Friday, July 15, 2005

Standards - Contradictory Trends in Public Education

There are two apparently contradictory educational trends dominating public education in the last half decade.

One educational trend is that schools are recognizing that children have different learning issues. The number of children being recognized as "exceptional learners" is steadily increasing. Nationwide, 38% of the children in public school are categorized as exceptional learners and the schools are required to provide them with Individualized Education Plans.

A contrasting educational trend is towards rigid standardization of expectations. The NCLB (No Child Left Behind) mandate is to rigidly define standards of performance. The increasing impact of these high-stakes standardized tests as a measure of acceptable student and school performance is focusing everyone on the baseline testable benchmarks. The dire consequences of failing grades to everyone (students not being promoted, teachers & schools & Principals being publicly watched and professionally penalized) moves this educational trend to an intensely personal immediate issue in many places..

These educational trends appear contradictory but they are not. NCLB insists that all children must learn the same basic materials. But how they learn is now being recognized as not a simple one-size-fits-all formula.

So, how to reconcile the need to have individualized instruction while driving towards high standards of performance. Obviously, everyone would like more individualized instruction from the teacher and smaller class sizes. However, this is not likely since budgets are limited and new funds are needed just to hold onto the best teachers, to shrink school size (a clear requirement to scale back the multithousand overly institutional high schools) and extending education to the PreK year. I believe that it's technology which will come to our rescue in reconciling these educational trends.

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