This morning on Twitter, Michael Josefowicz, a retired printer who tweets as ToughLoveforX, managed to say in 140 pithy characters something educational policy makers keep missing: "Standards are critically important. Standardization is a waste of time and money."
I could not agree more. Just as Diane Ravitch, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, has just renounced that terrible national educational policy on the grounds that the only people who really profitted by it were the commercial testing services, I am guessing that if the U.S. adopts the governors' recommendation of national, standardized, grade-by-grade content requirements, that the only people who will profit are the commercial text-book makers. As Mr. Josefowicz reminds us so succinctly, we all want high standards for our children and our educators. Standardization is not the same as high standards.
For a chapter I'm writing on making over the contemporary classroom, I've been visiting local schools this week, including public schools where a large percentage of the kids are on "Free and Reduced Lunch," a term that means the kids are from families so poor that a publicly subsidized lunch program kicks in. I've spent the last few years visiting schools and have seen some pretty terrible ones, but the ones that I saw this week, led by David Stein, the irrepressible Educational Partnership Coordinator for Duke and the local Durham public schools, were full of life and inspiration. I would love to tell stories here, but my editor has made me promise I'll save them for the book, so I will just say that I have been overwhelmed by teachers who care so passionately about their students and, in turn, students who care passionately about learning.
The one comment I heard from several, in different contexts, was how often the standardized tests miss the really important knowledge happening in the classroom, the inspired learning that will shape kids for a lifetime. It's almost as if American education is going down two parallel tracks at once, with "standardization" being one rail while "standards" are another. The inspiring teachers I met this week have standards sky-high. And to deliver that kind of inspired learning, they make the compromise of spending the required amount of time on the more standardized "deliverables" (horrific word) that can be assessed and put on some national metric. There's not much continuity between these two rails, though, because real learning is never, ever a checklist of facts or skills or methods or topics. Deep learning happens when students are inspired to find the right answers, to search for them, to develop cognitive skills of imagination and creativity and boundless rigor.
The point of the schools I visited was that kind of inspired learning was happening despite meager funding, despite families in disarray, despite poverty. You could feel it the second you walked on the school grounds, a lightness and persuasion filled the air. You wanted to be there. You knew instantly that the teachers wanted to be there. No child has ever been inspired to go to school everyday in order to take standardized tests with a standardized curriculum.