Standards in Education: Pink Collar Jobs, Farming in Bulgaria and NETS

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.

VIRGINIA HISTORY AND SOCIAL SCIENCE STANDARDS OF LEARNING CURRICULUM FRAMEWORK 2008

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.

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* 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.  
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About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
This entry was posted in COETAIL @YIS, Technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Standards in Education: Pink Collar Jobs, Farming in Bulgaria and NETS

  1. alexguenther says:

    Just read that framework. Depressing.

    It could literally be a mimeographed collection of the “chapter review” pages from my 9th grade US History textbook, except with a rather sadly transparent attempt to puff up the achievements of people from Virginia, and an absurd add-on or two at the end in order to seem hip (I guess… What the heck? “The Reagan Revolution”? Seriously?)

    I also like how they’re not afraid to use fantastically archaic language, like referring to America as “her”, or to mandate that students learn about “American Indians” and “Gypsies”. You can see the words and viewpoints of history books from 50 years ago peeking through on every page.

    And it’s so LINEAR. It’s like being trapped on a ride that takes you through Jurassic Park, but never being allowed to raise the bar and see anything for yourself. It’s like telling students to memorize all the posts on our country’s Facebook wall but not to click on any of the links. It’s to be expected in a course on US history, of course, but it’s just so claustrophobic. I think this is why I always thought I would rather be an English teacher than a History teacher – I grew up thinking of History as “that class where we read the textbook and then do a chapter review and short essay test”.

  2. I literally just responded to a post on the flipped classroom about how history teachers refuse to give up content. Everything is important. Everything must be taught. Can’t leave out anyone’s personal favorite topic. Or the battle their great-grandpa fought in. I hadn’t looked at the framework since I left and I can’t remember how I ever taught all of this stuff.
    One side-note…at times I taught this framework in conjunction with IB History of Americas. My IB kids struggled with some of the multiple choice. While the content was pretty easy (if vast), they found the questions loaded and struggled to just choose one answer. They could write a beautiful analytical argument about why the Cold War ended. But they couldn’t decide what president ended it when in multiple choice format (Reagan? Bush? Nixon? Depends on what historian you are reading). Depressing to tell them not to think too much about the answer.
    And luckily I never had to teach the Reagan Revolution. I don’t know if I could have done it.

  3. Kim Cofino says:

    I really like your point about not pushing ourselves beyond the lowest benchmark. I think that is such a huge problem in a standards-based system. When we’re enthusiastic and excited about a topic, we’ll push to the highest level, when it’s something we don’t personally value, we’ll just barely scrape by. How can we ensure that students are having the learning experiences that we (in this course) know are valuable, without making it a fence people have to jump? We can’t expect everyone to just suddenly become as enthusiastic as you, but it’s also not ok to just let people not do certain things just because they might not like it. No answers, only more questions.

    • Good intentions with standards, but they really don’t inspire enthusiasm. And barely lead to people scraping by. Part of it is getting people to buy-in to a system (tech/curriculum/pedagogy) This can be by building a critical mass of people who are excited about something. Or exposing people to research. But also struggle with when to create buy-in and when to just tell people to do it. Which is one of the many reasons I’m not in admin, because I don’t know where that line is.

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