“Standardization” is Not a Dirty Word

January 24, 2013

The reviews are in — in 2013, inequality is out, and equality is in.

“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president,” President Obama began on Monday morning, “we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.

“What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today we continue a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing. That while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.”

Those of us who work to improve American public education no doubt heard his words through a certain lens. Indeed, public education has always been — and remains — unequal, inequitable, and incomplete (as I have written here, here and here). Unless we begin behaving drastically different, so it will remain.

If you want illuminating statistics about the extent of this inequality, check out this video from the National Civil Rights Museum. And if you want something to chew on, consider this: standardization, as a word, is not actually “dirty” in and of itself. Indeed, standardization is a useful way to ensure quality control across a system.

Education Equity: Education is a Civil Right

The problem is this: here in the United States, the thing we have chosen to make uniform in order to ensure quality control are content standards. (I’m not opposed to content standards per se, though it seems somewhat anachronistic at this particular point in human history.) By contrast, in Finland, they chose to standardize two other things: school funding, and teacher preparation.

What would happen if we followed suit? Might we put ourselves in a better position to fulfill the lofty aspirations of Obama’s second inaugural address?

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Sam Chaltain

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Sam Chaltain

Sam Chaltain is a DC-based writer and education activist. He works with schools, school districts, and public and private sector companies to help them create healthy, high-functioning learning environments.  Earlier in his career he taught high school English and History in the NYC public...