Doug Johnson, author of the Blue Skunk Blog, has some interesting posts yesterday and today about advocating for digital literacy MANDATES as part of No Child Left Behind. He quotes Don Knezek’s (ISTE CEO) eWeek article on 2006 edtech policy wishes. Doug contends (among other things):

Information and technology skills will not be taught (even at a rudimentary level) by all teachers to all kids until they are mandated, by either the state or feds.

This IS a key educational policy and reform issue: How can we bring about broad-scale, positive changes in classrooms around the nation and the world? But I have a counter-cultural response for Doug and anyone else who cares to read/listen: More standards and stricter accountability are NOT the answers to the educational challenges we face!!! Digital literacy is not all we need to promote in the classroom– good teaching and learning led by empowered educational artists are the real keys. Digital literacy is just part of that equation.

My posts from July 11th and August 16th advocating for “educational deregulation” touch on these issues, as does my podcast from December 31st. If you read many entries in my blog or listen to my podcast, you know I am a vocal advocate for digital literacy– I share much of the passion and endgame desires of both Doug Johnson and Don Knezek. My differences with both of them, however, are based primarily on MEANS rather than ENDS.

Summarized, let me say this: Our current educational policy trends have been undeniably in the directions of increased standards and increased accountability. Yes, we all want teacher expectations of student performance to improve, and the actual knowledge and skills students acquire and refine in schools to get even better. But more government regulations which lead to even greater pressure and stress on students and teachers is NOT the answer.

What kind of school do you want your own children or grandchildren attending? I guarantee for me, it is not one that is freaking out about preparing students to take tests. I want teachers who are passionately differentiating the curriculum to challenge students and stretch them beyond their own expectations. Of course we want our students to learn how to think more critically, be better communicators, develop their own creativity, and learn how to ASK GOOD QUESTIONS as well as they can provide answers to someone else’s questions. But how do we get students to do that? I guarantee the answer is not through giving teachers even more curricular mandates, and making students take yet more tests.

Have you read “How Children Fail” by John Holt? He taught in the 1950s, but much of what he wrote is still so applicable to us today. Consider the following quotation, which I included in my TCEA presentation from last year, “Luddite Literacy: Digital Tools or Toys for the 21st Century Classroom?”:

Practically everything we do in school tends to make children answer-centered. In the first place, right answers pay off. Schools are a kind of temple of worship for “right answers.” and the way to get ahead is to lay plenty of them on the altar. In the second place, the chances are good that teachers themselves are answer centered, certainly in mathematics, but by no means only there. What they do, they do because this is what they were or are told to do, or what the book says to do, or what they have always done. In the third place, even those teachers who are not themselves answer-centered will probably not see, as for many years I did not, the distinction between answer-centerness and problem-centeredness, far less understand its importance. Thus their ways of teaching children, and, above all, the sheer volume of work they give them, will force children into answer-directed strategies, if only because there isn’t time for anything else. I have noticed many times that when the workload of the class is light, kids are willing to do some thinking, to take time to figure things out: when the workload is heavy, the “I-don’t-get-it” begins to sound, the thinking stops, they expect us to show them everything. Thus one ironical consequence of the drive for so-called higher standards in schools is that the children are too busy to think.

We need educational deregulation, my friends, not more regulation. I am not declaring myself a libertarian with this statement, merely a member of the Luddite Literati.

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5 Responses to Standards and Accountability are not the answer

  1. Wesley Fryer says:

    David Warlick’s comments about this (see comment #3) are right on the money. Authentic assessment IS “messy” and much more difficult to do than standards-based or criterion-based tests that are predominantly multiple choice or true/false. But that is precisely the sorts of assessments we should be doing in schools today. My thought after reading David’s comment is: AMEN.

  2. James Fryer says:


    On reading this post, I find that my worries on the state of our education system are somewhat lessened. It is encouraging to me to know there are educators like yourself striving for a better approach to assist students in becoming critical thinkers and problem solvers.

    I thank you for your insight and will be following your posts in an effort to further my own education.

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    You are most welcome, James. Nice last name, btw! There are many, many passionate educators who care deeply about the children in our schools and are working hard every day to make a positive difference. I think we are engaged in an epic struggle to redefine our educational system which is a task much larger than any of us can tackle alone. The proper focus I think, therefore, is on the classroom environment in which we each teach. We can all work toward making small differences. And small differences, when added together, can reach a tipping point. 🙂

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  5. […] I heartily agree with these educators across the Atlantic. We need educational deregulation which supports instructional autonomy, rather than further regulations that only add to time-pressure and stress for both teachers and students. I love these quotations from Mary in the article also: Paradoxically the government’s focus on functional maths and English skills was not the way to raise standards in reading and writing. Instead young people needed to be shown the connections between things, through integrated subjects and lessons that related to their local environments. “We say first look at the skills, then at the knowledge constructs you need on which they can be developed,” she said. “The nature of thought is to connect – and we don’t enable our children to connect.” […]

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