Eduwonk Talks Down The Market!

Apparently everyone thinks national standards are just around the corner, especially since a David Hoff headline said as much the other day.   I don’t think Robert “Panic at the” Pondiscio has sobered-up since reading that!

Good thing the national standards bubble has never popped before…So before you rush to start investing in all this Checker Finn’s caution on Hoffblog is well-worth heeding:

If you scratch “a millimeter below the surface” on national standards, significant differences emerge on who should set the standards, what should be in them, and other hot-button issues.

I’d add that some of the rush to national standards from appointed and elected state level officials has less to do with enthusiasm for the idea than a desire to play defense because they see it as inevitable.  In other words they’re not all happy warriors and as soon as the veneer of inevitability starts to fade you may see some feet dragging.  Not saying national standards won’t happen at some point, I suspect they will in at least core subjects, only that it’s further off than many enthusiasts assume.  That, of course, has some more immediate policy implications.

Update:   Finn, who has seen this issue unfold for a while, elaborates and lays out seven sins he sees in the offing on all this.

4 Replies to “Eduwonk Talks Down The Market!”

  1. There needs to be a universal approach to what standards should be. How about getting ourselves organized enough so that our teens can compete with other nations in math, science and reading TIMSS/PISA. We are at the very bottom on a list of 24. It’s not just embarrassing, it’s scary.

  2. I’m kind of agnostic on national standards, but as long as communities pay for the bulk of education, shouldn’t they decide what the standards are? I mean, if the feds insist on picking up the tab that’s one thing. Where I live, though, we pay a fortune in home taxes, mostly for school. Shouldn’t that give us more of a say?

  3. I wanted to ask a question in the online discussion of 21st century standards but technical problems stopped me. And my question fits here, also. I personally am pretty agmostic about national standards, because it would take such a long time before they would have relevance to the subject I know – hardcore inner city schools where students are five years below our primitve grade standards of today. But I’m happy to support the Standards effort. I recall an Ed Sector statement which still supported Standards but which said, if a recall correctly, that alignment of curriculum is showing decreasing returns.

    Have you guys followed the debates in Brtidging Differences (and TWIE) about 21st century assessments and the skepticism of Standards supporters?

    I was very impressed with your online discussion, but I have an honest question. Did participants like Margaret Honey have an educational reason for supporting alignment of curriculum and online tools for 21st century skills, or were the rationales technicalogical, political, economic, or for marketing? I can see an educational reason for curriculum alignment in elementary schools and for digital products for the early years. But as you guys correctly implied, this is a great educational adventure, and as you didn’t mention this is a huge and diverse country. I’d think you would support a “let a thousand flowers bloom” strategy – at least for the first generation of products. I’d push my idea further and ask what would be the problem with just pushing full speed ahead in the schools and with the teachers who already want 21st century products? Then why not recruit teachers who would want to join the effort. As you convince more people by seeing results, you would get a critical mass of adherents and energetic advocates.

    Like I said, this is an honest question. I’ve been to a couple of county fairs but I still can’t see how curriculum alignment has any relevance to a high poverty secondary school like mine, but its still the mantra of educators who mean well but who have little practical experience in our situation. Instead, I’d like a full court press to recruit young teachers to schools like mine who would advocate for 21st century skills and assessments. But if I can’t even post a comment on your discussion, you don’t want people like me with bifocals and broken fingers and impatience with computer glitches as your commandos in this effort.

  4. Ultimately, national standards would certainly alleviate the issue of plummeting relative standards across state lines. Additionally, there is a case to be made for this course of action. It is difficult to imagine a graduating student from a high school in Mississippi competing fairly with a statistically much more prepared student from Massachusetts. Even the obstacle of the Tenth Amendment could be overcome; withholding educational funds is not the answer, since federal support is such a small fraction of the national education expenditures, but a system where something like federal transportation funds are taken away (as was the case when the drinking age was raised to 21).

    However, the problems of implementation must be considered along with the positives of a policy. One of the detrimental effects of a national system is the agility in change and progress that it removes from the curriculum. Research into what students should actually learn is sorely lacking; for instance, it is difficult to determine the effect of a statistics course in high school, since you cannot test the students not given a statistics course on statistical methods. A nationally imposed model of standards forces districts to adopt a curriculum that may ultimately be changed, and the process of change at the national level is inherently more difficult and slower than change at the district or even state level.

    A compromise would be the adoption of a set of mandatory minimum standards at the federal level and tie additional federal education aid to those standards. This would also be accompanied by a revision of NCLB to remove the punishments associated with failing schools and the implementation of new rewards for improving student outcomes. Minimum standards provide a floor for states and prevent their further downward trend in student accountability outcomes while not tying down the more agile groups in the education community from progressing.

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