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