Friday, August 03, 2012

Give the Standards Back to the Teachers

Education Week
Published Online: August 2, 2012

By John Ewing

A standard is a statement that can be used to judge the quality of a mathematics curriculum or methods of evaluation. Thus, standards are statements about what is valued.

—From 1989 standards released by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

When the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers commissioned a small body of scholars to create national standards for mathematics in spring 2009, it seemed astounding that anyone paid attention. We have been inundated with standards for more than 20 years. A Google search for the phrase “mathematics standards” produces about 300,000 results, many referring to the various NCTM standards; to multiple guides created by individual states, often in conflicting versions; to publishers and software companies; and so forth. Here was one more set of standards, and it was likely irrelevant, people could be forgiven for thinking. But when nearly all the states (at last count, 45 of them, plus the District of Columbia) agreed to adopt both the math and English/language arts standards, people paid attention. This gave those states, if not a common K-12 curriculum, a common foundation for a national curriculum. It was an unexpected opportunity.

Or was it? After two decades of standards, we still wring our hands about student declines, unfocused curricula, and dreadful textbooks. There is little evidence that previous standards substantially improved education, and the fact that we continually replace old standards with new does not suggest success.

Why have previous standards failed? I think the answer is simple and evident: Standards failed because everybody owns them—politicians, administrators, teacher-educators (not to mention policy experts, publishers, and others)—everybody except the people who actually have to implement them, who have to use them as guides for the real work of instruction, and who have to determine whether the standards really are “statements about what is valued.” Teachers have never owned standards.


No comments: