Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BY: Cheryl Gibbs Binkley

Several people have been asking recently what standards we would support to replace those we are protesting. A sensible response is--

 What we need are not "standards." The concept of required standards in and of itself is destructive. We certainly will always have ways of describing the basic tasks of learning, teaching, and growing, but the concept of "standards" is based in an arbitrarily imposed and rigid model that cannot serve the wide range of our students' and communities' needs.

However, we can approach goal setting, design, and planning in a very different way.
I recently sat on a committee for my district to design a "portrait of a graduate." The idea was to go back to square one, come together as a community, and decide what we wanted our young adults to be like, to know, and to be able to do.

The group of over 70 included parents, business people, school employees including teachers and support staff, clergy, and representatives of community sub-groups like sports groups, ethnic organizations and disabilities and service organizations. Everyone had a voice.
What was surprising was that across a series of facilitated conversations, we all wanted very similar things for the young people of our community. We collectively wanted our children to become capable adults, but we also wanted them to become purposeful, well-balanced and resilient, creative, problem-solvers.

From those agreements we came to, we will be redesigning everything we do, from curriculum and instruction content, to school day design, to assessment, grading, and reporting, and special programs or activities. Everything is on the table for optimization.

These types of conversations need to be happening all around the country for a lot of reasons;
-to reestablish community connections with our schools,
-to clarify what we want "education" to do and be,
-to share the knowledge all the different constituencies bring to the task,
-and to own our public schools as we have not in a very long time.

Each system's design should not necessarily look like another. Each facilitator might be different. But each system should be a reflection of the community it serves, and an expression of their fondest hopes and dreams for their children and the future of their community.

We need to beware of packaged programs, labels, and outside directives. Someone who wants to sell us their package of 21st Century Skills, or Learning Community systems or Technology integration only tempts us to easy fixes that won't work. We can use facilitators, and ideas, and supporters; but in the end we must do the hard work of sharing our ideas, asking questions, and earnestly listening within our own schools, pyramids, districts and communities.

We are just beginning. There is much work to be done, but if we do it together, what an amazing life we can facilitate for our children as young people, and as adults.


  1. I have been advocating for this approach since the early days of the standards movement. It is okay to have input standards like class size, safety, resources, facilities, etc., but output standards regarding student achievement can never be reasonable since children are not standard and, as a society, we need a diverse population able to solve the multiple problems we face.

  2. I think this was very well written. Thank you.

  3. It sounds like a dream-come-true to be part of your school system! How fortunate your students are, that those who truly care about their futures are coming together yo make plans which actually are in the best interests of the children! Would that all systems will once again have this freedom, someday.


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