JITE v34n1 - The Standards Have Come

Volume 34, Number 1
Fall 1996

The Standards Have Come

Gary R. Galluzzo
University of Northern Colorado

The purpose of this article is to endeavor to place the standards movement that is occurring within education into a context drawn from outside of education. Much of the work that informs this article is drawn from personal experiences and observations rather than from systematic research. Over the past few years, state and national leaders, educators from all fields and levels, and the lay public have expressed concern over attempts to reconfigure schools toward a more results-oriented enterprise. The "findings" reported in this piece are divided into (a) a public rationale for desiring standards-based education and (b) the perceived promise of standards-based education. These observations are followed by some commentary on what the standards-based approach means for educators.

The Need for Standards

The public views the need for standards from a variety of perspectives. The reasons vary depending upon the point of view, but generally include the following:

Lost Faith

Many people have lost faith in the ability of teachers and schools to deliver students to the workplace prepared to excel on the job. From this perspective, there is a lack of assurance that participation in the schools' programs will guarantee eventual success in the adult workforce. This loss of confidence is fueled additionally by the beliefs that (a) the current configuration of schools is incapable of producing graduates who can meet the increasingly complex demands of the workplace and (b) a significant restructuring of the curriculum is necessary. Voucher programs and the proliferation of state laws allowing creativity in education through charter schools represent two alternative approaches to teaching and school organization that have been spawned, in part, by a loss of faith in existing educational structures. The implementation of standards-based education is seen, by many, as a viable and desirable component of the restructuring process.

The Information Age

New technology has proliferated the volume of information available to an increasingly larger segment of the population. Furthermore, much of this information is being packaged and delivered in engaging and interactive electronic formats. These changes are forcing a reexamination of traditional subject matter content and encouraging exploration of dynamic new approaches to schooling. As a result, what students "need"to know and what they would "like"to know are intermingled, and the boundaries of the traditional curriculum have become blurred. To compound the problem, teacher education is just beginning to grapple with how these changes will impact the preparation of teachers in a rapidly changing educational environment.

Reforms Gone Awry

Many of the reform efforts of the past have come under attack. For example, the concept of critical thinking has been roundly criticized in some quarters as a threat to established values. Competency-based education, and even competency-based teacher education, are viewed as restrictive and reductionistic and thus are being carefully scrutinized. Controversy generated by discussion of issues such as the merits of phonics versus whole language have served to erode public confidence in educators' grasp of what is best for students. The public is growing increasingly more impatient with the penchant for the next "trend-turn-fad."As one Colorado legislator recently lamented, "it shouldn't take ten years to make decisions in education, but it always seems to."Failed reform efforts exact a price, fuel public skepticism, and erode confidence in education and educators.

Low SAT Scores

Headlines proclaiming "SAT Scores Down Again"are difficult to rationalize. They shape public perception and have lasting effects. While considerable evidence to the contrary exists ( Berliner & Biddle, 1995 ), the media has drawn a close cause-and-effect association between SAT scores and school quality.

International Comparisons

When people read that American students consistently score "last out of ten countries"on three-step math problems, it is difficult to convince a skeptical public that there are still a great many teachers who are teaching basic academic skills with a high rate of success. The psychology of international competitiveness is clearly part of the American consciousness. The fear is that our children may not be capable of competing successfully in an increasingly complex global economy.

Product Orientation

Much of the world is product-oriented rather than process-oriented. Certainly, the agrarian and industrially-based economies of the past have been strongly oriented toward the development and manufacture of usable products. Such has not been the case in education where process skills have been viewed as important. The current emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, and inquiry learning represent a process orientation to education. In this climate, the "products"of the system are not always well defined or apparent; that is, educators historically have not been able to define what every child should know and be able to do. Rather, the general belief exists that each student (product) is a result of a series of diverse educational experiences (processes). In fact, evidence indicates that high school teachers may perpetuate that concept ( Duning, 1995 ). In recent years, as the quality of the product has eroded, education as process has come under increased scrutiny. In the 1990s, having all students master the same content seems to provide some assurances that our schools have accomplished something tangible (i.e., there is a product).

Social Promotion

Policy makers, employers, and many educators have become increasingly restless with the Carnegie-based system of education with its emphasis on "seat time" rather than on learning and competence. This has spawned a system of social promotion motivated by a desire to protect the self-esteem of students rather than to ensure learning. Standards, it is argued, would restore a norm of social order and shift the focus to learning and away from a time-based educational paradigm.

Equity vs. Excellence

Some critics of our nation's schools argue that the equity agenda has eroded the excellence agenda. In striving to educate all students, education has "watered down"the education that the talented deserve. This represents a fundamental attack on our historic commitment to democracy that will probably never be resolved; but, nevertheless, needs constant attention ( Soder, 1995 ). This argument asserts that since our schools cannot reach all children, the primary effort should concentrate on meeting the needs of the most capable. Critics charge that teacher education has failed to equip teachers to reach all students without sacrificing one group for another. The current inclusion practices for students with special needs in regular classrooms is another factor that is forcing this agenda.

The Promise of Standards

What do standards promise? Standards appear to hold promise as a mechanism to spark renewal in society and in public education. Standards promise to restore the social order both in schools and in teacher education programs. They clarify what students should know and be able to do in a given curriculum. Simply stated, standards provide the guidelines around which instruction should be designed because they define the content knowledge and skills that practicing professionals believe learners need. In this regard, standards promise mastery of subject matter whether it be in a content field or in pedagogy. If the dream were to be fully realized, standards promise excellence for all students through the efforts of better teachers. If teachers have the knowledge and skills needed to help all students attain high and rigorous standards, then students must be ready to move on to the next level of competence.

