Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Case for National Standards

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten had a thought-provoking piece in the Washington Post recently on "The Case for National Standards."

As Weingarten points out, she lives in Washington, DC. She can hop on the metro and get to Virginia and Maryland easily. Yet these states have quite different standards, as do the other 48 states in the union plus DC. Some states have high standards -- like Massachusetts and Minnesota, whose students rank near the top of the world in international comparisons. Others? It's more of a mixed bag. But for purposes of recognizing which states and schools are making adequate yearly progress for No Child Left Behind, the federal government treats these standards as equally valid -- as if (she suggests) the Pittsburgh Steelers had to move 10 yards to get a first down, and the Arizona Cardinals only had to move 7.

This is a point that has been made before, but what's interesting is that Weingarten, the head of a teachers union, is throwing her support behind it. More importantly, she says that the creation of national standards will not lead to teachers becoming robots, simply going through a prescribed curriculum. "Just as different pianists can look at the same music and bring to it unique interpretations and flourishes, various teachers working from a common standard should be able to do the same," she writes.

I have two thoughts about this. First, I recognize that what gifted students often need most in schools is flexibility. I would of course be concerned that national standards -- tied to accountability -- would lead to even more focus on lower achievers at the expense of higher achievers. A recent Fordham report found that NCLB had led to this very result, so NCLB with more teeth could do that even more.

BUT... I would never say that raising standards (if that's what national standards would do) would be a bad thing. Gifted kids, like all kids, need better schools -- ones that demand lots of their students and view themselves as places where kids should be challenged. On the whole, I'm sympathetic to Weingarten's ideas, and am curious what readers here think.


Joanna said...

The idea of developing national standards is one of those things that, if done well, could be extremely effective. However, if it's done poorly, it could be a huge disaster. I'm not sure I have any faith that we, as a nation, could pull this off.

Anonymous said...

I do not want national standards.The risk of corruption is too great.

I never liked NCLB, not from day one. But there are those who say it was well intentioned. No matter. Anyone could see the potential for corruption and here we are.

Exhibit A: My daughter's gifted classroom is prepped and prepped for the state tests. Why? These are kids who can sit down without ever having seen this test and pretty much ace it. Give or take three points. So why so much prep for children are are above grade level?

The base population at the school was what you would call underachieving, not meeting AYP. The principal was frantic and leaned on the GT teachers to really knock those scores out of the ballpark.

How either group's needs were met here escapes me. Using extremely high scores to mask the failing ones is well, corrupt.

Anonymous said...

Some states only look at the percentage of students who meet or exceed standards. Therefore, an extremely high score has no more impact than a score that just meets standards.

This is a two-edged sword. Situations such as the one described above would not occur in those states. However, there is the risk that "the students who will pass anyway" get no attention.

A school's progress should be measured by how well each individual progresses. This will treat all students, regardless of ability or current level, as individuals whose learning is important.

Anonymous said...

I went to school that was about 1/3 gifted.My state grades on improvement not just meeting standards. Since all of the gifted students and most of the Honors track aced the exam, We got an A the first year of NCLB and a C the second for showing no improvement (on the highest average score in the state) and we lost funding. So my school got rid of the gifted programs and started teaching to the test.

Anonymous said...

As the mother of a gifted student in a small town with very few options for schooling, I like the idea of national standards. I hope to stay here awhile, but I don't want my son to waste his educational time or have his high grades discounted by colleges because the school system wasn't that great. I'd like an "A" in a specific subject at a specific grade level to mean roughly the same thing in a small town in south Georgia as it does in Boston.

Anonymous said...

>>Exhibit A: My daughter's gifted classroom is prepped and prepped for the state tests. Why? These are kids who can sit down without ever having seen this test and pretty much ace it.>>

At my child's school, the principal did away with Gifted and Talented to throw more money at the kids that were never going to pass anyway. His response to my outrage? "What are you complaining about--your child kills the tests; what more do you want?!?" Gee, how about an actual education?

Anonymous said...

His response to my outrage? "What are you complaining about--your child kills the tests; what more do you want?!?" Gee, how about an actual education?


I thank you immensely for sharing this. I know I sound bitter. You just validated why. I know I'm not alone.

My daughter's education was hijacked because administrators, seeing the child's killer scores, can't imagine what more we could possibly want? Ummm, an education would be nice.

At my daughter's sixth grade Back to School night, the principal was so fired up about new and more tests they were going to administer, she practically frothed at the mouth. She kept intoning, we're going to raise those scores, we're going to win, we're going to win! With her fist pumped in the air for emphasis. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought she was either a lackey in the Bush Administration or Vince Lombardi, legendary head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Not surprisingly, the room was full of GT parents and the principal never stopped to consider how outrageous these comments were, never stopped to think who her audience was rather than stoking her own agenda.

Principals are obsessed with these scores. I don't want to entertain here why, I've heard it all before, many times over. Their job is on the line, yada yada yada.

I don't send my child to school to take a test or to make sure heads don't roll, I send her to learn. We need to educate principals that they are starting to miss the forest for all the trees.

National standards? If I didn't hear the word standards again for the remaining year and a half my daughter has left in the school system, I'd be a very happy person. She's a child, a human being, a smart creative person who loves to read and explore and she deserved better, much much better.

Anonymous said...

I would absolutely support a change to the most rigorous state benchmark standards (from MA, I think) becoming our national standard. We also need realistic goals. Gauging success based on individual progression (percentile ranks measured over a period of three years) would ensure every child receives attention and instruction.

We also have to weed out weak teachers and retain monetary reward for a MA/MS in an academic discipline rather than for School Administration or even Education. My gifted son needed subject matter experts by 2nd grade, not just someone who has the answers because they have the teacher’s edition and can skillfully form up the group and keep on schedule.

Brendan said...

As Joanna said, "if done well, could be extremely effective."

There are two main problem with standards, 1st there are too many, 2nd they are too focused on skills.

We should reduce skill standards to a core group and tell states it is just a foundation they must build upon.

Then develop basic learning or process standards. (the difficult part with this is they can't be measured by filling in a bubble on a sheet)

This is just a start.

gtmom said...

It's always seemed ludicrous that any school/teacher would need a written mandate that they teach to at least minimum standards. That's just a license to do as little as possible. Ostensibly those minimum standards skills should be covered in the regular curriculum (rather than drilled 3weeks prior to testing.)
Perhaps just as ludicrous is that we're talking standards across the board when there are clearly different groups of students with different needs.

Anonymous said...

Responding to gt mom:

Hey, who let a sane person in?