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20Mar/12Off

The National Standards Problem: Chasing the Ends of Different Rainbows

As school districts move closer to adopting the Common Core State Standards, some educators report they feel more prepared than two years ago. The standards will go into effect in three years, but some still question whether that is enough time to prepare. There is still a long way to go, some say, and several outstanding questions, such as the level of professional development that will be available. -- ASCD SmartBrief 3/20/12

The United States of America’s public schools lack common standards because like a rainbow, where an “end” is located depends upon one’s location when perceiving it. “Citizenship,” “Skills” and “Tradition” -- under some interpretation -- have long been goals of public schooling. But depending on the community involved there is wide variation as to what these goals cook down to in the day-to-day practice of schooling.

If educational standards are formulated and reformulated so as to be acceptable to the majority of U.S. citizens, for example

a. voting at regular elections (not, criticizing public officials), or,
b. making a good living (not, doing “menial” work), or
c. observing patriotic and religious holidays (not, participating in actions of civil disobedience)

then they will be vaguely and sloganistically formulated. This means that they will need interpretation to be implemented at the local level. There they will be specified according to local needs and understandings and cease being national standards, except as so much verbiage.

But, locally derived educational standards that are clear and unequivocal guides to implementation in some communities will not likely be acceptable at the localities across the many different kinds of communities that constitute this nation. They will be criticized as they always have been as “One Size Fits All”-Curriculum. Consequently they will never do as national standards.

Let’s briefly consider a simple planning activity: milestoning. Write down a publicly verifiable description of the end-states desired, and then, of several intermediate steps leading to them. Let’s refer to the ASCD SmartBrief text in the epigraph above.

What would count as a school district’s “adopting Common Core State Standards” ? A school board resolution? Principal or staffs claims of acceptance? Students having homework deriving from appropriate materials? Or something else?

From the other end of the milestone chain we might ask what counts as a publicly verifiable indicator of (two or more) different school districts’ “moving closer to Common Core State Standards”? Just noticing, for example, groups of people moving more or less in a given direction doesn’t guarantee everyone will all end up at the same location. It’s not merely a matter of their “having the same goals in mind,” but, more importantly, of their sharing a common understanding of what the practical implementation of such goals would play out to be in their special situations.

This is very much like the old instructional conundrums: if you “individualize” down to the level of the actual individual student how do you reasonably give different students comparable grades? What counts as their having received the “same” curriculum? Do changes in method for the sake of individualization count as acceptable “variations” or undesirable “deviations.”

To examine these issues further, see both A. Wishful Thinking: National Standards for 15,000 Independent School Boards! and

B. Making Effective Teachers: engineering or wishful thinking?

Cordially
--- EGR

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