Expert to offer guidelines for improving state's academic standards

The national education curriculum expert who helped design the country's premier standards and accountability system in Massachusetts will tell an Ohio Senate panel today that the 21st century skills-based program being proposed for Ohio will actually retard student learning.

In testimony prepared for the Ohio Senate Education Committee this afternoon, Sandra Stotsky, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, will tell the lawmakers that, "Statements about skills, learning processes, or learning strategies are not standards, chiefly because they are generic in nature, content-free and not sufficiently content-specific" (see here).

The concept of 21st century skills is a major part of Strickland's sweeping education plan being considered by the General Assembly.

In her prepared testimony, Stotsky says the 21st century skills movement actually inhibits learning. "Attempts to emphasize skills, processes, or strategies, as in the 21st century skills movement, will point teachers in the wrong direction and retard student achievement," she says.

As senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999-2003, Stotsky had a key role in revising that state's education standards. Massachusetts' standards are generally regarded as the strongest in the United States and the state's education system is considered the nation's best.

"What did we do to ensure a set of strong and coherent academic standards in each subject? First, we eliminated all strands, substrands, or statements that were chiefly about skills and learning processes or strategies," she says.

Stotsky calls Ohio's current standards mediocre.

She believes it is imperative that Ohio have a strong school curriculum with solid intellectual content that starts before kindergarten and extends through high school.

Effective teachers, Stotsky says, should want their students to acquire knowledge and that should be reflected in state standards. The skills related to that knowledge will be developed naturally later as students "grapple with and grasp" the content of their lessons, she said.

Stotsky will tell the panel that successful education needs a strong curricular framework in English/reading, mathematics, science, history, geography, economics, civic education, foreign languages, and the arts.

"Why are curriculum frameworks with strong academic standards the beginning and the end? Because they heavily shape, or should, the academic components of all the other documents a state department of education develops for pre-K-to-12," she says.

In her prepared testimony, Stotsky describes a Massachusetts environment, when she arrived there, similar to Ohio's now. "Most of the educators on the original standards development committees had spent their time arguing about, and developing prescriptions for how teachers should teach or what strategies and skills student should learn, not the basic intellectual content to be taught from grade to grade," she says.

More By Author

January 16, 2009
February 17, 2009