Showing posts with label standards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label standards. Show all posts

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why Standards-Based Teaching Has Failed to Raise Reading Achievement

          Standards-based educational reform goes back to the early 1990s. Since then, test scores have see-sawed a bit, but for the most part we are doing about as well as we’ve been doing since 1970 (when we first started collecting national reading data).

            That means standards-based reform has not led to higher achievement. Establishing educational goals and aligning teaching to those goals to ensure kids succeed has not happened.

            Diane Ravitch, and others who don’t spend much time in schools, claim to know why standards have failed. They believe that if teachers were just left to their own devices, American kids would excel in school.

            Unlike them, I’ve spent much time in classrooms and working with kids over the past four decades or so…as teacher, lunch room supervisor, park supervisor, student teacher, tutor, researcher, remediator, teacher educator, observer, evaluator, school administrator, textbook author, test designer, parent, grandparent, and uncle.

            My take on the problem is different, but I do agree that it is a problem.

            I have come to believe that standards-based reform will NEVER work unless educators come to understand the idea of standards-based teaching, something that has not happened during the past 25 years.

            To illustrate my point, I received the following two notes from teachers last week:

I teach 4th grade in a Daily 5/Cafe school. We have NO curriculum or requirements other than... 2 mini lessons, conferring individually and maintaining strategy groups with students. Do you have any advice or thoughts on the organizing and planning within these four areas? 

I am working on a district committee that is developing a universal literacy framework for our elementary schools. One of the recommended components is shared reading, which is not currently a formalized daily practice at our highest-achieving schools. Is there an argument, based on research, for this component to be mandated for all classrooms as part of an excellent literacy program? The research that I have found seems to mainly focus on pre-schoolers. 

            What sense do I make of these queries? They reveal that their schools are dedicated to promoting particular activities and practices—not to teaching children. There are particular activities these principals and teachers want to see in classrooms, and they are not particular focused on what they are supposed to be engaged in: teaching children to read.

            Instead of focusing like-a-laser on what they want kids to know, to be able to do, to be, they are promoting favorite classroom activities. Instead of thinking about how to get kids to a particular outcome, they are wondering if they can somehow align the required activities with useful outcomes. It would be like a surgeon deciding what kind of surgery he wanted to conduct and then hoping to stretch it to the patient’s needs (“Sorry Mr. Jones. I know you have prostate cancer, but I like to do hysterectomies.”)

            Until we actually focus on teaching the standards—that is, until we decide that our job is to ensure that kids learn what we have agreed to teach them—then it will continue to look like our kids are failing. (And, no, “test prep” is not teaching to our standards, it is just one more example of educators focusing on particular activities rather than on reaching particular outcomes).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Common Core State Standards: Winners and Losers

During the past few months, some amazing things have been happening in education policy. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have agreed to adopt a single set of education standards in the English Language Arts and Mathematics. Arne Duncan ALSO pledged $350 million towards a new set of tests of those standards. Now that sounds like a national curriculum to me… and national tests to boot—though nobody is using those terms right now.

Of course, development efforts like these take years, so those who are philosophically offended by the idea of a national curriculum won’t have to worry, right? Not in this case. The design of standards is moving like a freight train. Not just any freight, but one of those supercharged, superfast trains. Even though the process seems like it just got started, it has made terrific progress so far, and they intend to have graduation standards by December.

I’m on one of the panels reviewing the standards documents as they move through the process,

and can’t say much about the effort at this point (I promised). The two sets of potential standards that I’ve reviewed so far had lots of strengths and some weaknesses, too (the revised set had fewer weaknesses than the first, so things are going in the right direction). Once the graduation standards are in place, then benchmarks will be developed for the earlier years.

So who are the winners and losers as this enterprise moves forward?

Anyone who is against the nationalization of education, such as those who have opposed any role for the federal government, have to be pretty upset since “local control” is getting a pretty good whacking. Some state departments of education aren’t going to like it either, as they will no longer be able to lower standards and then pretend that they raised achievement because more kids got over the bar. 

Many of the critics of No Child Left Behind who thought the last presidential election was going to signal a lessening of accountability, testing (spelled AYP), and standardization aren’t going to be very happy either; if you think there was a lot of attention to tests when there were so many of them, imagine what’s going to happen when everyone is watching the same test.

And the winners? 

One of the big winners is the National Governors Association (NGA) for its continued effort over the past twenty years to push for standards-based education. NGA’s Achieve standards paved the way towards this accomplishment by guiding states to reduce their goal differences. Another winner is the Chief State School Officers as their organization is playing a big and important role in the development effort

Publishers have to be happy, because they won’t have to design so many “state versions” of their textbooks (though it should be noted that Texas is one of the states that hasn’t signed on to this standards effort). And, the test publishers should like the testing development contracts sure to come their way.

However, the biggest winner will ultimately be the kids. It won’t matter what state they live in, their schools will be expected to accomplish particular instructional outcomes in reading and writing. When everyone is taking the same test of the same curricular standards, it will be a lot easier to target improvements to make sure that kids really do keep up.

Hard to believe that this is the same country that howled when Bill Clinton called for a national test, or that screamed bloody murder when George W. Bush championed No Child Left Behind. We’ve come a long way, baby.