Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Education Opinion

Standardization & Professionalism in Teaching & Leadership

By Justin Baeder — February 04, 2011 1 min read


Reader Steve Peha emailed me today with a great response to my previous post that I will share (with his permission) in its entirety:

Mr. Baeder, I enjoyed reading your piece today on curriculum. But something you said struck me in a rather visceral way and I wonder if you would consider it here: The strength of such a system is that it actually specifies when and how each concept and skill will be taught. The realities of schooling may prevent students from experiencing exactly this scope and sequence of instruction, but it's better than a system in which a patchwork of individual decisions leaves little chance that students will master all of the content in the standards. Imagine that you are a talented principal in Seattle and that your job consists of little more than doing what the state has written in a book for you to do. Everything that is important in your work is specified in such a way that you know when and what to do; your job is effectively standardized and is no different than the job of any other principal in your state. Does this seem like a very respectful and satisfying way to treat a professional like yourself? Does it encourage you to go the extra mile or to make the most of your talents? Does it even encourage you to develop new talents knowing that at any time your state can tell you not to use them? And what if you're a writer for EdWeek and the publisher specifies when and how each concept you write about will be written? Not very good either, I would imagine. Yet this this is exactly what most people get excited about when it comes to standards for teachers. Only those lowest on the economic totem pole in our society are treated this way in their work. It's certainly true that one's favorite Starbucks barista has to do exactly what's specified in the "standards" of the employee manual. And I doubt that my postman or FedEx delivery guy has much freedom either. But as someone who finds the greatest thrill of teaching to be assessing a group of kids, figuring out exactly what they need, and giving each one exactly the right thing at exactly the right time, I can think of no more demeaning state of affairs in teaching than being told "when and how each concept and skill will be taught." For one thing, there's no way a group of people who've never met or the students I'm working with can predict the correct scope and sequence for an entire class with any accuracy years in advance. There's a difference, I think, between being a "teacher" and being a "curriculum delivery system". As a teacher, I'm recognized, just as you are, as a full-fledged human being. As such, I get to make human decisions about other little humans. This is what makes education meaningful—the connection between my choices and kids' results. As a curriculum delivery system, I'm no better than a computer—and, of course, no more emotionally invested than a computer would be in kids' outcomes. After all, with no control over what I do, I have little incentive to take any ownership in how things turn out, right? Don't like my test scores? Just "reboot" me and try again. Putting yourself in this same situation—as a principal whose boss in Seattle has specified literally everything you're supposed todo on any given day by standardizing your job—what is it, exactly, that you find personally so attractive about this approach? What if you come up with a terrifically effective way to coach teachers in your school? What if you come up with a unique schedule model? What if you find better, richer, and more dynamic curriculum that is more suited to the particular needs of the kids in your community? Aren't these the things that make it exciting to be a principal? I'm not writing here to be "cheeky" as the Brits might say. I, and many other educators, are sincerely wrestling with this issue. With each passing year, we find ourselves doing less "teaching" and more "curriculum delivery". I guess the camel's back-breaking straw for me came last month when a national board certified teacher told me she'd been forced by her district to read her lessons on US History from a script as part of her school's approach to adhere to standards. Needless to say, she's already begun looking for another career. As she put it, "My kids are in 11th grade. They can read the script just as well as I can. So if I just gave them the script, there wouldn't be any need for me to teach." I realize this is an extreme case. But there are many more that are similar. I know many principals, too, for whom the joy of their work is in the strategizing and execution of building a fine staff and seeing to the academic care of their students in ways that match their personal talents and inspiration. Surely, the principalship is the wrong place for standardization. Why, then, do so many people think the classroom is? Thanks, Steve Peha

I will reply in a separate post, but wanted to share Mr. Peha’s comments on their own for discussion. Clearly this is an important issue, and I find Mr. Peha’s thinking on it compelling and thought-provoking.

The opinions expressed in On Performance are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

BASE Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Director of Information Technology
Montpelier, Vermont
Washington Central UUSD
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Director of Athletics
Farmington, Connecticut
Farmington Public Schools

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read