Sunday, January 4, 2009


Note: If you have ZERO interest in education, the ramblings of teachers, or any such aspect...OR if you're one of those ridiculous individuals that feel teachers are under worked and overpaid, then don't continue reading. However, if you're remotely interested in the current educational climate, are a teacher who needs to read a good venting, or have a gripe with the NCLB legislation, please read on. The following essay is a culminating piece in the author's study of designing effective curriculum while also attempting to meet today's standards-based educational movement and its focus on the learning of America's students.

The current educational landscape is complicated with standards, teacher accountability, and the high-stakes assessment. Within such an environment, there are challenges to designing effective curriculum, instruction, and assessment. In this standards- based atmosphere, scores on state tests are generally climbing (Jehlen, 2009). Yet, Campbell’s Law states that scores always rise when the stakes on a particular test are raised (Jehlen, 2009). Therefore, “if you focus on teaching kids to correctly answer problems that use a particular question format…students will do better and better-that is, until someone asks them a question in a different way, or measures a different set of skills (Jehlen, 2009, p. 30).
Still, with NCLB up for renewal or change, it would take a special type of person to argue against the main purpose of the legislation: improving the education of all students in America. It was the belief behind the law that was arguable, basis of the act is confidence that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education. Yet, the former Assistant Secretary of Education under the Bush administration, Susan Neuman stated, “The impetus for change built into NCLB was to effectively ‘shame’ schools into improvement (Jehlen, 2009, p. 30).” Such a confession by a type government official is shocking. Regardless, with the Obama administration about to begin, teachers must take notice of its impact on NCLB.
First, standards-based education is the current “best-practice” regardless of the effectiveness of NCLB. It attempts to quantify learning. This allows teachers, students, and districts the opportunity to measure student learning in clear (read: easily manipulated) statistics. More importantly, research on school and teacher effectiveness indicated that teachers have a greater impact than the school on student learning. Therefore, teachers must implement effective instruction, curriculum design and assessment balanced with a mastery of classroom management.
Curriculum design, instruction, and assessment all are focused through the lens of today’s educational standards. In any content area, striving to devote equal time to each standard is still not likely. Yet, the benefit of the standards-based education movement is that it has forced teachers to examine the standards. When George W. Bush asked, “Is our child learning (Jehlen, 2009, p. 30)?” the answer seems to be positive.Unfortunately, Bush peaked as a president within the first year of his administration. Fortunately, improvement is evident, and the question has been answered. Best of all, it has forced veteran teachers to “[get] out of their silos and [work] together to help all children achieve (Jehlen, 2009, p. 30.)”
In examining the standards, teachers can develop highly effective curriculum and instruction. Two of the most effective practices to help teachers adapt to the standards-based approach are presented by Marzano (2001) and Reeves (Reeves, Laureate, 2003). These include revamping the taxonomy used to evaluate student learning and identification of power standards.
Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy (of learning) is helpful in that it defined how students develop an attain and use content knowledge. This process is the basis of most standards today. Marzano (2001) took that a step further, creating a taxonomy of educational objectives focusing on how students process information. This process alters the focus of education from “if students are learning” to “how students are learning.” This can only benefit students, as a teacher can not only assess attainment of knowledge, but can alter their instructional and assessment methods to provide students with engaging scenarios to demonstrate their understanding of the material and standards. This will be an effective transformation in any teacher's classroom.
Additionally, the change to standards-based education forces teachers to fully examine the standards. Change is necessary, as meeting the overabundance of standards is not likely. An effective teacher needs to identify power standards to streamline the curriculum, instruction, and assessment of his class. Power standards are instrumental to the curriculum because they provide for an enduring understanding beyond the class, are applicable to other areas, and these standards are necessary for advancing in a student’s education. Racing through the standards provides coverage by default (Reeves, Laureate, 2003). However, through design, a teacher can effectively address the needs of his students by embracing the power standards (Reeves, Laureate, 2003).
Lastly, instruction must change. Teachers must develop a full repertoire of instructional strategies to best benefit students. “Standards-based instruction and differentiated learning can be compatible approaches in today’s classroom (Tomlinson, 2000, p. 6).” Once teacher identifies power standards within his curriculum, he must make the change to meet the needs of each of his students in meeting those standards.
A daunting task, this is, indeed. However, it is not impossible. The best way to determine how to differentiate is through the use of readiness and interest profiles. Students complete these profiles, and the teacher can determine the instructional methods and types of tasks best suited for each learner to meet the curricular standards. Mastery of multiple styles is necessary to be effective, but teachers should develop comfort with a few strategies, and then build upon that educational arsenal. One thing is for certain, even for veteran teachers, the change will not happen over night. Furthermore, those experienced veterans that grumble about “doing this for years” are not focusing the heart of the issue. They have not focused on the standards, but rather content, and a change is necessary to remain effective.
Readiness and interest profiles are tools teachers can use to help differentiate. In doing so, the teacher scaffolds the learning of more students to meeting and exceeding today’s standards. Nobody would argue that the best possible education will help America’s students become successful and productive citizens. The volume, complexity, and ambiguity of today’s standards place increasing demands on teachers. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Teachers of America can become highly effective by employing these methods and beliefs in their classrooms. These changes take time, but the effective teacher finds ways to reach his students. Though our patience may be tested by the local, state, and federal demands on our time, the goal of public education in America has never changed. The American dream is to provide for the next generation an opportunity better than those of the previous generation. Our American education system has always attempted, and continues to make its goal the production of successful and productive individuals.
While only a fool would attempt to bring every single individual to the same high level, an effective teacher can turn standards into powerful learning tools. In doing so, teaching in America might have changed its focus, but it has not changed its goal. Utilizing the modern pedagogy within America’s current standards-based movement, teachers can hope to help every individual student strive for and reach his or her highest level of success. Hopefully, that will become the legacy of NCLB.

Bloom, B S (ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the classification of
educational goals – Handbook I: Cognitive Domain New York: McKay
Jehlen, A. (2009, JAN/FEB). Is NCLB Working?. NEA Today, 27 (4), 30-31.
Marzano, R.J. (2001). Designing a new taxonomy of educational objectives. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Reeves, D.(Presenter). (2003). Understanding the Learner [Video series
episode]. In Designing Curriculum and Instruction with the Learner in Mind. Baltimore: Laureate.
Tomlinson, C. (2000). Reconcilable differences? Standards-based teaching and differentiation. Educational Leadership, 58(1), 6-11.

No comments: