Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Standards vs. Personalized Education

I apologize for the lapse of time between my last post and now. I'm deep in the weeds on book writing at the moment, which is always fun. It is the experience that feels most like "flow" for me -- the word that references being completely engrossed in one's work and unaware of time. I start in the morning, look at the clock and it is 4pm. Good stuff.

But anyway, I am emerging a bit tonight! I just read an interesting essay by Ronald Wolk in Education Week arguing that the pursuit of common, high standards is a waste of time. You can read the essay by following this link. Instead, education needs to be more personalized. On one level this is a very appealing idea, especially as we completely leave the factory era. Once, standardization was a virtue, everyone focused on the same thing. Now, every major employer seems to be searching for people who "think outside the box." Personalized education also recognizes that all children learn differently, and at different paces. In the context of this blog, personalized education recognizes that some children learn a lot faster than others, and that age has no more to do with what work you're ready for than height.

On the other hand... after reading Wendy Kopp's A Chance To Make History, I'm a little wary (as she is) of silver bullets in education in general. Personalized education is good, and so is some amount of testing. It's really hard to solve a problem if you can't even diagnose it, and Wolk's complete aversion to testing is a good way to create a world of no standards. Also, does he think that top-down teaching is even the norm anymore? Education schools everywhere are gripped by a "child-centered" approach to learning where we all discover the Pythagorean theorem on our own. That's one idea, or you can recognize that children don't know much, and need information crammed into their little brains. That's a big reason I read books -- to learn things I don't know. It's also why I attend speeches, which is roughly the equivalent of teacher lectures.

So my general thought is... all things in moderation. Yes, we need more personalization. We also need high standards, and probably some assessments too. All of this can work together to create a better education system than we have now.


Dan said...

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the Khan Academy in a future blog post. Look for the TED talk if you are not familiar with it.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard about BASIS (AZ) schools? What kind of fit do you think they have for gifted kids?

Anonymous said...

I think you are absolutely right about the silver bullet. My son (who is probably EG) started in the public school system, but had to be quickly moved when it became obvious they had no way to deal with a kindergartener who was reading and adding and subtracting. We moved him to a Montessori school where he is now thriving. However, in the process I learned a great deal about educational philosophies. I no longer think there is one best fix or one best method. For some children a Waldorf setting is perfect, for others the Montessori method just fits, still others respond well to a school like the Sudbury school, and others learn best in a classical based environment or a core knowledge environment. All children are individuals and each should have the opportunity to attend a school whose philosophy fits that individual best. Unfortunately too many of them are stuck in schools where there is a lack of unifying philosophy of any kind.