Here at the CoSN conference in San Diego there is much talk about the Common Core standards that are being implemented in the US, and how a strict adherence to meeting these can and is stifling creativity and flexibility in educaiton. The same debate is going on in NZ over the implementation of national standards. My own view is that national standards can be helpful to our education system, if the main purpose is to provide general guidelines about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school. Their purpose should be to act as an aspiration defining what schools are expected to do, not not as a demand for compliance by teachers. Sadly, the latter perspective currently dominates in practice.
During my brief time here in San Diego I have had the privilege of visiting two local schools, High Tech High and The Met School. Both of these schools place a high priority on preparing students for life, and have stong links with community and business as a part of their curriculum. At the Met, for instance, students spend two days per week in their 'internships' working in local businesses to apply and further develop the things they are learning in school in an authentic context. Both schools still meet their requirements for assessing students against the national standards, but each works with a more aspirational focus for their students rather than being driven by the compliance agenda.
The video at the top of this post provides a cynical illustration of what can happen if we allow our education system to be driven by the standards agenda, rather than using a standards framework as a guide to what students should knoe and be able to do as they progress through school.