By July 16, 2014 Uncategorized 11 Comments

Like my colleague at okeducationtruths, I took a short hiatus from blogging recently to enjoy some time on the beach with my family. In case you are curious, I am embarking on an even longer (perhaps indefinite) hiatus from public dancing, so those of you requesting lessons will need to pursue other options!

Last week, in a complete change from lounging on the beach, some friends and I spent a few days walking up and down mountains in northern New Mexico, near Taos. Here is a picture of a new acquaintance I met at 13,200 feet atop Mt. Wheeler, the highest point in the state.

Before you make any jokes about “two old goats on a mountaintop,” my acquaintance here is a bighorn sheep.  So to be accurate, there is just one old goat in the picture. I certainly felt a little older after trekking up the side of this mountain!

Before leaving town, I had written several posts on the topic of new state academic standards. In particular, I had started to address this over-arching question relative to standards: “What happens to those students who fail to meet whatever our new, super-duper, best-in-the-world academic standards turn out to be?”

I also shared a personal story about my brother, Steve, who struggled in school and throughout life. Steve was a wonderful “non-standard” student and human being whose true gifts and talents were not fully recognized or enhanced by his public school education.

With that as the backdrop, I am now going to shift gears and talk a little about hamburgers.

On our way out of Taos last week, my friends and I stopped for a hamburger at a small restaurant called 5 Star Burgers. We all ordered the namesake burger (5 star burger) for $9.75. Granted, this is a little pricey for a hamburger but, trust me, it was worth every penny. According to the menu, this special hamburger is made from “fresh, hormone and antibiotic free Angus Beef from Harris Ranch, which is ground and formed daily, and chargrilled to desired doneness.”  It is then covered in Gorgonzola cheese, applewood bacon bits, and served on a toasted brioche bun.Tell me this doesn’t look delicious. I’m still having dreams about it!

Compare that image with the one below—the ubiquitous and easily recognizable Big Mac hamburger from McDonalds.

I’m not slamming Big Macs. This veritable icon of indulgence has been around for forty years. McDonalds sells 2.5 million of these burgers every day—nearly 900 million worldwide every year! That’s a whole lot of all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and sesame seed buns. You can also buy THREE of these for the price of one 5-star burger.

The other great thing about Big Macs is we can go down to our local McDonalds nearly any day of the year and our Big Mac will look, feel, smell, and taste pretty much like any other Big Mac we have eaten previously at that restaurant or any other McDonald’s location in the country. It is a standard Big Mac and we like it that way.

We can all thank the lady pictured below for the fact that a Big Mac purchased in Altus, Oklahoma will look and taste the same as one bought in Alabama, Alaska or even Australia. Her name is Barbara Booth and she serves as the Director of Sensory Science, Quality Systems, U.S. Supply Chain Management.

Barbara oversees an entire department dedicated to ensuring that one Big Mac is as similar as possible to any other Big Mac . McDonalds manage their supply chain to make certain that every restaurant receives the same ingredients from quality producers, and that these ingredients are shipped, stored and cooked according to specific guidelines and protocols. McDonalds has a system called the Global Sensory Scoring Method which is used around the world to make sure their products are up to their high standards. They evaluate qualities like taste, small, and texture to make sure that an item’s characteristics are within a certain specified range. In Barbara’s words, “when everything is right, it meets the Gold Standard” and is deemed “McDonald’s Quality.”

This is probably much more than you ever wanted to know about Big Macs. However, as I think back to the joy I experienced while devouring my 5 star hamburger last week, I am very thankful that not all hamburgers have to be the same. I appreciate that restaurants have the freedom to be creative, to use different ingredients, and to enhance the standard hamburger protocol to produce a truly unique and delicious alternative.

It also makes me think what McDonalds would do if they could not control the supply chain the way that they can. In other words, what would happen if McDonalds had no control over the inputs that go into a Big Mac? Could your local McDonalds produce a standard Big Mac if they were  shipped only turkey hamburger, Swiss cheese, relish, hot dog buns, cabbage, and mayonnaise?

They may be able to produce an edible product that actually tastes pretty good, but it would not be a Big Mac. Here is the bottom line: It is very difficult, if not impossible, to create the same product as someone else if you are unable to control the inputs into the process. Moreover, why would we want to?

