ERIC Identifier: ED448014
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Author: Gibbs, Thomas J. - Howley, Aimee
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
"World-Class Standards" and Local Pedagogies: Can We Do Both?
A growing movement to ground school curriculum and instruction in local
geography, ecology, culture, economy, and history--often referred to as
"place-based" education--is capturing the attention of many rural educators
across the country. Some see this approach as a way to address the decline of
many rural communities, including the out-migration of young people, by
preparing students to live productive and fully engaged lives in their home
communities. However, this view of education seems to put its proponents in
conflict with the national movement to adopt academic standards and
accountability measures. This Digest compares and contrasts the underlying
commitments and practical implications of standards-based versus place-based
THE ACCOUNTABILITY MOVEMENT
Over the past ten years, nearly
every state in the United States has introduced a set of accountability
standards, often accompanied by mandatory tests of student achievement. State
standards aim to represent the common core of knowledge that all citizens ought
to possess. The legislators who put forward the standards maintain that these
lists of valued educational outcomes enable the public to monitor how well
With increasing support from local community members, however, some educators
question the value of precisely defined standards. These educators worry that
state standards erode local control over education, thereby limiting the
important connection between communities and their schools (Rural Challenge,
1999). Moreover, they argue that state standards require schools to adopt
curricula and teaching methods that construe learning too narrowly, severing
crucial linkages between students' lived experiences and rigorous academic
content (see e.g., Eisner, 1995). For these commentators, education is all about
making meaning, which necessarily involves intellectual processes of greater
sophistication than those typically assessed by state-mandated tests.
Despite these assertions, many policymakers continue to maintain that "all"
public schools need to prepare students to become workers in an increasingly
complicated global economy. Schools, according to this view, have an obligation
to assure that all students master the skills necessary to perform the
high-level tasks required in the twenty-first century workplace. From the
vantage of these policymakers, state-level standards assure that schools--no
matter where they are located--produce graduates who can compete in national and
even global markets. Attentiveness to the global marketplace is, in fact, the
reason why policymakers heighten the rhetoric about state standards by referring
to them as "world-class."
Place-based pedagogy, "world-class" standards--are they mutually exclusive?
Or is it possible to balance the requirements of a curriculum focused on global
economic competitiveness with educational values rooted in local commitments and
PEDAGOGY FOR A GLOBAL ECONOMY
During the period following
World War II, advances in the technologies of communication and transportation
worked together to make the nations of the world more interdependent. Following
the breakup of once powerful colonial empires, new countries established
governments favorable to international trade (Kniep, 1986). As a result, various
non-government groups (e.g., manufacturing and media corporations and volunteer
organizations) began to assume some of the diplomatic functions previously
reserved for governments. In powerful countries like the United States, the
imperatives of the global marketplace increasingly came to influence thinking
about how to prepare the nation and its citizens for the complex demands of an
interdependent, yet increasingly competitive economy (Rosenau, 1983). As had
been the case in the past, policymakers saw schools as the logical vehicle for
purveying this national agenda.
Among the first to respond to this agenda were organizations representing the
concerns of professional educators. As early as 1979 the National Council for
the Social Studies (NCSS) introduced revised curricular guidelines directed
toward preparing students for jobs in a global economy. Efforts along these
lines intensified as reports such as "A Nation At Risk" brought questions about
the quality of the nation's schools to the headlines of popular news media. In
response to charges that schools were not adequately preparing competitive
workers, states began to enact accountability legislation.
Although states acted independently, their approach followed a common
pattern. Committees of legislators, business people, and educators convened to
discuss what students, upon graduation from high school, ought to know and be
able to do. Using graduation standards as the new benchmarks, these committees
developed education outcomes for children at all developmental levels. With
outcomes in place, state education agencies then developed or adopted, and
ultimately mandated, competency tests measuring students' knowledge and skills.
These tests provided the basis for gauging the success of school districts,
local schools, classroom teachers, and individual students.
The effect of accountability legislation has been to create--through the
mechanisms of common educational standards and competency-based
testing--uniformity in the school programs that students experience (Ohanian,
1999). In an effort to comply with accountability legislation, schools and
districts align their curricula with state-adopted standards or with the
published objectives of competency tests. Some observers have found that
curriculum alignment tends to narrow the focus of academic programs and to
reinforce traditional methods of direct instruction, particularly in low-income
districts (Firestone, Camilli, Yurecko, Monfils, & Mayrowetz, 2000).
PEDAGOGY FOR LOCAL CITIZENSHIP
Although advocates of
place-based pedagogy sometimes challenge tightly focused education standards,
they do not oppose a chief aim of the standards movement: providing a high
quality education for all students. Arguing that education ought to be
responsive to local needs, these educators typically argue that one set of
standards cannot be used universally to guide education practice. This position
is succinctly expressed in the policy statement of the Rural School and
Community Trust: ...strong local communities are the best habitat for excellence
in education. From our perspective, every community is a richly detailed place
able to provide a laboratory for learning, children are young citizens whose
work in school should serve to improve their community, and education is the
responsibility of the whole community, not only of professional educators.
(2000, p. 1)
According to advocates of place-based pedagogy, local schools should be free
to design and offer curricula that reflect and enhance the lifeways of the
children they serve. By connecting academic content to the real-world
experiences of students, schools increase the chances that all children will
derive meaning from their studies. The goal is not to limit students to a small
core of knowledge, but instead to root a broadly focused curriculum in the
day-to-day lives of a community's children.
Construed in this way, place-based pedagogy draws upon a progressive
tradition in American education that emphasizes authentic learning, integrated
curriculum, and practical problem solving. And supporters of this view are among
the most vocal critics of standards-based reform (see e.g., Apple, 1996; Giroux,
1999; Ohanian, 1999).
