In 1928, the leader of a very large country, in order to improve the over all economic vitality of the country, established output norms. Output norms are pre-established levels of performance that people were expected to achieve. Although not based on any scientific basis, they became a way of measuring the performance of people in various organizations. People were told that the overall economy of the country would be affected if these output or performance levels were not reached. Their new country wouldn’t be able to compete with other nations.
In this system, people were told that their hard work would payoff down the road, if they would reach these output norms.
However, managers and their assistants were rewarded with bonuses and other perks if their organization achieved these output norms.
To encourage competition, and to motivate them, the state set up league tables comparing output scores, and rewarded those organizations that reached or exceeded output norms, and punished those organizations that didn’t meet stated performance levels. In some cases, managers and many workers were fired, and replaced by new recruits. Worse happened, but I won’t go into that here.
Although it was rare if the predetermined output norms were reached, the leaders pushed harder, and over time raised the bar by increasing output norm levels. This only made it more difficult for people to reach. But, people were told that they would reap rewards in the future if they would only work harder.
No One Was Left Behind
In 2002, a leader of another very large country established a similar plan to get people to work harder, and make sure no one was left behind. Instead of using output norms, the government set high standards and put into place measurable goals for student performance in schools. Individual norms or outcomes would improve if students worked harder. Teachers and their administrators were responsible for students reaching these pre-established norms.
In some states, managers (principles and superintendents) were given bonuses based on student performance on end of year tests.
In low performing organization, managers and teachers were fired, and replaced with managers and new recruits supplied by Teach for America, an organization that trains teachers in a 5-week summer camp.
In 1928, Joseph Stalin instituted the first of a series of 5-year plans to raise the economic productivity of the USSR. In 1991, the Soviet System collapsed.
In 2002, George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, setting in motion an accountability system not very different from the thinking embedded in the 5-year plan model. In 2014, the NCLB, and the Obama Race to the Top Plan have not collapsed, but have come under increasing scrutiny. The output norms required by law and the turnaround plans to increase production in Americas schools does not appear to be succeeding.
We are taking education down the wrong road. We have used the accountability system based on student test scores as a measure of the productivity or output that schools achieve. We have turned students into numbers, and indeed, we have forgotten that education should be about uncovering student aspirations, and goals, and not simply to define them as a number on a test.
We’ve convinced the public that if we don’t improve the productivity of students as measured in test scores, then the national economy will suffer, and the nation won’t be able to compete globally.
What are we really doing with our students?
Disclaimer: From 1981-2000, I collaborated with American and Soviet teachers, administrators, and researchers and during that time watched and participated in remarkable changes in which the Soviet system collapsed as a result of the Russian revolution of 1991. The Soviet system of education was based on a planned national curriculum. Schools however, beginning in the late 1980s, began to secure more local autonomy in the curriculum. In the U.S, especially beginning in 1983, American schools began to lose more of its local control, and by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, curriculum was standardized by the establishment of The Common Core Standards, and national tests. Are we repeating history?