So, even with the same academic standards, the suggestion that schools should all produce a standard “output” using widely disparate “inputs” makes little sense. Public schools work with the students who walk in their door, not just those hand-picked through a rigorous quality control process.

The idea for education standards comes to us from the business world. What the people Susan Ohanian refers to as “corporate standardistos” fail to realize is a simple, yet major difference between a classroom and a business office. In a business setting, if you have an employee that is slowing down production, lagging behind, refusing to do the work required, having problems working as a team player, and displaying a lack of concentration or focus, what do you think happens to that employee? The obvious answer is the reason a public school classroom is not like a business, has never been like a business, and will never be like a business. The moral here is we should STOP trying to “reform” schools like we would a business.

A school is not a business. A principal is not a CEO. Students are not a product.

Albert Einstein wrote and spoke extensively about the dangers associated with the attempted standardization of people. Here are a few of his notable quotes:

“I believe in standardizing automobiles, not human beings.”

“Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture”

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

There is an idea, most recently expounded by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, that any student, including those with significant learning disabilities, can pass ever more difficult tests. In his and other reformers’ minds, if we simply retool our entire education system to prepare for rigorous new standards and tests, and we evaluate teachers based on test scores, and we introduce new corporate innovators to produce new programs and “learning systems,” ALL students will somehow rise to meet the challenge.

Where have we heard this premise before? Oh yes. The mythical 100% proficiency rates of No Child Left Behind. We have abandoned one myth simply to embrace another. It is time to call an end to this charade.

I am hopeful that one day soon America will come to the realization that a standardized test is a terrible way to measure the potential of a human being.

Tests do not and cannot accurately measure who is “ready for college and careers.” Used in their current manner, tests can only serve to stigmatize, rank, sort, and justify the abandonment of an ever larger number of our students. The reform movement is NOT acting in the interests of our students when it labels large numbers of them as rejects. Any testing system that results in massive failure is an assault on our students and should be fought by anyone who cares for their future.

A moral policy for education recognizes a multiplicity of human capacities and interests. Instead of preparing everyone for college in the name of democracy and equality of opportunity, schools should be instilling in students a respect for all forms of honest work done well. Preparation for the world of work, parenting, and civil responsibility is essential for all students. Yet, in our new paradigm of measure, sort, and rank; we have recklessly discarded these ideals.

Call me crazy, but I believe that schools should be built on the idea that different people have different strengths, and that these strengths should be cultivated in an environment of care and compassion, not competition. Further, that education should focus on developing children’s strengths, not fixing their deficiencies. Our public education system has as its noble mission the elevation of all students to their highest potential. This is not defined by their future usefulness to employers. As a society, we need to preserve and enhance a vision of education’s greater purposes, which are so much more than being “college and career ready” and “doing well on the bubble test.

While trying to force everyone through the same narrow pipeline of academic subjects and standards, we are cheating those who might genuinely care for intellectual work and the world of ideas.

We live in a rapidly changing and often frightening world—one where 11 young people commit suicide each day, where children take guns to school, where homicide is the leading cause of death among minority teens and where a shameful number of children live in poverty.

And still many national and state leaders insist that the job of the schools is to increase academic rigor. In direct opposition, I will argue that the first job of the schools is to care for our children. We should educate all of our children not only for competence but also for caring. Our aim should be to encourage and promote the growth of competent, caring, loving, and lovable human beings.

We need a radical change in both curriculum and teaching to be able to reach and support all children, not just the ones who fit our conception of “college and career” ready.

Please don’t misread what I am saying. Academic standards absolutely have a place in education and in our schools. It is useful for teachers and school leaders to have a general framework for what students should know and when they should know it. That being said, the concept of rigorous standards has been perverted into a “one-size-fits-few” system that uses tests to place an arbitrary value on children.  The implicit message to children is meet the standard by passing our tests and you have value. If you fail to meet the standard—you’re either dumb or lazy and you’re clearly not as valuable as other children.

So, what is the solution? There are other ways to promote excellence in our schools while holding students, teachers, and administrators accountable. In my next post, I will present a different direction for developing 21st century standards, one that celebrates human diversity and focuses on desired qualities of the mind, not just knowledge of specific content and subjects.


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