The problem(s) with the Common Core standards
There is not a thing wrong with wanting young people in every state of the country to know how to do the same important skills and understand the same key concepts.
If knowing the Pythagorean theorem is important for kids in Florida, it should be important for kids in Hawaii, too.
That is the reasoning behind the Common Core Standards, which as my colleague Nick Anderson, wrote today, are being released today in a blueprint for what all students should learn in English and math, in each grade, from kindergarten through high school.
The national standards are meant to replace the individual state standards now in place, some of which are said by educators to be essentially useless to guide instruction because they are too vague, poorly written and/or incomplete.
Many educators and parents oppose national standards, fearing that this will lead to a national curriculum and national assessment test that would take away local control of education as well affect how teachers operate in the classroom.
But even assuming that you don’t share those views and believe that national standards make sense, there are legitimate concerns about this Common Core effort and the notion that it is reasonable to ask every kid in every grade to know certain things.
The fact that it took well less than a year to write these very important standards doesn’t necessarily mean they are inadequate, but it makes me wonder.
The fact that few if any classroom teachers were involved in the drafting of the standards--(none were asked to help draft theNo Child Left Behind law)--doesn’t necessarily make them inadequate, but it makes me wonder.
The fact that much of the drafting process was done in secrecy doesn’t necessarily make them inadequate, but it makes me wonder.
What I especially worry about is a stepping up of what we have already seen happen with curriculum in the NCLB era. The “push down” effect has essentially pushed into lower grades the things kids are supposed to be able to do and know.
Once, schools gave youngsters a chance to learn how to read according to their own development. Now, a child who still can’t read by the end of first grade is in deep trouble from which it can be hard to emerge.
With the proposed standards, what happens to these children in fourth grade when they are expected to explain major differences between poetry and prose, and to refer to such elements as stanza, verse, rhythm and meter when working or speaking about a poem?
What about eighth-graders who fell behind in fifth grade math and, try as they might, don’t understand how to use linear equations to solve for an unknown and explain a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem on properties of a right triangle, as the proposed standard demands?
I know people who didn’t really start to enjoy reading into late in elementary school and even middle school, but later became voracious readers because a teacher was able to reach them and spark an interest. I know people (myself included) who didn’t understand Algebra until 10th grade.
Telling teachers that they must teach certain things to each child in a specific grade ignores this notion of individual development.
Another concern about the new standards is that they are only for math and English. The emphasis on those subjects in No Child Left Behind's assessment scheme led to a dangerous narrowing of curriculum in public schools; the arts disappeared in many systems, science and history and physical education took a back seat too.
"Our schools will not improve if we continue to focus only on reading and mathematics while ignoring the other studies that are essential elements of a good education... Our schools will not improve if we value only what tests measure... Not everything that matters can be quantified."
There is a common notion in American education reform circles that we are falling behind other countries with high-achieving school systems in large part because we don’t have national standards.
But in her new book, “The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future,” Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who served as Barack Obama’s chief education adviser duringn the presidential transition, makes clear that this isn’t the case.
She explains how Finland--now widely hailed by U.S. policymakers--turned around its school system. But, contrary to popular belief, it didn’t do it by establishing a highly centralized national system with detailed national standards.
It “shifted to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around very lean national standards,” she wrote. All assessments are school-based, designed by teachers, rather than standardized.
For promoters of national standards, it is important to remember that standards alone may be useful, and even necessary, in education, as cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham wrote here recently.
But they are not enough. Both Willingham, a University of Virginia professor, and Darling-Hammond make clear that no set of standards has much meaning without equitable resources to ensure that teachers are trained well enough to reach kids who live in all circumstances.
If the organizations that were so gung-ho to produce the national standards don’t see that their job has just begun, and that the next, even larger, effort is to secure equitable resources for schools, then the document being released today will have little meaning.
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| March 10, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: National Standards | Tags: Common Core standards, national standards
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