Book Review

Nov 5th, 2019 | Category: Book Reviews, Columns
By Donna L. Knight

The reform of education has reached new levels of resolve and accountability, and the constant demand to meet those measurements of success continue to add confusion and anxiety to educators struggling to meet the requirements of a limited and archaic mandated curriculum. Educational bureaucrats across the nation have created standardized curriculums intended to provide a cure for student weaknesses, and the “curricular outputs are sold to the American public as the only path to guaranteed academic achievement and global competitiveness” (Tienken, 2017, p. xiii). These bureaucratic mandates often result in the stifling of teacher individuality, where dictation decides what, when, and how a teacher leads his or her own classroom (Sergiovanni, 1992). The strengths and talents of the individual teacher have been replaced with a monotonous script of educational practices.

In Defying Standardization (2017), Christopher Tienken argues that, “the assumptions underlying the need to standardize curriculum expectations and the claims of the effectiveness of standardization are fatally flawed” (p. 7-8). The book forms an interesting analysis of various theories and philosophies associated with the mandates and adoptions of current standardized tests, and looks closely at bureaucratic policies and mandates, and the foundations behind their implementations. 

The book is divided into two distinct parts. The first part looks at historical trends and directives that have led to the current curriculum standardization and the fevered race to prove our nation’s superiority to the rest of the world. Tienken looks at the cost of standardization, not only in financial measures, but also in the quality of instruction found in a cacophony of mandates and limited use of creativity. His concerns look specifically at the narrowing impact of standardized testing on leadership and instruction, and the pressure to make sure all content is covered in a quest to make sure students reach expectations – all centering on the worry of job security. 

In addition, the first part of the book takes the reader on an interesting path down the road of economics and the false representation standardized tests have on the success – or lack of success – of the American people. Tienken points specifically to the falsely-presented painting of a society failing to match up to its world counterparts. He uses research data to debunk theories of American inadequacies, and its ability to compete in global economic change. Tienken references the words of John Dewey and the need for an egalitarian system which promotes equal access to educational support for all learners, a system that encourages “policies and practices that seek to develop a diversity of talents and value diversity as a positive attribute to be nurtured, not homogenized” (Tienken, 2017, p. 80). This first section of the book takes the reader on an in-depth tour of the standardization nonsense that is driving our nation’s educational curriculum, and the fraudulent claims and comparisons being made to misinform a vulnerable society into thinking that America’s education system is lacking in a competitive world market.

“Unrestrained individualism is consistent with democratic values since it will not guarantee others the realization of their potentialities” (Giles, McCutchen, & Zechiel, 1942, p. 10). The second part of the book argues that there is no evidence available that standardized curriculum is capable of producing superior academic results that correlate to any meaningful comparison measure, and it provides an evidence-based look into practical and historical foundations that support a much less standardized curriculum. In addition, Dewey is again referenced regarding the achievements of public educational systems, and the myth that a set curriculum will best meet the needs of demographically diverse student populations.

The book represents the educator and the lack of educator input used in the analysis and implementation of the “one size fits all” standardized testing measurements used in the United States. Tienken’s text is an engaging and fast read, embedded with one interesting fact after another, as he looks at the research, philosophies and flaws of standardization, and the impact on the perceptions of our students and teachers, and the future of our economic status.

Defying Standardization takes the reader on an eye-opening journey through the myths and distortions of data used in an effort to promote an educational system built on a nonexistent monogamous population. It allows the reader to witness the reality of research and the power found in a true representation of our nation’s leadership in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Defying Standardization opens the doors to those willing to witness the true illustration of our nation’s success and the necessity for education to meet the diverse needs of its learners. This must-read text is applicable for all current and prospective educators, and for any bureaucrat or politician who proceeds to pontificate understandings based on archaic philosophies and theories, which do not take the individual and diverse needs of our students into consideration.

Personally, I began reflecting on my own classroom practices and frustrations with trying to meet the demands of a limited student curriculum and a narrow teacher evaluation system that no longer seems to hold the best interests of the child at the helm of its quest. As educators, we need to step back and take a serious look at the validity surrounding a standardized curriculum, and begin to recognize the individual strengths and gifts held in the souls and minds of the future of our nation – the children. LEJ


Giles, H.H., McCutchen, S.P., & Zechiel, A.N. (1942). Adventures in American education volume II: Exploring the curriculum. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (1992). Moral leadership: Getting to the heart of school improvement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Tienken, C. H. (2017). Defying standardization: Creating curriculum for an uncertain future. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Donna Knight, Ph.D., earned both her Bachelors in Education and her Masters in Talented Developmental Education from Ashland University. She received her administrative license through Concordia University Chicago. Dr. Knight also earned her Doctorate in Educational Leadership through Concordia, finalizing her dissertation research, “What Makes a Moral and Ethical School Leader? Teacher Perceptions and Conceptualizations,” in October 2017.