We Need Education Standards, Not Standardized Learning
In our Transforming Schools Together series, teachers affiliated with the Center for Teaching Quality invite us to re-imagine the very concept of school, and suggest small actions we can take to improve existing schools.
Standards are a constant in our lives. There are emission standards for our cars, nutrition standards for our food, and breed standards (adopt a mutt!) for our dogs. For the most part, we accept these guidelines to ensure safety and quality.
Yet, when it comes to education, we view standards with skepticism. We question whether they encourage teaching to the test. We worry about the crowding out of the arts. And we theorize about who is behind the standards and what their hidden agenda may (or may not) be.
We are right to be thoughtful about all these things. But we can't look past the benefits that academic standards can have, when done right:
- They create a vision. They establish a destination for learning; teachers and kids chart the course for how to get there.
- They promote equity. The elements of a high-quality education are good enough for all, not just a fortunate few. Standards establish expectations that encourage schools, districts, and states to provide a high-quality education to every student.
- They reinforce a common language. Like most professions, education is full of acronyms. Standards help teachers can speak the same language.
You may have heard about the Common Core State Standards (AKA the "Common Core"). They're intended to provide "a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them."
The standards aren't federal—states can choose whether to adopt them. So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have. And districts, schools, and teachers retain control of the curriculum and how to teach kids to master the standards.
They're also focused on the kinds of 21st century skills and knowledge that kids need to master in order to be successful. Remember those quizzes on state capitals and counties? With the Common Core, gone are the days of regurgitation. With information at our fingertips, it is no longer enough to simply know and understand. It's time to shift our energy from memorizing to evaluating. We have to apply, synthesize, and create.
So what does this mean for the classroom? You can teach the same standard in many ways. For example, sixth grade students should be able to "compare and contrast one author's presentation of events with that of another."
As a teacher, I could…
- Collaborate with a science colleague to compare and contrast Apollo 11 astronauts’ accounts of the first moon landing;
- Examine autobiographies and biographies of contemporary young adult authors, such as Lois Lowry, Walter Dean Myers, and Jerry Spinelli, to analyze differences in perspective; or
- Pull excerpts from two different accounts of the fall of Rome.
No matter the approach… students should be able to articulate how the accounts vary and speculate as to why.
How can you help teachers and kids with this transition? Since standards cannot transform learning by themselves, teachers have a lot to do. Administrators and policymakers need to look to us for guidance about what it will take to help our kids meet these standards, and how their progress should be measured—multiple-choice tests just won't cut it.
So, is the Common Core "bad" for kids? It depends on what we do with it. But chances are, you're not in the education field. So what can you do?
Volunteer your time and expertise: Buddy up with a colleague, call a school, and offer to have a conversation with students about how what they’re learning will help them in "the real world." A teacher will thank you for it!
Speak out: When you hear someone questioning the value of standards, encourage a conversation. Share this piece. Draw in the voices of teachers and listen to their experiences.
Click here to add volunteering at your local school to your GOOD "to-do" list.
Photo of chalk via Shutterstock
The Show Must Go On An interview with Tig Notaro Tig Notaro on comedy, creativity, and cancer.
5 of Rory’s Favorite Books That Perfectly Explain Gilmore Girls Rory Gilmore, a rolemodel for a generation of bookish young women, expressed herself best through literature.
Vermont Farmers Pilot a Whiz-Bang Solution to Fertilizer Pee-cycling saves water, feeds plants, and helps low-income farmers. What’s not to love?
Freelance-Friendly Cities Being your own boss has never been so affordable. Work-Life Balance: What makes a Freelance-Friendly City?
This Yoga-in-Schools Program Just Raised $31,000 in Crowdfunding R.I.S.E. introduces Bay Area teens to yoga, to help with self-image, grades, and other adolescent nightmares.
A New Olympics Just For Nomads Playing polo with a 100-pound goat carcass to save nomadic culture and build national pride in Kyrgyzstan.
New Detroit Program Trades Houses for Literary Excellence Write a House names Brooklyn poet Casey Rocheteau as first recipient of free home in Detroit
A Chance in Hell Yaks, America, and The Apocalypse Up against an $88 billion beef industry, it takes a leap of faith to raise yak in the United States.
Specialty Coffee Retailers Try to Prove They're Good to the Last Drop Searching for the perfect cup of sustainable and ethically produced joe. #NationalCoffeeDay
Metalhead Ballerinas Rock the U.K. Brutal Ballet slayed U.K. audiences last week with the debut of original choreography set to a metal cover of the Game of Thrones themesong.
You’re Now a Two-Minute Video Away from Getting into College
Goucher College will accept video applications in lieu of the traditional essays and test scores.
3 Epic Racial Profiling Blunders from History
Racial profiling not only harms innocent people of color, it can cause law enforcement to lose crucial time in pursuing the true criminals.