Sunday, February 9, 2014

A thousand things badly

One important objection to the Common Core standards is that they are inseparable from the larger project of high-stakes test-driven education. If they are not enforced by using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers’ adherence to them, then they’re largely toothless. But as soon as jobs and promotions and salaries become contingent on raising test scores, then the clear incentive is to focus on what gets tested to the exclusion of what doesn’t, which is very hard to defend. So then there’s pressure to put even more subjects into the standards and onto the tests. The Iowa Core covers several subjects in addition to those in the Common Core, but the absence of standards for art, for example, has led people to propose that they adopt standards (and a test??) for that, too. (And of course there are some qualities that won’t ever be assessed by a test score, like whether your kids’ school has a humane atmosphere and models humane values, and whether it provides enough time for physical activity, recess, and down time, and whether it provides an even minimally decent time period for lunch.)

The result, in Iowa, is that we have four hundred pages of “core” standards, and may end up with even more. Nobody wants to think about the fact that there are only so many hours in the school day (knock on wood), and that sometimes you have to choose between doing some things well and doing a thousand things badly. It’s a check-list approach to education that is driven more by the desire to say that the school “covers” certain material than by any concern for what the students actually learn.

The people enacting these standards—the national group that drew them up, the President and Congresspeople who pressured the states to adopt them, the Governor and his education department who proposed them, and the state legislators who approved them—have no idea whether they can be meaningfully satisfied within the confines of our school day and school year, or what their actual consequences will be on the school experience, or what teachers can realistically accomplish with their actual students. You know who does? Your kid’s teacher.

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