EASING THE TENSION BETWEEN WORLD-CLASS STANDARDS AND LOCAL
Advocates of place-based education differ markedly from advocates
of "world-class" standards in the ways they construe the purposes and methods of
education. The chart below shows some of the major differences between the two
Despite important differences between the two approaches, practical
circumstances often require educators to bridge the gap. In many states, for
example, schools and districts are penalized for failing to comply with
standards-based reform (Rural School and Community Trust, 1999). Defenders of
local pedagogies often find it necessary to justify their approach by showing
how well their curricula match the standards mandated by the state (Null, 2000).
Moreover, some educators have demonstrated that, when local communities define
education standards for themselves, they develop valued outcomes similar to
those specified in state standards (Hoffman & Swidler, 2000).
Even when place-based pedagogies do not explicitly attend to the requirements
of adopted standards, they can offer students meaningful and rigorous engagement
with academic content. Two model programs illustrate the potential academic
focus of locally responsive curricula.
Perhaps the best known approach to place-based education, the Foxfire
program, had its origins in Rabun County, Georgia, in the early 1970's. Broadly
emphasizing the humanities, Foxfire projects engaged students in the work of
"cultural journalism": interviewing community members to reconstruct history;
gathering information about traditional cultural practices; and sharing
knowledge about local lifeways through the publication of articles, journals,
and books. More recent elaboration's of the Foxfire approach combine integrated
academic instruction with service learning. The Alabama-based Program for the
Academic and Cultural Enhancement of Rural Schools (PACERS), for example,
sponsors a variety of curriculum projects focused on community needs:
agriculture projects that incorporate science content, school improvement
projects that teach concepts in electronics, and journalism projects that
promote communication in small, rural enclaves (Starnes, 2000).
The Rural School and Community Trust also sponsors programs that build
challenging academic work into locally responsive curricula. One example is the
Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative, which supports a variety of curriculum
projects within a five-district region of Colorado. Interestingly, many of these
curriculum projects establish credibility by demonstrating their alignment with
Colorado's content standards.
See table at end of Digest.
High school students from Yampa Valley were recently involved in a community
planning project to assist the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the State
Wildlife Commission in determining the best use of a new 400-acre site near the
Yampa River. As the basis for their plan, students collected field data and used
Global Positioning System software to create area maps. Their investigation
involved a study of riverbed erosion, wildlife management, and river ecology.
As these examples suggest, place-based pedagogy "can" establish a practical
alliance with mandated standards. But some observers question whether such
linkages truly enhance the educational value of local projects. Local educators
simply may be doing what is necessary to explain innovative curriculum work to
responsible state authorities. In an environment in which school aims are
strictly tied to instrumental purposes, such as improving worker productivity or
increasing global competitiveness, place-based pedagogy, like other progressive
approaches, may not fare well. Where education is construed broadly, however, as
a means to connect students to larger purposes--personal development, ethical
decision making, committed participation in civic life--progressive approaches
such as place-based pedagogy are better able to flourish.
Hopefully ways can be found to meet both compelling needs: to hold schools
accountable for providing a high quality education to all students and to find
locally sensible ways to provide an education that is supportive of community
environmental, economic, and civic needs.
Apple, M. (1996). Being popular about national
standards: A Review of "National Standards in American Education: A Citizen's
Guide." Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 4(10), 1-6. On-line journal
available at http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v4n10.html%20
Eisner, E.W. (1995). Standards for American schools: Help or hindrance? Phi
Delta Kappan, 76(10), 758-760,762-764.
Firestone, W., Camilli, G., Yurecko, M., Monfils, L., & Mayrowetz, D.
(2000). State standards, socio-fiscal context and opportunity to learn in New
Jersey. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 8(35). On-line journal available
Giroux, H. (1999). Corporate culture and the attack on higher education and
public schooling. (Phi Delta Kappa Fastback 442). Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta
Hoffman, J., & Swidler, S. (2000, April). The "place" of standards-based
reform in rural school. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.
Kniep, W. (1986). Defining a global education by its content. Social
Education, 50(6), 437-446.
Null, E. (2000). Yampa Valley legacy education initiative launches third year
of place-based education. Colorado: Author. Available on-line at
Ohanian, S. (1999). One size fits few: The folly of educational standards.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Rosenau, J. (1983). Teaching and learning in a transnational world.
Educational Research Quarterly, 8(1), 29-35.
Rural Challenge. (1999). Public school standards: Discussing the case for
community control. A Report on the electronic symposium, "Public School
Standards: Discussing the Case for Community Control," hosted by the Rural
Challenge, Burlington, VT, November 1998-February 1999. Granby, CO: Author.
Available on-line at
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Rural School and Community Trust. (1999). The use and misuse of test scores.
Burlington, VT: Author. Retrieved November 20, 2000 from the World Wide Web:
Rural School and Community Trust. (2000). Standards in public schools: A
policy statement of the Rural School and Community Trust. Burlington, VT:
Author. Retrieved November 10, 2000 from the World Wide Web:
Starnes, B. (2000). A life connected to community: An interview with Jack
Shelton. The Active Learner: A Foxfire Journal for Teachers, 5(1), 24-29.
|| Aims of | Educational | Curriculum|
|| Education | Governance ||
|Place-Based | Preparing citizens, | Local control | Integrated,
|Education | promoting community | | broad in scope but|
|| interests | | restricted in coverage|
|Standards- | Preparing workers, | State control | Discipline
|Based | promoting national | | abstract, narrow in|
|Education | interests | | scope but comprehensive|
|| | | in coverage|