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Standardizing Education is Not the Answer

September 20, 2011

Interesting article on the Media Roots site talking about how Standardizing Education isn’t the answer to the school reform question.  I don’t have a lot of time to post tonight because of classes (me taking them) and classes (me teaching them) so I will post the article below as food for thought.  But my own thoughts go something like this: Our students are not widgets, they are not “one size fits all” little beings.  Some kids are the square pegs that will never fit into the round hole, it is what it is, so we have to be creative in ways to educate them…standardization of everything we teach isn’t the entire answer:

MEDIA ROOTS- Forty years ago, Finland began transforming its educational system to a more personalized methodology of teacher to student learning as part of the government’s economic recovery plan. Finland’s youth has since shot up to the highest in the world in reading, math and science skills.

Conversely, America’s impersonal initiation of marketplace competition into its educational system has caused the US to fall behind.

According to AFP:

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

Although Obama has slammed his predecessor’s controversial ‘No Child Left Behind’ legislation, he has implemented the same broken concept of a standards based education reform into his administration’s ‘Race to the Top’ policy.

Diane Ravitch, educational policy analyst and former US Assistant Secretary of Education, claims that President Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ program will further weaken the country’s education process by embracing the following key elements: regular teacher evaluations in accordance with students’ test scores, privatizing schools with low test scores, mass firings in low-performing schools and making states compete for federal money with test ratings.

This current educational model of standardization is inherently flawed. By basing a complete faith in standardized testing statistics to determine the competence of teachers and abilities of children, there is a human element eliminated from the equation– an element that Finland has incorporated as the main pillar of their education strategy.

The Smithsonian sheds some light on Finland’s educational success:

Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else…

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians…

Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.

Furthermore, the solutions posed by ‘Race to the Top’ to improve education will result in private entities looting the system, revealing more collusion between private interests and politicians. In an egregious grab to profit off the public sector, hedge funds along with billionaire Bill Gates have initiated a massive PR push to privatize education, and their campaign has paid off– ‘Race to the Top’ calls for a dramatic expansion of privately owned charter schools.

Robert Cruickshank of the California Progress Report explains the motivation:

They’re engaged in a process of rent seeking, which has no productive value. By taking tax dollars that currently provide public services and channeling them to the private sector, which contracts to provide the service at lower cost – and therefore at lower quality – these wealthy individuals can add new income streams while also blunting any effort to raise their taxes to provide these services.

The trajectory of education in this country is drastically off course.  Human beings are complex creatures and learning isn’t black and white; some of us are brilliant in ways that cannot be expressed through multiple choice answers. Instead of penalizing teachers for low test scores, teachers should be encouraged to develop alternative teaching methods based on students’ differing needs.

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