Winner Takes All

As Chris, and others have noted, it is pretty easy to be in favor of top-down, centrally-imposed standards if you are either in a position to control which values are reflected in the standards, or if your values happen to be reflected in the standards being imposed on others.

Now centrally-imposed standards supporters are generally quick to point out that local districts and teachers will still be in control of choosing how the teaching/learning gets done, the methods and materials to be used.

There is the obvious problem, of course, that you are free to choose from the limited number of options that conform to the grade level expectations outlined in the standards. Perfectly good methods or materials might be excluded or discouraged simply because they meet the standards in the “wrong” grade level.

Consider California’s decision not to adopt Singapore Primary Mathematics, because it doesn’t fully align with California Common Core mathematics standards.

Just because Iowa’s state board of education doesn’t approve materials in the same way, doesn’t mean a similar thing couldn’t happen here. EdWeek reported on efforts of Achieve to create and train teachers to use EQuIP, a system of rubrics for determining whether instructional materials are fully aligned to the Common Core, and notes that other nonprofit and for-profit groups are “wading into the alignment-evaluation business.”

See also the following, from a School Library Journal article, “What’s Happening at the Core?“:

Regarding publishing oversight, [Jay] Diskey[, executive director of the PreK–12 Learning Group Division of the Association of American Publishers,] says, “There has been talk over the past three or four years about having a national advisory group that would review or vet publishers’ materials. Nothing has gotten off the ground.” The reason? “At a time when there is significant backlash, it might be politically difficult to get something like that up and running.”

Of course, the choice of instructional methods and materials can also be, if not expressly limited, than at least nudged by writers of the standardized assessments items and scoring rubrics. It seems to me that Smarter Balanced Assessments mathematics response items favor a reform math approach to “explaining your work” or consider From Failing to Killing Writing: Computer-Based Grading.

Finally, I will note that I’m not certain that it is exactly true that “the Iowa Core sets high expectations but doesn’t dictate how to teach.” See, for example, this paragraph from page two the Iowa Core science standards:

The Iowa Core Curriculum for Science emphasizes student inquiry. The depth of understanding required of our students is not possible with lectures, readings, cookbook labs, and plug-and-chug problem solving. Students must be actively investigating: designing experiments, observing, questioning, exploring, making and testing hypotheses, making and comparing predictions, evaluating data, and communicating and defending conclusions. A district’s science curriculum cannot align to the Iowa Core Curriculum for Science without including inquiry as a guaranteed and viable, testable component in every science course.The science instruction should be engaging and relevant for the students. Strong connections between the lessons and the students’ daily lives must be made. This core curriculum reflects high standards of science achievement for ALL students and not just those who have traditionally succeeded in science classes. [emphasis in the original]

It is difficult to read this in any way other than a direct attack on traditional high school science teaching methods and materials. An attack that I can’t entirely comprehend, by the way. I attended a college-prep high school, and frankly my science classes were taught by lecture and labs, plus reading the textbooks and solving relevant math problems (as were my college courses, for that matter). We actively completed labs and wrote lab reports, which I think involves much of what is described here–observing, predicting, evaluating data, and all that–and yet seems likely to fall short on the “designing criteria”, even though I found myself well prepared for my first year college chemistry courses.

While I was drafting this, Chris weighed in on a similar theme: if national standards are good, what’s wrong with a national curriculum? And with that, I will have to tip my hat to Chris for keeping up with the grueling schedule of posting one post an hour and call it a day.


One thought on “Winner Takes All

  1. Karen W Post author

    Sigh. I meant to include a few more links. With regard to who chooses the values: Check out this article, Algebra is the wrong direction for math instruction and consider the implications if this attitude were written into the common standards. Note, more people than just “a few engineers” use calculus and the math leading up to it: see this post for the entry level math requirements for majors at the University of Iowa.


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