I have taught students in Brownsville, Texas that the moderate climate and fertile soil of Bulgaria allows for the farming of vineyards, roses, and tobacco. I have also taught students in Northern Virginia that nursing, secretarial work, and teaching are so-called pink-collar jobs*. I did both of these things about a week before a test that was being externally assessed. I may have said the soul-sucking words, “Remember it for the test and then forget it.” Someone else made the standards and my students were going to be tested on these esoteric things that someone far away from them thought were important. In Virginia, this content was taught for a high stakes test.
My students needed to pass the test to graduate and my school needed them to pass so that we wouldn’t be labeled as failing**. One of the many reasons I became an international school teacher was I was tired of having my teaching shaped by a 65 page document created by people who would never meet my kids and seemed to think that everything that ever happened in American history could be taught in one year***. So while I believe vehemently about the importance of curriculum planning, I am extremely dubious when I have refer to standards created by someone far away for my classroom.
As I continue to delve into technology in the classroom, I went to look at the NETS standards with trepidation. The organization that created these standards (The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) states:
Educational technology standards are the roadmap to teaching effectively and growing professionally in an increasingly digital world. Technology literacy is a crucial component of modern society. In fact, the globalizing economy and technological advances continue to place a premium on a highly skilled labor force
With my prior experience with standards, I expected to see pages of bullets saying things like, “Students will be able to define wiki, blog, and ning.” Or, “Students will be able to explain the dangers that exist online.” But as I looked at the standards I was shocked that there was only one page of standards. The NETS only have six standards, with only four bullet points each. And the standards ask educators to teach ways to think about technology. And to use technology to create and collaborate with others. The standards allow for exploration and for it to be directed by the teacher who actually knows the students. These are standards that support my teaching and can challenge me to be more thoughtful about how I integrate technology into the classroom.
However, I am still concerned that if we use standards created by other we can lose the flexibility that we need to succeed as teachers. How will assess that we are actually reaching these standards being set? Also, the emphasis on a “highly skilled labor force” concerns me as it reminds me of the arguments for school reforms in the industrial era. And finally, I worry that if we define ourselves by standards, we will not push ourselves beyond the lowest benchmark.
——————-* I had never heard of the term pink-collar jobs before seeing it in the sylabus. While I am all for teaching the changing role of women in America, having my profession and gender being downgraded to a single bullet point felt demeaning to both. And yes, this term was on the test. ** People much smarter than me can talk about high-stakes testing (Alfie Kohn is one of my favorites). But the Virginia tests were called the Standards of Learning. The acronym, SOL, always felt unfortunate and appropriate. ***Here is the link to the syllabus for US/Virginia Grade 11 History. I taught with wonderful people who continue to do amazing things in their classroom despite this absurd document. But if you want to be disheartened as an educator take a look at this framework. The emphasis on content over skills is shocking. And if you love history, this is depressing because it turns history a trivia game instead of something rich and meaningful.