CONTEMPLATING EDUCATION REFORM IN TWO PARTS: Part 2

Part 2: Education Reform

In my previous post, I explored the purpose of education as a crucial element in building a foundation for education reform.  I believe the purpose of education should be driven by students – who they are, what they want, where do they want to be – and these pieces of information should be used to identify how to best serve them.  For example, a Native Hawaiian student committed to restoring and revitalizing coastal fishponds interested in engineering and art deserves a curriculum and learning environment maximizing his/her commitments and interests, which means employing a variety of pedagogy and practice, including design-based learning (DBL), just-in-time instruction (JITI), and place-based learning (PBL).  This student would have the opportunity to perpetuate his/her cultural practice, while simultaneously learning and experiencing professional practices of engineering and expressing his/her learning and achievement through art.

Individualized student learning plans pose an issue for many teachers for many reasons.  One of those reasons includes not aligning with and/or containing content learning standards.  Consequently, teachers view individualized or customized curricula as requiring too much work to make it feasible for a classroom of between 20 and 30 students.  Adding to the issue might be teachers’ lacking the knowledge and experience with content standards alignment to curricula.  When contemplating the standards issue, I began wondering about the importance and need for content standards in K-12 education.  In a webinar, Gary Stager (2021) reinforced this contemplation when he shared that Papert “always fought against terrible ideas like a national curriculum and the Common Core” (9:34), which emboldened me to dive into the idea of learning driven by student culture, goals, and interests.

A Tradition of Standards

Western educational traditions began as religious requirements, such as “Puritans … required parents to teach their children to read and also required larger towns to have an elementary school, where children learned reading, writing, and religion” (University of Minnesota, 2016, ch. 16.1, para. 3).  At the culmination of the Revolutionary War, the publishing of textbooks started as first attempts to standardize learning content, and could be considered a first use of content standards.

From an educational reform perspective, content standards have “…three purposes … publicly identifying what is important for schools to teach and for students to be able to demonstrate. … guide … instruction, curriculum, and assessment … providing a map of where the curriculum should go and … to fit the needs of diverse learners.  Finally, … they can guide the allocation of instructional resources” (National Research Council, 1997, p. 114).  Unfortunately, a problem with content standards lies in the differing and varied content standards available for schools.  While content standards tend to have similarities, they vary depending on the publishing institution/organization and specific state needs, which begs the question, what are content standards standardizing?

To understand the breadth of this issue, we can review the content standards for mathematics.  As the chair of the National Governors Association, former Arizona Governor, Janet Napolitano wrote an initiative that focused on improving math and science education.  This became the foundation for what would later be known as the Common Core State Standards.  However, not all states use these standards.  Some states continue to use the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics content standards, while others use their state-specific math content standards developed at the State Executive level for all public schools within the particular state.  When considering independent and parochial schools, these institutions claim their own modified and/or revised versions of a multitude of content standards possibilities.  These variations found for mathematics, can also be found for all other content disciplines, which might translate to not having a truly standardized content area.

A New Tradition for Content Standards

Reigeluth (1997) believed that rather than using content standards “to help make students alike … they can be used as tools … to meet individual student needs” (p. 203).  The diversity of student abilities in learning supports his beliefs about how to use content standards, but beyond the need for meeting individual student needs, what purpose do content standards serve?

The education of Native and Indigenous peoples happened and continues to happen without the need for traditional Western education.  The inherently incorrect idea that Caucasian male colonizers know what is best for the educational and academic advancement of Native and Indigenous peoples is an idea that needs to be squashed.  Native and Indigenous peoples have been educating themselves and their youth for centuries before white colonization, and with this education, they built facilities that withstood natural disasters, attended to medical needs and issues, cultivated flourishing terrestrial and marine agriculture and aquaculture, and traveled vast distances over oceans without modern navigational tools; and these accomplishments represent only a fraction of what Native and Indigenous nations are capable of attaining.

These achievements came without the need for a set of content standards.  Native and Indigenous nations understood how to teach future generations the knowledge and skills necessary for any occupation without needing a written set of instructions.  Through practical experiences and efforts, masters passed on their knowledge and skills to apprentices.  An argument against this method of teaching and learning could be the limited number of apprentices masters could teach, which might have led to the need for large educational institutions teaching common knowledge and skills for a given profession.

Adding colleges to the conversation means thinking about how secondary educational institutions prepare students for success at the post-secondary level.  However, can success in college be completely attributed to demonstrating proficiency in content standards?  I posit that while it might offer some insight into the possible success of a student, it does not paint the whole picture of a student.  Therefore, there might also be some room for revisiting the need for content standards and looking at different options that allow schools to prepare students for specific college and career pathways without adhering to a full list of content standards.

Innumerable Possibilities

My school “prepares students for their futures, whether it be to pursue further education or training, to assume adult roles in their families, careers, and/or communities, and/or to cultivate personal well-being” (Nā Hunaahi, 2021), which means it is our responsibility to prepare students for a variety of future possibilities, which may or may not include traditional Western education.  Consequently, as we work toward accreditation, we are responsible for offering educational and academic opportunities that address the needs of our students, not necessarily the needs of education, as a whole.  As we continue on our journey of providing Native Hawaiian youth with an education they deserve, we continue to ponder and discuss these important issues with our peers and our ancestors.  In the words of Herbert Kane, “there must be another way, if only because there has to be.”

References

Achieve. (n.d.). Developing the standards. From Next Generation Science Standards: https://www.nextgenscience.org/developing-standards/developing-standards

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (n.d.). Development process. From Common Core State Standards Initiative: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/development-process/

Cremin, L. A. (2021, April 30). Horace Mann. From Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Horace-Mann

Khan, B., Robbins, C., & Okrent, A. (2020). The state of U.S. science and engineering 2020. Washington, D. C.: National Science Board.

Lisa, A. (2021, May 10). History of the American education system. From Stacker: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/history-of-the-american-education-system/ss-BB1gzoNK

National Research Council. (1997). Educating one and all: Students with disabilities and standards-based reform. Washington, D. C.: The National Academies Press.

Reigeluth, C. M. (1997). Educational standards: To standardize or to customize learning? The Phi Delta Kappan, 202-206.

University of Minnesota. (2016). Sociology: Understanding and changing the social world. University of Minnesota.

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