With my office on Loyola’s campus still being renovated, I get to work from coffee shops and from home. Right now I’m sitting under awning on my porch, watching this wonderful summer rain, thinking to myself, “How did I get so lucky?” Gotta love this town.
But enough about me. There’s some big news on the national edu-policy front, with serious (and potentially great) implications for Louisiana and New Orleans. The Common Core Standards were released today. The Common Core Standards are a set of Math and English-Language Arts (ELA) standards developed by key parents, teachers, school leaders, and experts from across the country. According to the Initiative’s website, “This has been a state-led and driven initiative from the beginning.” Meaning, these are not national standards but are rather developed by a national group of stakeholders and adopted voluntarily by states. 48 states and 3 US territories are members of the Initiative.
At least one critique of the official standards that I’ve seen had high praise for the standards. Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute (a former colleague and close friend of the admirable Diane Ravitch) readily admits that he hasn’t mastered all of the standards — the Fordham team is engaged in a substantive review of the standards, due out in mid-July — but he does have this to say:
I’ve seen enough to restate with fair confidence an earlier (and better informed) Fordham judgment, namely that millions of American school-kids would be better served if their states, districts and schools set out in a serious way to impart these skills and content to their pupils rather than the nebulous and flaccid curricular goals that they’re now using.
Louisiana, it should be noted, is one of member states. In the first application to the federal Race to the Top grant program, the state promised to adopt the Common Core Standards, implementing them by August 10, 2010. That is, next school year. I can’t imagine that the state changed that in its application for the second round of RTT. (In other news, that application went in yesterday, with only minor changes from the first app that got us 11th place.)
The Common Core Standards Initiative comes out of a push to standardize standards (so to speak), during a time when states have particularized standards of wildly varying rigor. (See, for example, this analysis of the 2009 NAEP data.) Assuming they develop great assessments to go with the standards, we’ll soon be able to see how effectively Louisiana is educating its students by comparing our state’s performance against that of other member states. If, say, Louisiana’s students are failing to meet the standards, while those in, say, Alabama are increasingly proficient in the standards, we can look at what Alabama is doing and consider replicating it.
Now, having sung the praises of the Common Core Standards movement, it’s worth looking at the opposite side of the argument. A social studies teacher at a public high school in the Maryland side of suburban Washington, DC, Kenneth Bernstein, articulates this argument better than I could. He argues that there is not common agreement on the purpose of public schools. Are they supposed to increase the economic capabilities of graduates? Improve our competitiveness with other countries on international markets and measures? Or provide the civic education that some argue is necessary for a liberal democracy? Without agreement here, various reforms pass like fads, each promising to solve the contemporaneously popular crisis in education:
We have had multiple iterations of education “reform” in the past few decades, each new generation framed in terms of the supposed crisis of American education. … [T]here is the atrocity of No Child Left Behind, which has led to narrowing of the curriculum for many of our young people. And now? Race to the Top, the Blueprint, the Common Core Standards – I wonder why people think these initiatives will be any more successful when we cannot really agree on the purpose of what we are doing.
Even if you like the idea of common standards — especially if you like the idea of common standards — you should probably read Bernstein’s entire critique. I wonder, as I always wonder, if there is the possibility of instituting common standards while satisfying Bernstein’s claim that “We can have accountability and assessment without the approaches we are now taking”, thereby “restor[ing] the joy of learning to our students.”
And as always, I wonder if any of you reading this have any response to common standards, or to these standards in particular, or to Bernstein’s criticisms. If so, have at it. I encourage any and all to leave comments in the section below.