Whose Standards Are They? Phil Schlechty on Standards.

This week, I am privileged once again to spend some time with Phil Schlechty at a Schlechty Center conference in Dallas. This morning, Phil's brief keynote was on standards. Here are my notes from the speech:

To blaze a trail in education, you have to go places that no one else is going, but you cannot go blindly - you need direction. In education, many think direction comes from "standards." According to Phil, standards can be one source of direction, but standards should not dictate action. Standards should point us in a direction, but not mandate how we get there. A standard is simply a proposition.

Phil went on to say that in the United States, we've confused standards with test scores. When we say, "we're going to raise standards", what we're really saying is we want to raise test scores. Phil says, using this scheme, the problem with education today is that "kids are marking the wrong answers."

Because of that, we begin teaching to the test by teaching students in the "format" of the test. Given that, are students learning, or are they learning to take a test? This has all led to accountability turing into "accountabilism" where we let accountability take over our action. It boxes us into a corner to teach a specific way.

Phil contends that standards should be written as goals that provide direction for teachers and students. "Students should be able to read and analyze Shakespearean literature" provides goals. "Students must read Romeo and Juliet during their 10th grade year" mandates action.

Teachers know their students best. For example, a third grade teacher knows who in her class cannot read. They don't need a test score to tell them that. We don't need "accountabilty standards" to tell us that. But, what we need is for those teachers to be accountable. If they know who cannot read, they need to do something to get them to where they need to be. And, they can do it!

We have to trust our teachers. We have to provide direction and get out of their way so they can do what we've hired them to do.

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