Academic journal article English Journal

How Have We Been Standardized? Let Me Count the Ways

Academic journal article English Journal

How Have We Been Standardized? Let Me Count the Ways

Article excerpt

Don't get me wrong. I loved my career. I am fortunate to have had a profession that allowed me to engage with everything I loved: literature, writing, and young people of diverse backgrounds, interests, and abilities. I have often thought that without my career and all I have learned from it, I might be a much different per- son, much poorer in my understanding of human nature, adolescence, history, sociology, the arts, the creative process, and the complexity surrounding every facet of learning and personal growth.

However. . .

I retired last year, having had no interest in continuing my career in a world of Common Core State Standards, the Danielson Framework for Effec- tive Teaching, Student Growth Objectives, Student Growth Percentiles, Value Added Models, scripted lessons, or flipped classrooms. I didn't want to be told how to teach by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, or Arne Duncan, not to mention the National Governors Association or the Pearson monopoly. I found Com- mon Core author David Coleman's now famous statement, "As you grow up in this world you real- ize people don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think" (10), especially revolting.1

I was not interested in prepping my students to write formulaic five-paragraph essays, or getting them ready for PARCC. I didn't want to lose class time to administer tests of dubious validity. I knew the agenda-that scores were being used to rate schools and teachers. And, I was especially offended when I found out that my seniors received scores on their community college placement essays shortly after they finished writing. How was that possible? Well, they said, the Robo-Grader graded their essays! A robot evaluated my students' essays!2

Has teaching come to this? Yes, it has. And all the entities I mentioned have one thing in com- mon-they represent a stunning move, in this vast and proudly diverse country, toward standardizing our students and teachers. Such depersonalization has disheartened many of us who consider the edu- cation of young people a sacred and deeply personal endeavor, something corporate reformers, who are clearly driven by the profit motive connected to privatization, disregard.

What Teaching Was Like Several Decades Ago

I have spent considerable time pondering how this happened. When I began teaching English in 1973 in a high-achieving district, I did not have much external direction. I was never required to submit a lesson plan, conform to a grading policy, turn in my roll book, or even give a final exam. The curricu- lum was not very specific. Students took tests that I made up, and I never told them what was going to be on the test; it was anathema to do so. I began my career at a time when English teachers were becoming free of the constraints of over-formalized instruction in grammar or rote memorization of vocabulary. We had much latitude.

While as a new teacher I was unprepared for many of the difficulties and complexities of teach- ing English, my own university experience, which included an English major, informed what I did. I had grounding in my subject, passion for literature, understanding of good writing, and a desire to con- nect with my students. In addition I learned how to teach effectively from informal mentors, wonder- ful colleagues and supervisors, extensive reading in publications like English Journal, and a willingness to experiment with interesting assignments.

There is no doubt that schools in the 1970s had their flaws. But the movement toward standards for students, born out of the 1983 report A Nation at Risk, has far overreached in its attempt to remedy problems in American education. Consequences we have seen in the past decade include narrowing the curriculum, labeling schools as "failing," disrup- tively closing neighborhood schools, and champi- oning the proliferation of charter schools, many of which use tax-payer dollars to enrich their corporate owners. "Standards" and their accompanying high- stakes tests make all these phenomena possible. …

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