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Government & Politics        < Previous        Next >



How Our Schools Got So Standardized


Q. I heard schools referred to as "McSchools." They all seem the same these days. They tend to use much the same curriculum and instructional methods. They have a few interesting twists, as when one school emphasizes science and another is big on the performing arts. But basically, they don't differ much more than McDonald's and Burger King do. Is that how it's always been?


The same thing that's happening in all kinds of businesses is happening with our schools: consolidation, systematization and standardization.


Consolidation. It used to be that a city's schools were like its clothing stores. In a city, there'll be a few huge department stores, a few family-owned stores, some funky boutiques downtown, a few bargain basements . . . lots and lots of diversity. It used to be the same way with the schools: lots more districts so that leadership, curriculum and teaching methods were all much more diverse. But with massive consolidation in the last few decades in the name of "economies of scale," that diversity is going, going and almost gone. In terms of governance, it's a lot easier to control and regulate a few big districts and keep a lot of distance between the government and the people (or children) governed, than it is to control and regular lots and lots of small districts. That's not the democratic ideal, but that's what has happened.


Systematization. Similarly, school districts have become more like government operations and less like educational operations in recent years. They have been made more systematic, with more emphasis on the process of education than the product. For example, schools didn't have a mission statement framed up at the front of the school building in the olden days, because everybody knew what the mission of the schools was: to educate the coming generation. But about 15 years ago, school board committees started doing strategic planning to try to improve their school system in every way, using good business practices. They were led by the same few educational think tanks, which tended to promote "boilerplate," or carbon-copy, mission statements as part of that strategic planning process. You started to see identical or similar language in school mission statements from coast to coast: "lifelong learning," "global citizenship" and "data-driven decision-making" are among the most commonly "cloned" phrases. Naturally, when the mission statement is virtually identical, the way schools go about fulfilling that mission will be virtually identical. The private schools have been shaped to be more and more like the public schools through various financing and accreditation processes, too. So "systematization" ended up making schools become more like each other rather than more different, leaving parents with less choice and fewer options instead of more.


Standardization. Finally, we have had the standards movement, which started out as "Outcome-Based Education" but changed to "Standards-Based Education" or "Performance-Based Education" after OBE got a bad name in the 1980s. Only a handful of people noticed that the same learning "standards" were being discussed by educators and citizens in almost every state in the 1980s and '90s. Longtime educators said they "dumbed down" the curriculum considerably, but their warnings fell on deaf ears. The standards were set to the lowest common denominator of students, rather than giving schools the freedom to match the challenge level of the curriculum to the ability level of the students. Each school district has now changed its curriculum to "align" to the standards so that soon, the government can measure whether the students are "up to specs" on the standards through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). At that point, our schools will be totally nationalized. The standards were pushed through state legislatures after a rather deceitful process called "facilitated consensus," in which participants at public meetings had no choice but to rubber-stamp the goals, objectives and standards that were put in front of them, giving them only a semblance of input into the pre-set system. It looked to lawmakers like there was a "groundswell" of grassroots support, so they enacted the standards, requiring school districts to change their curriculum to comply with the standards. Again, the selection of particular standards and even the wording of the standards were virtually identical from state to state. It was sort of like how franchising makes a McDonald's hamburger taste the same in California as in New York. This mirrors the ISO 9000 standardization that was taking place in manufacturing and other industries in the 1980s and '90s, allowing U.S. manufacturers to sell products to global customers and, through the shared standards, they'll fit. Now it's the same way with education, since the "learning standards" that are in place and have reshaped curriculum in the United States are a "fit" with the "learning standards" in other countries around the world.


What's the goal? Isn't it obvious? Global standardization of education. Why? To produce a future workforce that is globally consistent and interchangeable. What for? So that multinational corporations can have a dependable supply of trained workers no matter where they want to do business.


All together, now: Eww! Eww! Ewwwwwww!


Homework: This process has been thoroughly documented through historical records dating back to the early 1900s in an amazing, 824-page book published in 1994, Research Manual -- America 2000 / Goals 2000: Moving the National Educationally to a 'New World Order' by James R. Patrick, a longtime educator in Moline, Ill.


By Susan Darst Williams Government & Politics 04 2008


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