A lot of excitement attached to the news that almost every state has agreed to work on a common standards framework. But isn’t the key line in Glod’s Washington Post piece this huge caveat?
“Once the organizers of the effort agree to a proposal, each state would decide individually whether to adopt it. ”
In other words, signing on to this effort at this point is akin to joining a health club. One person can join a health club, workout daily, change their lifestyle habits and so forth. Another can join, eat Big Macs for lunch and come once a month to soak in the jacuzzi. They’re both still members of the same health club but the similarities end there.
As we’ve seen recently with the common graduation measures adopted by the states (which are hardly as intrusive as adoption of standards like this would be) these ideas often end up being treated like a la carte dining rather than the five-course meal they’re intended to be. States take the pieces they like, disregard the rest, and still say they’re in the club.*
I’m not opposed to the idea of common standards, an idea with a lot to reccomend it, but remain skeptical of the deep and broad commitment to the idea that some claim now exists. Perhaps I’m missing the moment but signing a document that means you don’t get singled out as retrograde but doesn’t require any real action either doesn’t strike me as crossing the Rubicon on this issue just yet.
*And this happens for both legitimate (states have various constitutional and legislative anomalies) and illegitimate (subverting disruptive reforms) reasons.
6 Replies to “Health Clubs And National Standards”
I’m not sure the final club membership will be quite as permissive as you suggest. According to the CCSSO/NGA press release, “States may choose to include additional standards beyond the common core as long as the common core represents at least 85 percent of the state’s standards in English language arts and mathematics.”
All attempts to standardize education are dubious it seems to me because, ultimately, we are talking about the standardization of human beings – both children and teachers. Even in those situations where standards have been linked to achievement, the result has not been causative but correlative. It’s teaching that improves learning, not standards. And while it could be said that standards make the target clearer and therefore easier to hit, no one has yet looked at the opportunity cost involved: What do children never get a chance to learn? How do standards affect teacher decision making? How do we know the standards are “right” in the first place since they are implemented widely without ever being tested. Why, in the hundreds of schools where I’ve had meetings with teachers, do they always refer to “teaching the standards” and almost never refer to “teaching the students”? Standards are appealing to us because they relieve us from the very hard but very human and vitally important aspect of education that is figuring out what is best to teach and whether or not a child has learned it. Once we take this away from teachers, they’re skills in this area (already weak at best) begin to atrophy. I ask my consulting clients routinely why they choose to do what they do in their classrooms and the most common answer I receive is “because that’s what the state tells us to do.” In this sense, standards are a “reverse accountability” system that shifts ownership from the classroom to the capitol. National standards will only make this worse.
I have mixed feelings about the idea of national standards. On one hand, I completely agree that teachers have been teaching standards and not students. I teach Algebra to students who have been labeled as having a very low ability in math. The majority of my students need this course for graduation and once they pass it, they are not required to take another math course. They most likely will not choose to take another math course after this one and many aspire to be daycare providers, farmers, or beauticians after high school. These students can barely grasp the math that they will use every day in life beyond high school, such as multiplication, division, fractions, etc. Instead, state standards say I need to be teaching these students how to simplify radicals and how to find the roots of quadratic functions. What answer do I have for students that ask why they need to learn this besides the state says you do? I can give them reasons to appreciate these concepts, but have not yet been able to give examples of when they might use them.
On the other hand, having some sort of commonality among states might not be all bad. We need to have some sort of accountability, but standards need to be high yet attainable for all students. They need to be categorized into subdivisions regarding what is essential for all students to master at each level, what is important for students to master, and what would be nice for them to know but not necessary. This is a fine line and I’m not really sure which way is the best way for our students, but hopefully someone figures it out soon.
If another country wanted other countries to respect its educational system and the reforms it was trying to make, who would it choose to lead such an important professional project as the development of its national standards in mathematics and in the language of its educational system itself? In any other country in the world, one would expect a distinguished mathematician at the college level to be asked to chair the mathematics standards-writing committee–someone who commands the respect of the mathematics profession (and obviously is an expert on mathematics). For the language standards-writing committee, one would likewise expect an eminent scholar in a college-level department–someone whose command of the language and understanding of the texts that inform the development of this language could not be questioned. If the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers had thought about national pride (and national need) as well as academic/educational expertise, then all of us would respect the Common Core Initiative and look forward with eagerness to the drafts the NGA and CCSSO have promised to make public in July.
These two organizations could have followed, for example, the exemplary procedures followed by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, on which I had the privilege to serve. The Panel was chaired by the former president of one of the major universities in the country, all Panel members were identified at the outset, their qualifications were made known to the pubic, their procedures were open to the public and taped as well, and the final product was hammered out in public, after dozens of reviewers provided critical comments.
But instead of choosing nationally known scholars to chair and staff these committees–to assure us of the integrity and quality of the product–the NGA and the CCSSO have, for reasons best known to themselves, treated the initiative as a private game of their own. The NGA and the CCSSO haven’t even bothered to inform the public who is chairing these committees, who is on them, why they were chosen, what their credentials are, and why we should have any confidence whatsoever in what they come up with.
One person has announced on his own to the press and to a state department of education that he is chairing the mathematics standards-writing committee. He has not been contradicted by anyone at NGA or CCSSO, so we must assume he’s for real. It turns out he is an English major with no academic degrees in mathematics whatsoever. No one has yet announced on his/her own that he/she is chairing the English standards-writing committee. One wag has already wondered whether this person might be a mathematics major with no academic degrees in English. But it’s possible the sad joke in mathematics is not being repeated in English.
This country deserved better for a project of such national importance.
I presume you have a master’s or higher degree in education if you are consulting on schools’ curriculi. I believe we are talking about methodology, and a slight but severe dose of pedagogy being added to the system. I’ve not read this formula (I’m not from the US) but as long as “standards” represent a means away from testing and toward teaching based on proven standards (research generated, and empirically — well, as much as possible — based teaching practitioners’ feedback) methodologies do work. I teach TESOL, so if you’d like, go back to the 40’s, 70’s, 90’s and now, and look at how the methods made the difference between a means to a test and a means to learning. To be clear, I teach EFL, not ESL typically.
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