Summary Where standards exist (including its close cousin, evidence-based practice), evaluation instruments leading to change projects is a good way to reduce complexity and improve practice.
My last 2 jobs involved standardization. One was designing consultative services designed to assist health care organizations in complying with HIPAA security standards. The other job was to provide teacher professional development where the primary concern centered on improving student proficiency scores on tests of graduation standards. The purpose of standardization is to reduce variability, improve quality, facilitate measurement and change practices.
Achieving compliance is generally achieved by standardizing practice. The HIPAA measures I constructed were designed to use published HIPAA standards to assess an existing level of practice and to provide a logical path in designing projects to bring practices into compliance. The problem with educational standards is that state performance standards are not directed toward practice (which is easily measured and easily brought in compliance), they are directed toward performance (Which is easily measured, but whose variability is subject to a wide variety of social, environmental, cognitive and developmental variables). It would make better sense to have two sets of standards: one for student performance and one for teaching practice. Practice standards would specify the materials and instructional sequences that would be necessary to achieve compliance on performance assessments.
Why hasn’t this been done; there are 4 things that make this difficult:
- Education is not under the control of the federal government and the undertaking (if it reflects all 12 years of education) may be too large an undertaking for individual states and municipalities.
- Materials would have to be standardized and there are many textbook providers, all in competition with each other. Choosing one set of materials would put others out of business.
- Standardization of practice would reduce teacher’s control, and teachers are not ready to accept this and to think of themselves as standards implementers.
- Standardized education would work for an industrialized economy, but not for a creative economy. Just like the Army is always being reorganized to fight the last war, education is often organized to serve the last age. Still this would be a much more efficient way to organize 40 to 50% of educational needs that could be standardized.
Well, I found teacher professional development to be a somewhat frustrating endeavor. Standardization is not the only way to go and you could even say this was teaching to the test. I would fully support moving to something other than a high stakes testing regime, but if your going to use these tests, if the schools and teachers are strongly focussed on them; they imply a standardization process and anything else is a mismatch. The organization I worked for was a master of standardization in educational practice, but the program they tried to implement was not in this ballpark.