Standards also promise that students who do not master the required subject matter will not be advanced until they are able to do so. The implications of this promise are profound and they should force educators, in the moral sense, to reconsider social promotion and earned promotion, and what effects the latter may have on persistence among youth. This matter deserves serious consideration by all educators who desire to implement a standards-based approach to educational reform.

Those committed to implementing a standards-based curriculum believe that all students who attain high and rigorous standards will have achieved excellence and charge that a lack of standards has allowed some students to proceed without demonstrating performance. The assumption is that students who perform against high standards in order to progress through the system will have achieved genuine and significant learning. The logical extension of this argument is that standards serve as a mechanism for leveraging excellence from all students.

The standards-based approach is being implemented (or at least being seriously examined) in most states as well as in most professional education fields. Certainly, the responsibility for the implementation of standards has shifted to the states; but, if educators believe that the standards-based approach is appropriate and necessary, legislation or regulation should not be needed to make change happen.

The Standards Movement

Several years ago, various organizations and agencies began writing standards. Among these are groups such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of English; individual state departments of education that wrote model content standards that eventually became the standards for their school curricula; testing companies that review textbooks and consult with content experts to write test items for school progress monitoring; states preparing licensure standards for approval of teacher education programs; companies writing tests for beginning teachers; Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), which has prepared 10 principles that could be used to design beginning teacher assessments as well as teacher education programs; the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which represents the corporate interests of learned societies which have designed content standards for teachers; and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), which has prepared five principles now being used to assess competent teaching. Each of these groups has identified and defined, from its own perspective, what teachers or children should know and be able to do. Throughout this period, considerable concern has been voiced about how these individual efforts would be coordinated and whether these various efforts could be brought together to leverage systemic change across the school reform movement.

On a national scale, the efforts of some of these organizations are coming together. NCATE and the professional organizations communicate regularly. INTASC and the National Board have strong philosophical links. NCATE, INTASC, and the NBPTS are working together on standards for professional accreditation. The presidents of NCATE and the NBPTS sit on each other's boards of directors. State departments are either adopting the INTASC standards or are using them to inform their state-based efforts. Student content standards are being linked to teacher performance standards. INTASC now has 30 member states and NCATE has 39 state partnerships. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is becoming involved at the state level and is making good its promise to deliver high quality, professionally respected, and discriminating assessments of competent teaching. Its research and development work extends beyond what most teacher education programs can afford, but the products are worthy of attention. Testing companies appear to be somewhat less innovative. They are struggling in the search for viable alternatives to traditional paper-and-pencil testing. However, that too, may be changing because of public demand, the open marketplace, and the emphasis on authentic performance. The leaders of the various professional organizations seem to be exercising a more coherent approach. The challenge before educators is to design high-quality, rigorous, reliable, and valid authentic performance assessments. The psychometrics associated with such assessments are still undetermined; but the demand, especially within the policy arena, has escalated beyond the ability to design assessments that can realistically be administered on a large scale.

It is imperative that educators move forward rapidly with a clearly focused reform agenda. In this era of legislation via fax machine and e-mail, changes in state laws have a tendency to move across the nation more rapidly than can be traced. The next challenge is for NAITTE and all other organizations dedicated to teacher preparation to begin the design and testing of performance assessments for teachers.

In sum, the various individual standards efforts of the past are converging toward becoming a standards movement. The key players are adopting a more systemic view of the changes necessary to renew American education. It is becoming increasingly apparent that meaningful and lasting educational reform cannot be accomplished by changing single elements within the system. Systemic reform must encompass standards, assessment practices, teacher education, and more. Techniques must be found and developed to bring about the changes needed to provide high-quality education to all students.

Toward the Commonwealth

In conclusion, the standards movement ensures the preservation of a free and public education in our democracy. Standards represent the tip of a wedge that can spawn change in the structure of our educational system as well as in teacher education programs. Some states now clearly identify, on a standards-based basis, what it takes to earn and maintain a teaching license. Standards can be the engine for changing the structure of our schools and teacher education programs to move schools out of the industrial age into the information age. Standards, if educators implement them wisely and cautiously, can be the principal element that brings all students closer to excellence in education.


Berliner , D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Colorado Department of Education. (1994). What Colorado teachers should know, be able to do, and be like. Denver, CO: Author.

Duning , B. (1995). School-college collaborations and teacher expectancies of lower class minority student performance. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Northern Colorado.

Galluzzo , G. R. (1993). The standards are coming! The standards are coming! In M. Diez, V. Richardson, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Essays on emerging assessment. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Interstate New Teacher Assistance and Support Consortium. (1992). Draft standards for teacher licensing. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (1991). Toward high and rigorous standards. Washington, DC: Author.

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (1995). Standards, procedures, and policies for the accreditation of professional education units. Washington, DC: Author.

Pearson , P. D. (1994). Standards and teacher education: A policy perspective. In M. Diez, V. Richardson, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Setting standards for educating teachers.Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Soder , R. (1995). Democracy, education, and the schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Reference Citation: Galluzzo, Gary R. The Standards Have Come. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education , 34(1), 11-18.