Why Standardize When We Should Personalize?

Great questions from Chad and quick airport answers:
1. How do you reconcile individualized and adaptive curriculum with a blanket dismissal of “let everyone do what they want?” Where should individualization and adaptation end? At standards?
Yes, do what you please ends at standards.   As we pivot to personal digital learning, all students will have a unique/customized pathway but toward common ends. The Core is higher, but I wish it were even ‘fewer and clearer.’
Could “the land of learn as you please” be a compromise between “the land of do as you please” and “the land of do what we tell you?”
I hope we can increasingly separate ends & means–tight on ends, loose on means.  Digital learning is opening up a world of opportunity but it is currently bounded by the Bismarckian conception of factory schooling.   Read more on 10 shifts that change everything.
2. Is “The Department gets high marks for a record amount of reform in two years” the same as Student A got high marks for doing a record amount of work or extra credit? I realize that this question is probably better posed to the National Journal, but I’m interested in your take. I’ve read arguments complimenting Obama on making pragmatic compromises; do you think he’s too pragmatic, not pragmatic enough, or just right in terms of both the amount of reform and its quality?
RttT was genius addition to the stimulus (probably Jon Shnur’s idea) that proved to the most productive advocacy grant program in history–2/3 of states have a better plan and policy set now than a year ago.
The stimulus prevented a couple hundred thousand teachers from being laid off, but it also prevented school districts from examining ineffective and inefficient historical structures and delivery models.
Obama and Duncan get a lot of credit for their focus on effective teaching and for challenging historical alliances.   However, like other folks shooting for ‘a good teacher in every classroom,’ they are trying to solve an old problem rather than reframing the new opportunity, ‘how to create a great sequence of learning experiences for all students.’  Great teachers are super important, but we can’t solve our achievement, preparation, financial, and teacher gaps in traditional ways.  But now that anyone can learn anything anywhere, we can completely rethink options.
Duncan is going long on KIPP and TFA.  His team has a pretty good edtech plan–wish they’d lean into it more.
3. Are you not worried that common standards narrow choice and definitions of teacher effectiveness? Help me understand why not. Is there no point in public education by age or readiness at which students can explore a portfolio of options that aren’t standardized?
Common Core is a big step forward for equity (i.e., high expectations for all students) but still more prescriptive than it should be.  If we’re serious about all kids, we need pathways for all kids.
I’d like to create a merit badge DIY high that would allow kids the flexibility to choose competency clusters to work on, customize learning,  move at their own pace, and demonstrate learning in several ways.  (In the process of writing a book about this stuff.)
4. How can we come up with framework for strong decentralized accountability? Competitive grants? What else works?
I wish charter schools were the answer, but authorizers are so focused on quality they have virtually outlawed innovation.  Big city superintendents like Joel Klein can create room to innovate like the NYC iZone that fostered School of One and iSchool.
I’m on the board of iNACOL because I’m very enthusiastic about the next generation of online and blended learning and the ability to rethink time, place, pacing, staffing, relationships, culture–and accountability.
The edupreneurial space, spurred by venture capital and philanthropy, is very dynamic.  Free platforms like Edmodo (a Revolution company) and games like MangaHigh are demonstrating the potential of viral adoption.  The informal/consumer learning space is exploding with lots of cool apps.  All to indicate lots of cool stuff to come.
We do face this strange dilemma of an old input driven system with the overlay of an antiquated outcome accountability.  New tools and new schools will be more quickly developed when there are lots of options available to students and learning professionals.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


[email protected]

I'm especially drawn to paths for all, DIY merit badges, & parallel allowances for innovation and quality. Thanks for sharing the quick think, Tom. I agree wholeheartedly that the national ed tech plans also needs some serious love from the administration.


I'm especially drawn to paths for all, DIY merit badges, & parallel allowances for innovation and quality. Thanks for sharing the quick think, Tom. I agree wholeheartedly that the national ed tech plans also needs some serious love from the administration.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.