Reaction: A Critical Look at “The Official Language of Literacy”
of American business and industry has led to the realization that the
addition, the skills that high school graduates do have seem not to be well
matched to the needs of the workplace. A
Educational associations as well as many state departments of education have responded to the skill standards movement by developing education standards. Probably the best known and leader of these efforts is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (Malcom, 1993). Similarly, the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English have created joint standards for English language arts (1996).
Standards state what a person upon completion of study should know and be able to do. Strong concerns were expressed about who is setting the standards and the sources of knowledge from which the standards are drawn. All presenters seemed to recognize that the standards-setting process is an inherently political one.
While it may appear that business is controlling the standards-setting agenda in the schools, and in fact, business has pushed passage of the National Skill Standards Act of 1994 (1994) in setting skill standards for workers in various occupational areas, businesses have not been heavily involved in setting standards for schools. Similarly, educators have not been closely involved with most of the attempts of the business community to establish occupational skill standards, creating a gulf between the content of the skill standards and the curricula of the public schools. In fact, one criticism of the school standards is that they do not relate closely enough to the workplace. In other words, school seems to be its own workplace that operates in a vacuum from the rest of life (as well as the workplace).
However, the process of setting standards does appear to come from the business culture. Randlett cautions that this use of business and market metaphors in standards-setting turns people into products—that standards fail to convey special relationship between teachers and students. If children are “products,” and standards are to control the quality of the products, then standards can regulate teachers and instructional content. Parents who are informed about standards can demand more accountability from teachers and schools. Do standards, then, run counter to having parents involved in school if parents are there to judge the curriculum and the teachers in relation to the standards?
Furthermore, it seems that standards seem to be attempting to make the curriculum “teacher proof” like the old teaching machines. If teachers are provided the standards that children must master at a given level, they won’t spend precious time on activities such as reading award-winning children’s literature. In fact, Cloer’s examples of “ubiquitous vignettes” from the South Carolina English Language Arts Framework illustrate the lack of imagination and disregard for children’s literature that can make standards seem trivial and simplistic.
Much of the discussion in the Problems Court centered around the concern for diversity. Standards, by their nature, appear to eliminate (or at least ignore) differences and diversity. This seems hard to accept in an increasingly diverse society. It could be suggested that standards may be part of a political agenda to disempower minorities who are becoming increasingly more vocal. That is probably not the ostensible intent, but it may in fact become the outcome.
Perhaps standards are best left as a “veritable slinky” (Cloer) that can fit into any school, community, or culture. Perhaps they best serve the function of providing general guidance while letting local school communities provide the specifics. Perhaps educators should recognize that it is “extremely difficult to translate these (standards) into exemplary pragmatic, pedagogical models.” (Cloer). Perhaps our role as educators and researchers should be to advocate for this moderate position, recognizing that standards are here to stay, at least for a while.
International Reading Association & National
Council of Teachers of English (1996). Standards for the English language arts.
National Council on Education Standards and
Testing. (1992). Raising standards for American education.
National Skill Standards Act of 1994. (1994). Title V--National Skill Standards Board.