I don’t love standards. I doubt any teacher does.
I love literature. History. Science. I love grappling with ideas. I’m excited to know how things work and to share what I have learned with others, especially eager-to-learn children. Standards, by contrast, are unlovely, unlovable things. No teacher has ever summoned his or her class wide-eyed to the rug with the promise that “today is the day we will learn to listen and read to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues from a variety of perspectives."
No teacher has ever summoned his or her class to the rug with the promise that "today is the day we will learn to listen and read to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues from a variety of perspectives. Won't that be fun boys and girls?!"
Photo by Fort Rucker.
“Won’t that be fun, boys and girls?!”
Well, no, it won’t. Standards are a joyless way to reverse engineer the things we love to teach and do with kids. Thus I understand and sympathize if beleaguered teachers view Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as just one more damn thing imposed on them from on high, interposed between them and their students. But if they do, that’s a shame. Because far from being
Among the most controversial aspects of the Common Core ELA standards is their far greater emphasis on nonfiction reading than is traditionally seen in American classrooms. The standards demand that students spend as much as 50 percent of their time reading “informational texts” in the early grades and up to 75 percent on informational texts and literary nonfiction by high school. It’s a common sense effort to restore balance to readings that have traditionally focused almost exclusively on fiction. But it also takes on one of the most prominent and often fiercely defended fallacies in American education: that fiction is the only—or perhaps even the best—way to develop students’ love of reading, learning, and critical comprehension skills.
The CCSS take on the fallacy that fiction is the only—or perhaps even the best—way to develop students’ love of reading, learning, and critical comprehension skills.
Diane Ravitch recently added fuel to the fire when she penned a post entitled, “Why Does David Coleman Dislike Fiction,” where she lamented the standards’ focus on informational texts and literary nonfiction. She argued:
Maybe David Coleman thinks that education is wasted on the young. But how sad it would be if future generations of young people never read the poems and stories and novels that teach them not only how to think but how to feel, how to dream, how to imagine worlds far beyond those they know.
Of course, none of the CCSS architects or supporters imagines a
Education reform critics often compare the practices of elite private schools to those of traditional public schools serving our nation’s most disadvantaged students and are appalled by the differences they see. Just this morning, I saw a tweet from science teacher Aaron Reedy, retweeted to Diane Ravitch’s 30,000 followers, which said:
We need to look at what works for the wealthy and emulate that in all of our public schools.
Too many of us draw exactly the wrong lessons about what should be replicated from elite private (and public) schools.
It’s a familiar theme, and one that I—and many reformers—are sympathetic to. Unfortunately, when observing teaching and learning at elite private (and public) schools, too many of us draw exactly the wrong lessons about what should be replicated. And by doing so, we unintentionally promote strategies that end up widening the knowledge gap between children born to privilege and those born to poverty.
I wrote about this a year ago, responding to an article written by Alfie Kohn that accused urban schools in engaging in what he called “a pedagogy of poverty.” At the time, I argued:
A lot of education activists, like Alfie Kohn and Diane Ravitch, like to argue that urban schools should copy the instructional practices of elite private schools…
…What they are missing is what happens outside the classroom: the heavy reliance on parent involvement to help teach their students the key skills, knowledge and abilities they need to succeed.
An independent task force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security brought together by the Council on Foreign Relations released a report in March that found that "the United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role."
These findings may be disconcerting, but they're not new. Politicians, policymakers, educators, parents, and even students have long understood that far too many American students leave high school without having mastered the essential knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and on the job.
There is no shortage of reforms put forth by earnest education advocates eager to improve student achievement. But who is right?
Of course, there is no shortage of reforms put forth by earnest education advocates eager to improve student achievement. Many believe that small classes are our best route to closing the achievement gap. Others feel similarly about setting clear and rigorous standards. And still others push for accountability reforms that use results from assessments to hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable.
Who is right?
There is a saying among high performing schools that there is no 100 percent solution to helping students learn. Instead, there are a hundred 1 percent solutions that add up to big results.
The same is true in the world of education policy. Our best hope to improve student achievement is to find the right mix of policies that,
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
Sign Up for updates from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- Core Knowledge Blog
- Daniel Willingham: Science and Education Blog
- Education Next Blog
- Getting Smart
- Gotham Schools
- Jay P. Greene
- Joanne Jacobs
- National Journal Education Blog
- NCTQ Pretty Darn Quick
- NCTQ Teacher Quality Bulletin
- Ohio Education Gadfly
- Politics K-12
- Quick and the Ed
- Rick Hess Straight Up
- The Corner
- The Hechinger Report
- Tim Shanahan on Literacy