That would be “unprecedented and unwise,” Sec. Spellings wrote. Not only are national standards not necessarily “synonymous” with high standards, they might actually lower the standards while doing little “to address the persistent achievement gap.” Additionally, she noted, forcing one curriculum on all 50 states would contradict both tradition and the American Constitution, which places most responsibilities for education in the hands of state and local governments and administrators.
“They design the curriculum and pay 90 percent of the bills,” Sec. Spellings said. “Neighborhood schools deserve neighborhood leadership, not dictates from bureaucrats thousands of miles away.”
Ah, the irony. Some see NCLB as a “dictate” from “bureaucrats thousands of miles away.” But the comment got me thinking. Would national standards or curricula result in equity? Would they be good for students? Would they be good for the country?
A few years ago, Washington State administrators floated the possibility of developing statewide mathematics curricula. State legislators took the first step in 2007 by requiring the superintendent to choose math and science curricula that would align with the soon-to-be revised learning standards. The legislation reassured districts they wouldn’t be required to adopt the curricula, but it left the legal door open:
Washington State’s standards rewrite and curricula assessments did go the way I wanted them to go – toward more traditional content. At the moment, as our children continue to choke on reform curricula, it’s tempting to wish that districts would be forced by law to adopt state-selected curricula. But the concept gives me pause.
What if the revised standards had instead continued to emphasize reform math? What if the state-selected curricula had all been reform? What if proponents of reform mathematics managed to fill every administrative and legislative seat and nothing was the way I wanted it to be? Reform could happen all over again. It probably will.
Districts must always be able to choose alternatives. Parents and students must always be able to compare procedures and results against something from the outside. Dissent is necessary to keeping any system honest and strong. That’s why I’m worried about current trends toward national education standards and a national curriculum.
In June 2009, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, and the Council of Chief State School Officers – in partnership with Achieve, Inc.; ACT and the College Board – announced an initiative to develop national learning standards (“Forty-nine,” 2009). Washington State is one of 49 states and territories to have already signed on to this initiative – despite the $1.6 million Washington just spent revising its own K-12 mathematics standards.
This is purportedly a “grass-roots” initiative, but Sec. of Education Arne Duncan and the Department of Education reportedly support the initiative (Levine, 2009). How “grass-roots” can it possibly be?
Any concerns are already too late. Decisions have been made. People have been chosen. The initiative was formally announced June 1, 2009 -- along with plans to release “college and career ready standards” in July 2009. That’s either really fast work, or they’ve been on this for a while. Quietly. Behind the scenes. In secret. I’ve seen little about this in the media. I can find nothing about it on the DoE Web site. Washington State signed on to the initiative with barely a whisper to the public. This has not been a particularly public process.
Who are these people? I’d like to know their backgrounds and get a sense of their leanings. The NGA declined to give out names until July. The San Francisco Chronicle called that “a wise decision," adding that "A truly open process would result in the experts being lobbied by countless interest groups, and – given the still-controversial nature of national standards – it could torpedo the plan altogether.”
Wow. A newspaper is championing secrecy. So much for the fourth estate.
Perhaps a truly open process would result in people finding out which special interests are already lobbying these “experts,” or maybe it would uncover some inappropriate backgrounds for some of the “experts.” A truly open process could indeed torpedo the plan altogether, as perhaps it should.
The NGA press release says there will be an “expert validation committee” “composed of nationally and internationally recognized and trusted education experts who are neutral to – and independent of – the process.” The words sound so good. Expert, recognized, trusted, neutral, and independent. Then again, we always hear those sorts of words. In 1999, the DoE assured us that reform curricula were “exemplary,” chosen by a team of mathematics and education “experts.” Look how that turned out. I doubt many “education experts” are actually “neutral” or “independent.”
Hey, I have some questions. What happens if Washington’s learning standards are weakened again? How will parents know? Against what will we compare them? How will contrary philosophies and commercial products survive – competing as they’ll be with well-connected organizations and companies, exceptionally savvy marketers, and the U.S. Department of Education?
