The climate of education in the 21st century has become one of accountability and standardization. In this climate, teachers are expected to not only be experts in their content, but they are also expected to understand the needs of all learners and how to differentiate instruction to meet those needs. Herein lies the paradox: Teachers are expected to differentiate while at the same time preparing learners for standardized assessment in a standardized curriculum that supposedly measures educational "success." As Agnello (2008) suggests, this "testing craze, although illustrated amply to be detrimental to education and many learners, has been normalized" (p. 113). The normalization of this one-size-fits-all educational model poses a great challenge for teacher educators. There are decisions being made by policy makers and legislators over which teachers have no control. Therefore, it is important that teachers find some semblance of control in implementing best practices in an effort to counter-balance the detriment that standardization brings through such policies as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Teacher educators can respond to this challenge by preparing future teachers to embrace this paradox. Teachers are under pressure to ensure that their students meet the standardized expectations of education. The standardization of education begins at the national level with the Four Pillars of the No Child Left Behind Act (U. S. Dept. of Education, 2004). In order for states to receive federal funding for schooling, they are required to adhere to the cumbersome demands outlined in the four pillars of NCLB: Stronger Accountability for Results, More Freedom for States and Communities, Proven Education Methods, and More Choices for Parents.
An example of the reality of standardization at the state level comes from a program called "Race to the Top," in which states compete for federal funds in an effort to improve schools. In this program, states are invited to submit proposals that seek to implement significant improvements to schools. Although the award in this competition is federal funding, it is the state that submits the proposal, and within the state, then, education is standardized according to the tenets of the proposal. Unlike NCLB, where the federal government mandates educational policy, "Race to the Top" provides federal funding to states that propose their own policies, which school districts are required to carry out, despite their lack of input in the proposal itself. Tennessee, one of the first two states to receive such funding, was awarded $501 million. On paper, the state of Tennessee was a clear winner; however, one year later, when schools were required to implement the proposed changes, it became evident to teachers and principals that this award came with many strings.
For example, one of the policies requires all teachers of all content areas to prepare students for standardized testing in math and language arts. As noted in an article in the New York Times, "Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee's teachers--kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers--the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school's English scores, music teachers by the school's writing scores" (Winerip, 2011). The article also reports on the frustrations of teachers and principals alike in implementing the new changes mandated by the state, especially in terms of how teachers are evaluated based on these new policies.
Tennessee's new policies require that all teachers be evaluated based on student standardized test scores, even if their content area or grade level is not tested. For instance, a first grade teacher will be evaluated on the scores of a 5th grade test. At the high school level, an art teacher will be evaluated based on math and/or English/Language Arts test scores. Winerip describes this situation as
... a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher's ability to play the odds. There's also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn't teach a classroom subject. (pp. 2, 5) What does this mean for pre-service teachers and teacher educators? Most teacher educators would agree that pre-service teachers, when first entering their professional preparation program, have idealistic, almost fantastic, visions of what teaching will be. It is the responsibility of the teacher educator to have honest conversations about the reality of teaching without discouraging pre-service teachers from continuing in their professional preparation. While pre-service teachers are good at parroting notions of differentiating instruction and meeting the needs of all learners, they live in blissful ignorance of what this means in practice. Nonetheless, as teacher educators we must help them to find this balance between standardization and best practices. We maintain that one approach to this balance is adopting Freire's ideology to fill in the gaps.
One might question how Freire's views on education could even be remotely connected to educational standards and standardization. In truth, Freire would, without a doubt, be opposed to the standardization movement. However, this does not preclude teacher educators from using his theories to support pre-service teachers in their quest for balance. We contend that in reality one is not that far removed from the other. The core principles of Freire's pedagogy are grounded in freedom, democracy, and critical participation (Gadotti & Torres, 2009, p. 1260). Based on these principles, Freire rejected the traditional banking approach to education in favor of collaborative dialogue between teacher and student, where the role of the teacher is that of facilitator and where the curriculum is learner driven.
Although Freire would disagree with the direction that education has taken in recent years, this article proposes a way for contemporary educators to embrace Freirean ideas while still working within the limitations of the standards mandated by political, social, and religious bureaucracy. The reality is that teachers have two choices: They can "reinforce dominant and hegemonic value systems, or they can challenge them" (Jackson, 2007). We further this belief by arguing here that teachers can challenge oppressive education while working within the hegemonic structure that standardization has created.
Independent of NCLB and "Race to the Top" is another form of educational standardization. The Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) standards are designed to guide teacher education programs and uphold a certain level of expectation in the quality of K-12 classroom teachers. In this section we examine the recently revised InTASC standards through a Freirean lens, where we seek to reconcile our professional philosophies with the reality of the field of education (i.e., standards and standardization). This discussion will show that despite attempts to standardize education, teachers and teacher educators can indeed turn to Freirean ideology to inform their current educational practices.
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the author of the InTASC standards, asserts that
... these Model Core Teaching Standards articulate what effective teaching and learning looks like in a transformed public education system--one that empowers every learner to take ownership of their learning, that emphasizes the learning of content and application of knowledge and skill to real world problems, that values the differences each learner brings to the learning experience, and that leverages rapidly changing learning environments by recognizing the possibilities they bring to maximize learning and engage...