There was a revealing convo about National Standards this morning on NatRad with the Educational Institute's president Louise Green who’s agin. The standards, she says “are just way too narrow.” That they’re still “on trial.” That they’re a “judgement” about a “milestone” that lacks the “richness” of something or other.
To be fair, it wasn’t all that coherent [listen here.], especially when she started into the jargon about “OTJs,” “rich judgement,” “assessment tools,” and “learning conversations.”
She then went on to say it was important to look at “not just reading, writing and mathematics.” These represent, said the head of the Educational Institute “a very narrow area of the curriculum.” Which is good to know, don’t you think? That the expert opinion of the head of the state’s Educational Institute thinks reading, writing and mathematics is only a very narrow area of the curriculum.
So, without wanting to be too narrow, I wondered just what her own ideal curriculum might be filled with? Fortunately, she went on to tell us (it was an extremely informative five minutes) blustering on about what would replace standards in her world, about something called “rich reporting,” and things like parent open days, “celebrations of learning,” (the jargon was rich here, I can tell you) and “learning conversations” that, in her mind, are superior to the standards she opposed.
So I looked up the most appallingly jargon-ridden term: “learning conversations,” to discover it described by a similarly mus-minded part of the Ministry of Miseducation as:
Learning that is constructed out of dialogue!? What would that look like? How would you go about that? Here’s how, they say:
Does that look any form of assessment you can recognise? Or even some kind of genuine learning? Why don’t you sit down right now and write down a group/office matrix to track who you’ve had 'learning talks' with today, and learn for yourself exactly how much you get out of it.
You can certainly see, if this is any part of your idea for an idealised curriculum, how you’d object to the idea of any measurable standards at all; and how there’d be very little time left over in your ideal curriculum for the narrow area—sorry, the very narrow area—of reading, writing and mathematics.
Because this is neither decent assessment nor real learning at all, is it. (So no wonder so many children find themselves left out of learning altogether, only to be discovered many years later when they’ve fallen down the cliff.) At best it is only learning about learning. Or even learning about learning about learning. (How very postmodern.) It certainly isn’t learning about the things that make the world tick (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic still being three very important parts of that world) about which most parents are understandably very keen for their children to have mastered.
To those parents, Louise Green of the Educational Institute really has nothing to say.
Consider, by complete contrast, the Montessori early-childhood classroom, where a child’s progress is measured by the materials with which the child is working and becoming competent, leading on to more complex materials comprising more advanced learning, and so on. So, to take just one instance here -- because in every Montessori environment thirty of these experiences will be happening simultaneously every day – if your 6 year old is working with and mastering the Trinomial Cube (above), you will know in some depth just what sort of standard they have reached. We will have both learning and assessment in one; what a thought! And while Louise Green’s children are holding hands and talking to each other about “constructing learning,” your six-year old is setting themselves up to use and understand trinomial equations:
And consider too how much learning about learning about learning new teachers themselves have to learn under Louise’s ideal system. The problem being that the new teachers themselves in this system are selected not because they actually have some area of expertise in which to teach (because, don’t worry, we’ll construct that on our own, thank you very much) but because they have spent three years at unTeaching College learning about learning about learning – where they’re taught only about teaching, even if they actualy have no area of experitse about which to teach) emerging with a piece of paper signed by an assessor so that people like Louise know they have met her own chosen standards. (Ironic, much?)
Contrast this with the approach taken by schools like the Van Damme Academy for example, which makes a point of employing teachers who are recognised experts in their subject, whose job it is to pass on to students that expertise and their delight in the subject.
What a contrast with the blancmange lack of standards espoused by Louise Green and her ilk. I’m no champion of the government’s drive for national standards (see here and here for example). But it’s as easy to see why these practitioners of cognitive child abuse are opposed to them as to see why they resist charter schools, and make it so hard for real Montessori schools to stay open.
Because all of them show them up.
PS: An entertaining 'Quick Draw' introduction to Montessori education [hat tip MMEF]: