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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 06/ 7/2010

Will new standards mean better-educated kids? -- Willingham

By Valerie Strauss

My guest today is cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

By Daniel Willingham
The final versions of the Common Core standards for math and English Language Arts were just released. What are their likely impact on learning over the next decade? Will students be better educated?

From a quick read the standards look pretty good, but most would agree that high-quality standards are necessary but not sufficient for positive impact.

We also need (1) a curriculum that implements the standards; (2) professional development for teachers; (3) lesson plans that implement the curriculum.

Some observers would add a standardized test as a fourth requirement.

Is there reason to think that these next steps will happen?

I’m hounded by this thought: Getting good standards is the easy step. I say “easy” because all state administrators have had to do in the past was look to the other 49 states and pick the set of standards that they thought were better than those in place in their state.

Yet state officials have made no attempts to learn from the successes and failures of their neighbors. How can we interpret this lack?

One possibility is that state officials are too feckless to have seized the opportunity, but that is doubtful.

More likely is that they are not motivated to do so. Adopting new standards roils calm waters and irritates powerful constituencies. (Not just teachers and their unions, as the recent mess in Texas has shown.) Significant change seldom happens in politics unless someone feels it must happen.

So what will create that sense of urgency for new curricula, professional development, and lesson plans?

Almost all states climbed on board the common standards train when the commitment required no more than a statement of interest. Interest was sustained by the promise of Race to the Top money. As the conductor comes around requesting payment (that is, real changes loom) states are beginning to jump.

The administration‘s choice is to continue the money lure. The Obama administration's “blueprint” for the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind, requires that states adopt the standards in order to get access to 14.5 billion in federal funds.

The great irony here is that the administration, in trying to effect change among educators, is ignoring a basic principle that every teacher knows, and most learn early in their careers.

Coercion can get short term compliance, but it doesn’t bring lasting change. For that you need persuasion.

Persuasion might come about when the administration examines more closely the motivations and concerns of state officials and educators. What are their concerns about implementing a new curriculum?

The concerns may be valid, or they may be irrational--that’s beside the point. What’s important is that real educational change can only come from those actually delivering the education, and for that to happen, you need to change their minds.


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By Valerie Strauss  | June 7, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, Guest Bloggers, Learning, Learning, National Standards, National Standards  | Tags:  Common Core standards, Daniel Willingham, content standards, national standards  
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Core Standard are a great place to start -- and are necessary for higher standards, better curriculum and consistency

They also take away from Texas the right to hijack text book writing

The reauthorization of ESEA with the right provisions is critical, and we need to stay focused

Posted by: 3dlearner | June 7, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

This philosophy that all students should be taught the same material the same way is ridiculous. Standards are good as guidelines, but teachers should not be penalized for teaching a subject differently. Does it really matter if a teacher focuses a little more on the civil war than the war of independence?

I believe the purpose of education is not so much the content as developing thinking. This can only be taught by passionate teachers. I would rather have a teacher spend a whole year on the civil war and teach it passionately than have a teacher spend time on topics they really do not care about.

Posted by: spinkava | June 7, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

"Coercion can get short term compliance, but it doesn’t bring lasting change. For that you need persuasion."

Cosigned. I sure wish Mitch Daniels and his homie Tony Bennett understood this in relationship to Indiana's public schools and educators.

Posted by: tellhorn | June 7, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Yes the standards make sense, but can anyone tell me how they stand say releative to the locatl DC, VA, MD curriculum? I know VA decided not to participate in the race to the top because they might force curriculm changes.

Posted by: Brooklander | June 7, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

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