Reportedly, Sec. Duncan also supports a national education curriculum (Levine, 2009). Again, as of June 2009, I can find nothing about it on the DoE Web site, but in May, while touting Tough Choices and Tough Times (two pilot programs that could form the basis for a DoE program called Race to the Top), Sec. Duncan reportedly said that not having a national curriculum is “crazy.” Steven Levine of Business Week writes:
Perhaps if I were the author or publisher of K-12 curricula, or I sold commercial products related to education, such as calculators, for example, I’d be watching these developments closely. I’d want to be involved behind the scenes, working with allies and friends to sway things to my best advantage. It would just be good business, right?
On the Texas Instruments (TI) Web site, I found multiple links to papers from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Coincidentally, the CCSSO is a partner in the aforementioned national standards initiative. The CCSSO and TI also have been partners for a while. One TI link is to a joint CCSSO/TI paper from 2005 titled “Standards-Based Foundations for Mathematics Education: Standards, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in Mathematics.” The paper says:
Another TI link is to a joint CCSSO/TI paper from 2005 titled “Why Isn’t the Mathematics We Learned Good Enough for Today’s Students?” The paper says:
Hmm. This national standards initiative is looking less “grass-roots” all of the time. I’m sad to tell you that’s not all. Remember the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)? This group ushered in the “Standards” on which reform math programs claim to be based. Its former presidents have written or helped develop several of the reform curricula we have now. In a June 2009 press release, the NCTM speaks glowingly about the prospect of national standards. It also speaks hopefully about a national curriculum.
(Oo. Just got a cold shiver.)
The NCTM takes care – as does the NGA – to specify that national initiatives would be “voluntary.” But there is very little about the standards and curricula we have in Spokane that’s “voluntary.” The only “voluntary” part is where parents can voluntarily leave the district if we don’t like it.
At the moment, parents have the right to reject any part of their state’s standards or district curriculum and teach their children at home. Occasionally, some folks try to take away parents’ right to do this. Sec. Duncan supports charter schools, but what if the push for national standards and curricula weakens parents’ right to choose other kinds of alternatives? What if the national support for one curriculum drives other curricula (perhaps curricula preferred by parents) out of business? Already the parent voice is weak – even at the district level. How strong could it be at a national level? Which of us could be heard over the clamor of well-heeled interests such as the NSF, the NCTM, the Dana Center, the NGA, Achieve, Texas Instruments, and the College Board?
I worry that, ultimately, standards, tests and curricula will become streamlined in a happy little U.S.-government-led, taxpayer-funded row. Pretend scores will rise, certain businesses will make tons of money, and administrators will be happy, happy, happy – but the devastating gaps in what our children know will just be better hidden from sight. Any time the doors close and shades are drawn, I start wondering: “Where is the Accountability?” Even if these shadowy faces manage to create perfect national standards and curricula that allow our children to rise to the top of the international food chain, they – and their creations – won’t last forever. What happens then? Once we have national standards and curricula, we will never ever get rid of them.
State, district and especially parent rights must be preserved – for the people. Our children depend on educators to provide them with a proper education, but their minds and their futures are our ultimate responsibility. Parents must take back the reins of their children’s education. They must go beyond the revolving door of standards and curricula, beyond the lame-duck standardized tests, beyond the parsed and handpicked statistics. They must go beyond the teachers, beyond administrators and beyond the useless school boards. They must find a way to determine what their children should know versus what they do know, take steps to fill in the gaps, and stay on top of things until their children graduate.
Based on what I’ve seen and heard, an increasing number of parents are doing exactly that.
Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (June, 2009). "National standards, national curriculum dangerous." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/
This article was published June 11, 2009, on EducationNews.org at http://ednews.org/articles/national-standards-national-curriculum-dangerous.html