How do you address the criticism that the "national standards movement" is just an attempt to Taylorize the teaching profession?
I once worked at a technical support call center where the management, at the urging of Accenture, switched from actual technical support to the use of scripts. The purpose was to dumb down the jobs so that they could be done by people with no actual experience who then would be paid near-minimum wage.
I've heard this question many times recently, and it's a good one. But there is no reason why national curriculum standards would have to entail a loss of creativity for teachers. The focus of standards should be on what skills students of various ages should have and on what basic facts they should know — not on the pedagogical techniques used to teach those skills and facts.
For example, this past December, I spent a week in Finland, learning about that nation's education system, which the OECD ranks as the best in the world. Like almost every developed nation other than than the United States, Finland has a national curriculum. Here is an excerpt from that document, explaining the objectives for 5th and 6th grade history:
The pupils will:
- come to understand that historical information consists of the interpretations of historians, which may change as new sources or method of examination emerge
- come to understand various ways of dividing history into eras; they will use the concepts of prehistory; history, antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the modern era correctly
- learn to recognize changes in the history of their own families or home region, and to depict changes, such as the birth of farming, that are seen as having had a fundamental impact on human life
- learn to identify the continuity of history with the aid of examples
- learn to present reasons for historical changes
To my eyes, these objectives actually encourage teacher creativity, not stymie it. There is no "script" here that teachers must follow, and no reading list. Indeed, the opposite is true; there is no enforcement mechanism used by the Finnish government to make sure that local schools are following these guidelines. Teachers and schools simply expect to be told what students should know. And the content standards aren't much more controversial than these "objectives." They include the following: ancient Greece and Rome, Finland under Swedish rule, the French Revolution, review of advanced cultures outside of Europe, and the evolution of trade.
cross-posted at TAPPED