KIPP’s Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin take to the pages of The Washington Post to outline a five-point education agenda for President-Elect Obama. You should read it. It’s important and good stuff they put forward and hard to disagree with any of the proposals. Still, I have to quibble with the weight they put on national standards as a lever for reform. Mike and Dave note that with KIPP operating in 19 states now they see firsthand the mess that the maze of educational standards creates. Sure, and national standards would surely increase efficiency there as well as create a common framework for other curricular and pedagogical innovations. And that’s not a small thing. But national standards are not a pedagogy nor a toolbox for teachers and just as today’s standards lead to a lot of low-quality teaching so will a new set if not coupled with big changes in how we approach teaching. In other words, just as they won’t solve today’s political challenges, national standards alone will not solve some of the core teaching challenges we face today and we should be careful not to overestimate what national standards can do for us.
Update: In the comments section Robert “Panic at the” Pondiscio helpfully illustrates the problem here by confidently asserting that a national assessment would be more transparent. But why would a national assessment axiomatically be more transparent? In fact, there is some evidence it wouldn’t be. Why? Well, we have one now, it’s called the NAEP, it’s very valuable but it’s not exactly a model of transparency in terms of its inner workings…just ask the other vendors who would like to bid on its contract or the combatants in the various debates about its technical worthiness…National standards and assessments are not an inherently bad idea, they have a lot of promise, but like a beautiful woman they seem to cause otherwise sensible people to completely lose their bearings. The same political problems that exist in states exist in Washington, too, and it will take very intentional action to address that.