Last month, Alex contributed a quality post on the Common Core Standards, a set of English-Language Arts and math standards developed by a national group of leaders to be adopted voluntarily by states. Now, less than two months since the standards were released, 27 states have adopted them with at least a dozen more scheduled to do so in the next two weeks (Louisiana, if it has not already, is expected to do so.)
In the spirit of debate, the New York Times has compiled a set of six articles by leading professionals in the field of education, each offering a different answer to the main question: Will national standards improve education? I encourage y’all to read the contributions (they aren’t long) as they do a fine job articulating the issues and questions at hand, and subsequently help one better identify the pros and cons of national standards.
On that note, before you click on over to the articles, I do want to offer a little bit of commentary on some of the arguments presented. In particular, I would like to address one argument against national standards that strikes me as, well, misguided.
Both Bruce Fuller and Alfie Kohn in their respective contributions insinuate that the adoption of national standards will immobilize teachers and prevent them from instilling in students a general love of learning and critical thinking. Essentially, all teacher creativity will be stifled, and students and educators will be forced to swallow copious amounts of packaged knowledge that won’t make education better (Insert sarcasm: because that is totally not what we have now?) Such an argument is flawed in two ways:
1) The standards, while they do set a minimum educational requirement for states, do not instruct teachers on how to impart that knowledge. They simply set forth the expectation of what basic skills and information students must learn, and I think we can all agree that there are just things students must learn.
2) If the concern is that national standards are bad because teachers will serve up knowledge like dry, undesirable pieces of lunch meat, then that is an indictment of teachers and not national standards. Beyond that, it is an indictment of teacher education, essentially saying that teachers cannot find ways to impart, for example, a love of reading to students while following a standard curriculum. If this is indeed the case, then the questionable quality of teacher preparation programs supersedes national standards in terms of important topics to discuss.
I understand opponents of national standards are concerned about the federal government excessively interfering with local and state education policies. However, it is important that the arguments presented by both sides actually address things that are within the scope of such standards. Otherwise, in dealing with the distractions, we may lose sight of the real issues at stake and that serves to help nobody.