Advances in technology have enabled personalization in almost every facet of our lives. Why do we cling so steadfastly to a standardized approach to education?
In the current educational system, a child’s birthdate determines the grade level in which she is enrolled. That grade level determines the performance standards she must meet, the courses she will take, and how many minutes of instruction in each content area she will receive. Her teachers will do their best to differentiate instruction to meet her needs, but the structure of school is standardized. Standardized not personalized.
One need not look far to see examples of personalization in our society. Enter your style preferences into an online application, and a customized set of outfits comes to your home. Shop online for a few minutes, and your email immediately displays ads based on your shopping habits. Medical researchers are improving cell therapy to customize treatment for an individual’s cells. Streaming movies, TV shows, and music ensures you have choices to match your interests whenever you want and wherever you want.
It is not far-fetched to imagine schools that are personalized, not standardized. Consider an elementary school where students enter and are grouped based on their performance instead of age. They move at their own pace and take required tests when they are ready. Success would build more success. There would not be a need for intervention or remediation, as instruction would be personalized. What keeps elementary schools from using this approach? Mandated assessments, curriculum, and fear of a new paradigm. The “we have always done it this way” syndrome. And it isn’t just elementary schools, it is middle and high school as well.
Some teachers are beginning to shake this syndrome. They are striving to personalize instruction for their students and to give them choices. Technology makes this easier, but their ability to truly personalize instruction is limited by the standardized structures imposed on them.
In Frederick County, we are trying to transform the high school experience through LYNX. Gradually, we are moving to competency-based education and allowing students more choice. We are emphasizing experiential learning and real-world opportunities. Yet, it is hard to completely escape the structure of required courses and state-mandated testing. But, we persist.
Standardization of educational structures worked for the industrial age. It is not the best way to approach education for this generation of students. We need to drastically change the way we do school. One size does not fit all.