“Limited private connections to parts of the Internet by officially commercial entities emerged in several American cities by late 1989 and 1990,” ---- 3 to 4 years AFTER Marc S. Tucker laid out the Standards movement.

Standards’ biggest problem, beyond their complete failure, is that they are a dated paradigm-- too rigid, too stagnant, and too cumbersome to be an effective model for the speed of change and the level of complexity in ours and our students’ lives.

That is the deeper reason it is well past time for all the Standards to go.


And before you panic, there are lots of other ways we have and can choose to provide high quality curriculum and produce high quality outcomes for our children.  They just can't be attached to a term that is punitive in perspective and a concept that has not worked in the past and cannot work in the future.

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