Friday, December 7, 2012

Raising Standards, and Other Ridiculousness

I regularly read of the impending doom of public education in the U.S. if we don't raise standards. As Sir Ken Robinson says, "Of course we want to raise standards. Doesn't do much good to lower them!" But Sir Ken is also a proponent of tapping into students' innate creativity and curiosity and not making them march through school in lockstep. (See my previous post, A Gem from Sir Ken for some more of his thoughts--pretty thought-provoking stuff, in my humble opinion.)

Basically, I don't think "raising standards" is a real solution to the many things happening in schools that ought to be addressed. "Raising standards" is rhetoric--something that politicians and school boards like to say, but one not many people have a real handle on.

What do we really mean by "raising standards?" Do we want teachers to teach better? Students to learn more? Grades to improve? Harder standardized tests? Do we just want everyone to work harder? What are we really talking about here anyway?

I get frustrated about this.

Of course we want great teachers, and we want them to teach well. But will "raising standards" make them teach better? Maybe more targeted professional development would be more effective than just railing about low standards?

I certainly want my students to learn a lot! But if they aren't, is "raising standards" going to make them learn more? Or would it be better for me to look for ways to differentiate instruction, to try and tailor my teaching to the unique needs of the students?

Maybe improving grades would be a result of "raising standards," but in my experience, grade inflation is a pretty rampant problem in many schools already. I've come to a very cynical point: I think that grades don't actually show student achievement very accurately. We lump in all sorts of other stuff (attendance, effort, turning work in on time, etc.) that really don't have anything to do with the actual learning...which is what the grade ought to represent, in my thinking anyway. Would it be better to do away with traditional letter grades? Or to at least look at alternatives?

I'm not opposed to standardized tests on principle, but I think the way they are used as a high-stakes game to gauge school effectiveness is bordering on crazy-town. Would making the tests harder help to "raise standards?" I'm no so sure about this. Standardized tests are a snapshot-in-time of how students' are performing at a given moment. Would harder tests actually give a better indication of what students have learned? Would rewarding teachers for their students' excellent performance (or penalizing teachers for their students' low scores) improve teaching and learning? Or would it only promote more teaching to the test?

I'm sure there are some lazy teachers and lazy students out there who aren't working very hard. That should be addressed, but how will "raising standards" make them work harder? Or is this an issue of school culture? What is the purpose of school? Are schools really meeting their purpose? And if that indicated by students and teachers just going through the motions?

I have lots of questions, and not very many answers here. What do you think? Shall we "raise standards?" And if so, just what do we mean by that?

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