The domino effect of education standardization

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by Reed Gillespie

Fourteen years ago, after five wonderful years as a teacher, everything imploded during the sixth year. The same administrators, who once encouraged risk-taking and personal growth, became dictatorial and over-controlling. Instead of working together, we now competed and fought for control.


What torpedoed us? Virginia’s Standards of Learning.
So, I abandoned the sinking ship. I wasn’t alone. Seven other teachers (a significant number as this was a very small school) jumped to other jobs. One of the other departing teachers expressed the feelings of all of us, “I feel like I’m just a cog in the machine. Easily replaceable.”
In the blink of an eye, everything changed with the new standards. 

Administrators became manipulative and domineering. Teacher autonomy went out the window. We were told, “If it’s not mentioned in the Standard of Learning Framework, you won’t be teaching it.”
When observing classes, administrators sat with the standards in hand. I got chastised for talking about Winston Churchill and the Battle of Britain in my World History class (remarkably at the time this wasn’t included in the framework, but it has since been added).  A peer was raked over the coals at a school board meeting for having poor SOL scores (Virginia’s End of Course Tests) despite his students scoring well above the state average.

A bad trend

Sadly, my experiences are not unique. Today far too many teachers feel the same way I did 14 years ago. Essentially, one knee-jerk reaction led to another in a domino falling-like series of transgressions. 

No Child Left Behind led state governments to increase “accountability.” Pressured school districts exerted control on school administrators who passed it on to the teachers. Constantly being reminded, “It’s your job to make sure your students perform to these high standards,” led teachers to increase their control over students. So, reluctantly, we taught to the test.  

With autonomy destroyed, many educators’ enthusiasm and excitement for teaching waned. Lectures became commonplace. Teachers bypassed labs and projects that engaged students and instead dispensed review worksheets to drill in the facts.
The pressure to produce results undermined teachers. The burden of standardized test results backfired as student learning suffered. Teachers became more controlling despite knowing that students need the opposite—teachers who nurture, support and engage students.

Fortunately, many states, including Virginia, are looking at loosening the standardization grip. Reform can’t come soon enough.

Reed Gillespie writes about education for Brilliant or Insane. Learn more about Reed on the Our Team page. Follow Reed on Twitter here.
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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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