Standardization: Brilliant or Insane?

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Rethinking Standardization
photo credit: William M Ferriter via photopin cc

Standardization. It’s been at the center of education policy reform for quite some time now. But should it be? Amidst the myriad of controversy and debate about how to implement standardization, and what the standards should even be, no one seems to be asking if standardization is even a good thing. Is it brilliant or is it insane?

First, there was the No Child Left Behind Act, which created standards to judge a school’s academic performance within individual states. Now there’s the Common Core, which attempts to standardize education across the nation. Everywhere you look in education policy it’s all about making the learning process the same from state to state, school to school, classroom to classroom.

Advocates of standardization are so busy trying to create a measuring stick to judge progress that they forget that education is by nature not standard.
There are definitely some pros to standardization, at least in theory. If a student changes schools or moves to another state, the transition would purportedly be smoother. That’s one reason the U.S. military supports the Common Core. Being able to map data on educational performance could also be a way to address issues in defunct school systems, but that can’t be done without a standard set of criteria on which to judge.

The rub

But all this assumes that it is possible to create a single standard for education and that—and this is crucial— there is no downside to making education standardized.

Here’s the rub: there is a downside. Advocates of standardization are so busy trying to create a measuring stick to judge progress that they forget that education is by nature not standard. Schools are certainly not standard: some are urban while others are rural. Some are affluent while others are overcrowded and underfunded. There are also radically different political climates and socioeconomic demographics from state to state and city to city.

More important, teachers and students are not all the same. Teachers have different teaching styles. Students have unique learning styles. Students have different personalities and interests and a need for individualized instruction that fits their unique learning needs. Creating one standard model for everyone to follow assumes that there is only one way to teach and one way to learn.

This is why it’s so important to individualize learning—not standardize it. Standardization attempts to decide what students should learn and when they should learn it. The standards are arbitrary, yet they are designed to apply universally to everyone. We need teachers working on a class-by-class and student-by-student basis to ensure progress. After all, teachers are the people responsible for the students’ education and they are the ones seeing students on a daily basis. Standards can’t see students!

Is standardization brilliant or insane? What are your experiences with standardization and the Common Core? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Brilliant or Insane contributor Forrest Miller is a writer and an educator, specializing in ESL. He is from Oregon, currently living and teaching in China.

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