One Size Does Not Fit All

Since the State of the Union (SOTU), I have been thinking about the the promises underlying the future of education. I read a blog post, discovered by Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post, that was written by Yong Zhao, presidential chair and associate dean for global education at the University of Oregon’s College of Education. While the rhetoric of SOTU in regards to education had me applauding, it also made me think about how educators and administrators are going to implement policies that demand measurement of achievement from test-based results , but also teach innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity to students (as somewhat implied and reiterated during the President’s speech). The blog post mentioned earlier, drums up some additional questions of how this could be possible, and also details what was ‘wrong’ with the rhetoric of education reform during the SOTU.

Read: “It makes no sense”: A dissection of Obama’s Education View

Interesting Quote from the blog: “To encourage American innovation starts with innovative and creative people. But a one-size-fits-all education approach, standardized and narrow curricula, tests-driven teaching and learning, and fear-driven and demoralizing accountability measures are perhaps the most effective way to kill innovation and stifle creativity.”

I agree with Mr. Zhao about one-size-fits-all policy. In a paper written for my governance class in my public administration program, I explore the history federal standard-setting interventions in education and examine the failure of one-size-fits-all standardized programs. In my paper, I state:

“While the one-size-fits-all mentality is a great concept, it has not taken into affect that children, and all people, learn at different capacities. It is generally understood in the educator’s world that “each individual child required a specific set of educational programs and services to achieve the desired educational outcomes for that child” (Baker & Green, 2008, p. 211). Therefore their expectations of what a standard really is and how to implement those standards may be different from the expectation imposed by federal and state governments.

In fact, Reigeluth (1997) suggests “government leaders seem more interested in improving U.S students’ world rankings, which requires far more than ensuring the attainment of basic skills” (para 6). This pressure to perform has spurred the main controversy regarding what educational goals should really be and how the should be attained.”

There are several other texts that talk about how one-size-fits-all policy and program implementation does not work the way we would hope. The fact is, there is not one silver bullet answer to solve the ‘education crisis’ in America. The school system is not set up in a simple way and therefore simple solutions or one bill, is not going to fix anything. The system is complex, and solutions are going to be case-by-case. It is important for states to determine where their issues are, and recognize that each district is going to have different needs. Making umbrella bills fashioned because of national trend is not going to help us reach our educational goals.

In my paper, it states: “Jacoby (2010), reported that the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation concluded that: “Most states’ standards were ‘mediocre-to-bad….They are generally vague politicized, and awash in wrongheaded fads and nostrums. With few exceptions, states have been incapable (or unwilling) to set clear, coherent standards’” (para. 3).

The government has unconsciously created requirements that induce a sense of pressure for states, therefore affecting the true outcomes of student achievement, teacher development and raising the bar for education. Baker & Green (2008) suggest that while the standards may be set very low in each individual state that “the state’s most vulnerable children will be guaranteed only sufficient opportunity to achieve meaningless quality of education, while others obtain far more and are better positioned for access to high education and the work force” (p. 214).”

In addition, my paper states: “What has happened throughout the school systems of the United States, by and large, is that the voices of thoughtful educators who understand the richness of child development have been eclipsed by the hypnotizing drumbeat of those claiming to have a simpler answer: if we can test each child, we can help each child. (Dodge, 2009, p. 6).”

While the quote above shares a more radical point of view, my conclusion is that there is not going to be a simple answer to ‘fix’ education.

Do I agree that we could provide a better education for our students? Yes, and not by imposing one-size-fits-all solutions, but by allowing more innovation in teaching students.

Another profound quote from Mr. Zhao’s article “What America really needs is to capitalize on its traditional strengths—a broad definition of education, an education that respects individuality, tolerates deviation, celebrates diversity. America also needs to restore faith in its public education, respects teacher autonomy, and trusts local school leaders elected or selected by the people.”

Read my paper: Government Intervention in Education Policy: Responsibility of Developing Standards

Yong Zhao: website and blog

Follow Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss: Answer Sheet