Ask Reading Kingdom: Should there be national education standards?

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Standards are essential to effective education. They are key to providing the guidelines as to what should be taught in each major area across the grades. But bad standards are worse than no standards at all. They detract from the educational process by imposing a host of unrealistic and confusing conditions that fail to serve both teachers and students.

We have, unfortunately, witnessed precisely this process with the implementation of the Common Core Standards that were launched in 2009. For a start, the standards are far too numerous. When you combine across the curriculum areas (reading, math, social studies, science, etc.) they number into the hundreds. At the same time, many are so imprecise that teachers cannot possibly identify the behaviors they should be seeking. For example, one of the reading goals in kindergarten states that “with prompting and support, (a child will) ask and answer questions about key details in a text.” For a start, there is no indication to assist in determining whether the questions that are posed are helpful, relevant, age appropriate, etc. Further, many of the standards are unrealistic. For example, one for KINDERGARTNERS states that a child will “identify the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.” This type of demand requires a level of linguistic thinking that most kindergartners are not yet capable of.

The unrealistic nature of the standards become even more apparent when one considers the fact that instruction takes place in a group setting. For example, when one child answers a question, there is simply no way that a teacher, even with a small class of 15 students (let alone a large class of 30 students) can ensure that all the children are able to achieve that behavior.

Along with all these problems, the standards impose enormous responsibilities on teachers while failing to provide the solid training they need (i) to implement the standards and (ii) to ensure that the children to attain the behaviors in question. These are not one and the same. It is critical, for example, for teachers to learn ask the “right” questions (i.e., questions that reflect the goals of the standards). But then, as anyone with classroom experience knows, many of the children will not be able to answer those questions. For any program to be effective, teachers must be able to move children beyond the errors that permeate classroom exchange, worksheets and homework. Amazingly, training programs do not include any significant components in this realm. It is assumed that once the “right” question is asked, the right answer will be forthcoming.

The problems, unfortunately, extend far beyond the examples offered above. But even this restricted list illustrates the ways in which poorly formed and unrealistic standards work against educational quality.

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