21 February 2010

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Conversations in education are so thick with references to the Common Core Standards these days that one can hardly swing a virtual cat and not hit a blog post about them. All but two states are currently dancing with the math and literacy standards. Kentucky has already adopted them without having seen the final version. And while the hoopla will continue throughout the spring, something else has quietly started: a new set of national science frameworks are underway. "Once the framework is final, it will be used as the basis for teams from three national organizations—the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, a group formed by governors and business leaders—to collaborate on writing the standards." (from Work Begins on 'Next Generation' of Science Standards at Education Week)

Our state completely biffed its opportunity last year to do something positive with the state science standards. Instead of focusing on what was best for kids and the opportunity to deeply explore a set of fundamental concepts, we have a shotgun approach and an overwhelming amount of tediousness. This sad state should make me more excited at the prospect that we might get some "new" ones via the Common Core Standards initiative, but it doesn't.

First of all, the committee which is writing these new frameworks hasn't a single teacher. Scientists? Sure. People who actually understand what happens in classrooms and schools? Nope. I understand that there may be opportunity later for teachers to become involved, but if the process used to write math and literacy standards is any indication, there will be no educators included. Fail number two is simply the motivation behind this work. New standards will not lead to change in science literacy. You can only get there through instruction---and there is no money targeted for this.

If you live in a state where the Common Core Standards are on the table, be sure to ask your education leaders about the motivation in participating with this initiative. In our state, there has been no discussion about whether or not these standards and the ramifications of using them are in the best interests of children. Teachers participating on the review committees have told me that it has been made clear to them that the state is interested in the funding it might get by adopting these (or gaining funding freed up from other sources if the state doesn't have to create its own tests). Teachers in these groups feel the review committees are all for show---that neither state leadership nor the national groups are truly interested in feedback or comment about whether or not the state should move forward to adopting these. If this is true, I find this information deeply troubling.

I have to wonder if this is true in other states. Are we so out of balance in our education system, so overwhelmed with recession and unfunded mandates, so fixated on the bottom line, that the needs of kids have been completely pushed aside for the almighty dollar? I like the promise of a standards-based education---but it is useless without the needs of children being at the center of every decision along the way. From what I'm seeing and hearing, I'm very afraid that it isn't.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Call me old-fashioned, and I don't advocate reinventing the wheel constantly, but I like the idea of fifty state education groups percolating, experimenting, and collaborating with one another to find the best way to do the things we need to do in education.

I do not believe that a national education bureaucracy would lend itself to innovation, and therefore would be a liability to the youth of our country.

And thereby to the rest of us.

Jason Buell said...

I think it's a cake and eat it too problem. I figure, if we're going to get our undies in a bunch over our TIMMS and PISA results, we should just go ahead and set our standards based on those. OR...stop freaking out every time they come out. Can't please everyone and be good at all things. Set a goal, go with it. Ignore the rest.