Education Letter to the Editor

National Standards Push Is Built on a ‘Tragic Irony’

March 27, 2007 2 min read

To the Editor:

In response to Rudy Crew, Paul Vallas, and Michael Casserly’s Commentary “The Case for National Standards in American Education” (March 7, 2007):

Two of the central energies in the 20th-century industrial paradigm of social organization were centralization of control and standardization of product. Many industrial nations embraced standardization and centralization in their 20th-century schools. Yet the United States, as a result of its original identity as a union of states and its valuing of local governments, maintained a more diverse ecology of schooling throughout most of the 20th century. Only a few states required any standardization of product, and centralization of control was mostly limited to legal issues.

Given our history, it’s a particularly tragic irony that so many corporate and political leaders have embraced standardization of product and centralization of control in schooling at a time when we are moving from an industrial era to an information, ecological era.

Standards and testing and the No Child Left Behind Act are all pure industrial-era artifacts. Even so, and even as the public is beginning to sense the failure of the federal law, standardizers such as the Commission on No Child Left Behind want all public school teachers in America measured by standardized tests as the only evaluation that matters (“Panel Report Is Latest Rx for NCLB,” Feb. 21, 2007). And centralizers such as Messrs. Crew, Vallas, and Casserly want to give us “rigorous, uniform national standards”—that is, a single orthodoxy of government-mandated knowledge—and, of course, national tests based on this orthodoxy. Both standardizers and centralizers seek to intensify the grip of already antiquated and failing industrial-era energies on our public schools.

These groups radically misunderstand the cultural and social transformations of our time.

Standards and testing and NCLB are failing. One definition of insanity is to take an action that is not working and do it harder, as if that intensification will somehow make it better. What we need to create in our schools is a paradigm of personalization that fits the information era: schools that provide each child with a high-quality, personalized education that encourages young people to make the best of their diverse, individual gifts and to embody historic American values of creativity, innovation, democracy, valuing of diversity, and compassion.

David Marshak

Bellingham, Wash.

A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2007 edition of Education Week as National Standards Push Is Built on a ‘Tragic Irony’