- About Ira David Socol
- Freedom Stick and Firefox Accessibility
- The Change.Org Posts
- IdeaChat 11 February 2012
- Counting the Origins of Failure
- Technology: The Wrong Questions and the Right Questions
- Today's "School Reformers" vs Real Change for Education - I
- Today’s “School Reformers” vs Real Change for Education - II
- The Toolbelt and Universal Design - Education For Everyone
- "Evaluate that!" - Schools for Children
15 January 2009
Why "Standards-Based" and "Accountability" are dirty words
Who wants to be against standards in education? Who wants to be against "accountability"?
I do. And you should want to be as well. Especially now, as a new American administration wrestles with altering No Child Left Behind, and the rest of the world tries to meet the expectations in the United Nations Article 24 on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
Really? Don't I get angry when a state like Texas lies about it's graduation rates and discipline and gives fourth grade reading tests to twelfth graders to make their scores look better? Don't I despise bad teaching? Don't I have high expectations for every child? Don't I want schools to be properly equipped, and staffed with well-trained professionals, and operated with diverse and advanced curricula?
Yes I do. But, none of that is what these words mean in our political contexts.
When people say, "standards-based" they mean that their goal for school is to homogenize students. The "standards" - after all - are nothing but a set of metrics by which an industrial product is rated. "Accountability"? That's how well teachers homogenize their students.
And these two awful, anti-human strategies lie not just behind Teach for America and Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and KIPP Academies, they lie behind every bit of the legislation known as NCLB, and far too much of the exam-based British education system.
As long as all students are expected to have, essentially, the same "outcomes," we will never have "Universal Design," we will never have "Inclusion," we will never have actual "equality," because equality requires that we accept and embrace human diversity in ways "schools" just cannot imagine.
Not every human can move the same way, hear the same way, see the same way - we sort of know this though we really struggle building classrooms which treat even these differences with any level of equality. What "we" can't quite wrap our minds around is that not every human will ever learn the same way, read the same way, write the same way, discover Argentina on a map the same way, or understand time the same way, and that every time we create a "norm" in our classroom we make those who are somehow "away from the norm" somewhat less than fully human.
And every time we speak of "age appropriate goals," "grade level expectations," and "academic standards" we force students into a two-tier system. We create disability, and rob people of their human right to develop in the way that serves them best.
So when President-Elect Obama's future Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls education, “the civil rights issue of our generation,” he is absolutely right, but I'm not sure that he understands that this civil right begins with individually appropriate educational support for every student, and not the "evidence based practice" which is code for treating education the way a steel mill treats iron ore.
Inclusion, real inclusion, means abandoning our notions of "standards," of "accountability," of "evidence." It means abandoning many of our basic conceptions of what schools look like. It means embracing the individual learner and not the group.
So what would I put in a new national education law? I might start with asking every teacher and administrator to embrace the "Whys" on Inclusive Education as stated by the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education.
Why Inclusive Education?
- Valuing some people more than others is unethical.
- Maintaining barriers to some students’ participation in the cultures, curricula and communities of local schools is unacceptable.
- Preserving school cultures, policies and practices that are non-responsive to the diversity of learners perpetuates inequalities.
- Thinking that inclusion mostly concerns disabled learners is misleading.
- Thinking that school changes made for some will not benefit others is short-sighted.
- Viewing differences between students as problems to be overcome is disrespectful and limits learning opportunities.
- Segregated schooling for disabled learners violates their basic human right to education without discrimination.
- Improving schools only for students is disrespectful to all other stakeholders.
- Identifying academic achievement as the main aim of schooling detracts from the importance of personal and moral development.
- Isolating schools and local communities from one another deprives everyone of enriching experiences.
- Perceiving inclusion in education as a separate issue from inclusion in society is illogical.
Then I might make some specific regulations. Yes, regulations. This my own "ECRE" - Every Child has a Right to Education:
1. Every student will have an Individualized Education Plan which considers the best ways, times, and places for that student's learning needs.
2. Every student will have individualized curriculum and individualized assessment strategies based at the intersection of current individual capabilities/needs and lifespan needs.
3. Every student will be placed with faculty members most appropriate for their learning needs.
4. Grade level or age will never be used as a primary guide to a student's learning needs - neither holding a student back nor making impossible demands.
5. Student interest will always be considered as a gateway to curricular knowledge.
6. Subjects will be integrated, learning will not be considered an isolated academic exercise.
7. All staff will be fully trained in human learning diversity.
8. Every student will have appropriate technology available to allow maximum participation in curriculum and maximum access to their own learning and communication opportunities.
9. All curricular materials and all school information will be available in formats which may be altered to meet specific student learning needs.
10. Every student has a right to group instruction and individual instruction as appropriate - technology which allows for individual instruction will always be available.
11. Every student has the right to fully participate in the academic, extra-curricular, and social activities of the school.
12. Schools will be judged according the individual growth of their students, and their ability to meet the widest range of student needs. Aggregated scores or grades will not be collected.
And it is time to stop supporting educational research which treats students as if they were a mass production item. Instead, we need to support research into tools, techniques, and strategies which support individual human learners. This would be a 180 degree switch from the Bush Regime's research agenda.
So, if we're to make 2009 the Year of Universal Access, we need to begin by saying "no." "No" to the catchwords of this past educational decade. And we need to start saying "yes." "Yes" to students as individuals. Not labels, not groups, not cohorts, but humans.
- Ira Socol
artwork Inclusion/Exclusion by Michael Hager of Washburn University (c) Michael Hager