Friday, November 13, 2009

Flexible Standards

In life there are always standards to meet, to exceed or to fail at. Employers expect employees to meet minimun work standards. Athletes must exceed general standards in order to achieve excellence. Parents often unflinchingly reject their offspring's paramours as lacking acceptance standards. So how then can we expect all children to meet educational standards under No Child Left Behind when in life, everyone might fail a standard in one way shape or form at some point? Are we really bringing all our kids up to an immutable standard? Or are the standards vulnerable to manipulation?

Case in point- my child attends a middle school that by all visible measures falls short of the standard of excellence set by their elementary school. The current principal is standoffish and lacks warmth, does not engage parents and loathes to divulge simple information like dismissal times for half day sessions. Likewise the teaching staff, while competent, lacks enthusiasm and innovative ideas. The results are apparent by the way the stusents address the teachers, each other and in how they refer to the school and its pedagogy.

Yet if you examine the school's ranking by objective measures of standards, it scores an A. The elementary school, in contrast, earn a B. How, then could two schools receive scores that simply do not truly reflect what they accomplish?

The answer lies in part with flexible standards. Middle schools operate under vastly different criteria than elementary schools. One is concerned with instilling rudimentary skills while the other startsintroducing analytical ones. Concepts are much harder to teach because in part due to their theoretical nature. One can always argue, generally without success, that two plus two will always equal four. Hence a school which may deliver less in spirit and substance, can score so much better than its more vibrant counterpart.

Standards are the bane and the air of human existence. We strive to create them for coherence but render then innnocuous by the way we bend them. Be careful the next time you look at a standard. It may not meaure what you thought it did.

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