Willingham: What’s missing from national standards plan (Part 1)
By Daniel Willingham
A majority of states have adopted the common core standards for math and English. Is this development likely to improve schooling over the next decade?
Much of the talk has focused on whether or not the standards are superior to those they replace. We should remember that there is no correlation between the quality of state standards (as measured by any of three different organizations--Fordham Institute, the American Federation of Teachers and Education Week) and scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
That either means that standards are irrelevant to schooling or that academic outcomes are determined by many factors, and good standards contribute to, but are not sufficient for student learning.
I suspect (but can’t prove) that the latter is true. It seems self-evident that minimally one also needs a curriculum that implements the standards and lesson plans that teach the curriculum.
A third requirement has been little discussed but strikes me as essential to the success of new standards: assessment.
Student assessment is not what I’m talking about. In fact, I think an assessment other than one based on student achievement is important.
Obviously schooling is complex, with a number of interacting factors that contribute to student outcomes. The critical point is that a problem in one part of the system might mask positive change in another part of the system, just as repairs to the electrical system of a car might appear to have no effect if the fuel system also needs repair.
There seems to be no recognition of this possibility in education policy, which is evaluated on a system-wide basis. No Child Left Behind was a complex law with ramifications at every level of the educational system. Yet the autopsy is seldom more nuanced than “it didn't work.”
If our expectation for national standards is equally simple, we are certain to be disappointed.
If things rapidly get better after the adoption of national standards, great. If they don’t, then what? How will we know what to do next?
I can’t see why a state body would vote to adopt a change to standards if they did not have a clear answer to this question.
Ideally, we would have a plan to evaluate whether piecemeal changes (e.g., adoption of standards) are having a positive impact, and this evaluation would be independent of student outcomes. Students outcomes are a product of the education system as a whole, interacting with other factors, and therefore represent a weak metric of whether the piecemeal change is having a positive impact.
Devising such a measure is a tall order, and next week I’ll suggest an idea of how it might be done.
A tall order, but without such a measure, we can predict that in about five years NAEP scores will not have moved much, and the mutterings will begin. In another five years we’ll have bounced on to the next fix.
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| July 26, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, National Standards | Tags: analysis and common core standareds, common core standards, criticism and common core standards, daniel willingham, national standards, no child left behind and legacy, what's missing from common core standards
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