Education Off The Rails: Standards Train Wreck

In Teaching in a Knowledge Society Andy Hargreaves has a cautionary tale – Education off the Rails –  about the effects of applied performance standards that push people all too easily into quick fixes rather than sustainable improvement.

His analogy concerns a stay he had in the UK and a railway meltdown.

In that case, emphasis on standards  turned into standardization and targets met.  Privatisation cut the cost of engineering repairs by contracting them out to private tender. Performance standards replaced long-term accountability. And the consequences were disastrous.

If you really want to improve remember: Culture Eats Standards For Breakfast

His point is that excessive concentration on minimum standards and short-term performance targets can be self-defeating. They can push trains, and education, off the rails by eradicating an established culture.

Cocoa Was Spilt

In the illustration Henry the Green Engine* is derailed because a fall of snow forced the signals down. In that rail disaster,  Cocoa was spilt but no lives lost and Henry was dispatched to Crewe for a new firebox.

Henry the Green Engine by the Rev. W. Awdry.


  1. An educrat once lectured us on how to write lesson plans. “It’s like a train,” she explained. “You have to have an engine. Those are your objectives.”

    After awhile, I decided trains were the exact metaphor I was looking for in terms of standardized education. Trains rip through geography without respect for the ecology, the humanity or the culture. Trains stay on track and never meander. Trains are made to serve economic purposes. They are slow, expensive, and heavily subsidized.

    I would rather my class look like a walk through a jungle than a train ride.
    .-= John Spencer´s last blog ..the effects of a rainy day =-.

  2. admin:

    And…you don’t need a pencil to take a walk in the jungle.

    Did you have any particular jungle in mind? How will you get there?

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