National Education Standards

The NYT has a discussion of the national education standards on their website. I recommend reading through the articles, but here is a quick overview.

  • Bruce Fuller of UC-Berkeley writes, “[S]tandards threaten to further routinize pedagogy, filling students with bits of reified knowledge — leaving behind the essence, the humanistic genius of liberal learning.”
  • Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas writes, “Common Core’s “college readiness” standards do not point to a level of intellectual achievement that signifies readiness for authentic college-level work. At best, they point to little more than readiness for a high school diploma.”
  • Century Foundation’s Richard D. Kahlenberg writes, “While some worry that a strong system of uniform standards will rob educators of their creativity, leaders of the American Federation of Teachers have long backed a solid set of well-articulated standards because it makes a teacher’s job more manageable.”
  • The Cato Institute’s Neal P. McCluskey writes, “But if neither district, state, nor federal control can solve our problems, what can? Eradicating government monopolies. Rather than having government fund and control schools, let parents control education dollars and choose among autonomous educational options. Then, rather than using politics to circumvent accountability, educators will have to compete for customers, driving both real accountability and ever-improving standards.”
  • Alfie Kohn writes, “No good data support the value of national standards. Even if you regard standardized test results as evidence of meaningful achievement (which I do not), it turns out that while most high-scoring countries have centralized education systems, so do most of the lowest-scoring countries.”
  • Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH Charter School in Boston, writes, “Some amazing teachers will sell their yearlong courses, often displacing textbook companies (or making licensing relationships with them). If you’re teaching 9th grade algebra, do you want a book from Scholastic, or a whole curriculum (lesson plans, homework, classwork, a yearlong calendar, remediation plans, “Do-Nows,” “Tickets-to-leave”, quizzes, unit tests and a final exam) from the Teacher of the Year in, say, Philadelphia?”

It seems like the scales tip against national standards. And even those in favor of the standards focus on making teaching easier (which is important) but the ways they propose this easing (through sharing curriculum, for example) are ones that seem least likely to work. While it would be amazing to have a great teacher’s full curriculum at your disposal, would the translation into your classroom really be all the useful? Yes, the students will be taking the same test, but in classroom experiences will vary widely. Is the lesson plan from a suburban, majority white biology class going to translate to a high immigrant population with a number of English language learners? Not without serious modification. Further, if one teacher gets really good at “teaching to the test” then other teachers and schools will replicate their lessons, as well as they can, which means we end up with a whole nation of students in the kinds of classrooms that parents, teachers, and students don’t like to be in.

I honestly want what is best for students overall. Students need to get the kind of education that allows them to be better citizens. On the way to doing that, they need to get out of poverty, get a good job, and, for many, go to college or technical school. International student rankings don’t matter if we have a nation of students who understand the world around them, come up with innovative ideas, are kind to each other, participate in the government, and treat others with respect. Moving to a test test test system isn’t the way to do that.

Sylvia Fredericks is studying education policy at La Follette.

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About Sylvia Fredericks

Second-Year MPA student at the La Follette School for Public Affairs (University of Wisconsin - Madison)
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