National Standards Are Coming

By the end of President Obama's first term we will have national standards for the core academic subjects. The rationale for this is best summed up in a recent Washington Post op/ed by AFT president Randi Weingarten who wrote:

"From my office in Washington, I can see beyond the Capitol to
Virginia. I can ride a few stops on the Metro and be in Maryland. These
three jurisdictions are so close in miles yet have very different
standards for what their students should know and be able to do — just
as every state in the union has its own standards. The result is 51
benchmarks of varying content and quality….There are many areas
in education around which we need to build consensus. A good place to
start would be revisiting the issue of national standards. Abundant
evidence suggests that common, rigorous standards lead to more students
reaching higher levels of achievement."

I participated in the drafting of the NCTE/IRA Standards for English Language Arts and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards document English Language Arts/Adolescence and Young Adulthood. Most recently I have worked with the College Board on their standards for Advanced Placement English courses. Finally, as a senior consultant to the Holt McDougal Literature series, I
have read through syntheses of all the different state standards for language arts. The
truth is that these national standards already exist. Aside from small variations,
they are merely set in different fonts and prefaced by different names.

The implications for me as a writer of books for English teachers are clear: my books must be aligned with the standards. 

We can opt for the elegant simplicity and clarity of the New York state standards or we can choose the more detailed standards already created by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (MCREL). The MCREL standards offer a carefully researched synthesis of standards from across the country.

I vote for adopting the MCREL standards so we can spend the next four years focusing on how to teach these standards and achieve the difference President Obama seeks instead of what to teach.

Some resist standards, mistaking them for standardization. You hear horror stories about principals who say, "When I walk by one room I want to hear a teacher beginning a sentence that the teacher in the next room finishes by the time I pass that door."

That's not teaching; that's indoctrination. If that day ever dawns, ask not for whom the school bell tolls….

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4 Responses to “National Standards Are Coming”

  1. I follow and blog about the digital printing industry. Thanks for giving me a way to get a critical issue for them on the table.

  2. I find all this digital printing interesting from another, more personal level, Michael: My father dropped out of high school and later took a job at the California Office of State Printing where, ironically, one of his responsibilities was overseeing the printing of textbooks for school (when the state still did such things). Check out my “digital textbook” (called The Weekly Reader) on my website:

  3. Karen LaBonte February 20, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Hi Jim,
    Your horror story about the principal’s comment? I believe that was actually Joel Klein, Chancellor of NYC schools. So much for the business model of education….

  4. Melissa Megehee February 24, 2009 at 7:59 am

    I welcome national standards! In NH, we tearing our hair out over “competencies” — because NH believes in local control, every single school district in the state is struggling to create these competencies without much vision or direction on what they should look like. You may ask, doesn’t the state have curriculum standards? Yes, we do; this new competency legislation could be liberating in terms of student learning, but instead the opposite is occurring. Now we all have to have common summative assessments — this goes beyond common final exams. Now we have to administer the same assessments; it does feel like indoctrination. All of this work has forced me to think about assessment and what I am trying to teach — and what authentic assessment looks like. I think about all of the districts in NH, spinning their wheels and working on the same stuff. Next, I think about all of the states, all working on the same kinds of issues in education. Wouldn’t it make sense to have the best and brightest minds, collaborating on what works best in terms of curriculum standards and development? Maybe then we could focus on what’s most important — how to deliver instruction that works best for our kids.

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