Core standards pushback

Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top is pushing states to sign on to proposed core standards, but some are pushing back.

Massachusetts, which spent six years creating successful academic standards, lost points in its RTTT application for refusing to commit in advance to “inferior national standards,” write Jim Stergios and Charles Chieppo of Pioneer Institute in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

While educational fads come and go –the governor is pushing “21st century skills” like “global awareness” and “cultural competence,” they complain — the academic standards are a bulwark against backsliding.

The national standards may be better than most state standards, but they’re still dumbing down schools, writes Terrence Moore in Big Government. He wants students to develop “depth of insight into how human beings think, believe, hope, and act.”

I ran a K-12 classical charter school for seven years. Not once did I or any of the teachers look at a state standard in reading or writing (math is something of a different case). The students did no test prep. When our students took the state exams, all they did was complain about how easy and worthless they were and how they wanted to get back to real learning. Every year the high school ranked in the top three in the state, twice coming out first. . . . The way to teach literacy for the twenty-first century turns out to be the same way it has been done in the last thirty centuries of civilization: to hire the brightest and best-educated teachers (usually not those coming out of a school of education considered “certified”), to put in their hands the best works of literature and history and philosophy, to invite young people to have a conversation about what it means to be a human being, and to require those students to work hard and demonstrate good character while doing so.

Test-prepped in K-12, college students can’t read critically, writes Heather Kim, a remedial writing instructor at Berkeley, in the San Francisco Chronicle. Her students rely on strategies for guessing what a passage means. They all did well enough in high school to qualify for California’s flagship state university, which is supposed to be one of the best in the country.

If Moore’s students could ace state tests by discussing literature, I wonder if test prep really helps students pass tests. I was told once by a researcher that test prep didn’t produce higher test scores in Texas; what worked was time spent teaching writing skills.

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Comments

  1. It seems we’re in a crazy cycle and no one is stopping the ride.

    Want better quality education, want kids to learn, do test to check what’s being learned, leads to teaching to the test, leads to less being learned, want better quality educaiton….(repeat repeat).

  2. Test prep, like reading strategies instruction, is the equivalent of a sugar rush for reading, I think. There is a short-term boost that comes from understanding that what you read ought to make sense and thinking about your comprehension as you read in the case of reading strategies; or having a disciplined method to test taking (read the questions first, look for sections that address the questions, cross out obviously wrong answers, etc).

    But like a sugar rush, there’s a crash after the effects wear off. Neither adds any long-term value to reading. Both are collections of crutches or tricks that taken to excess, defeat the long-term goal of reading with understanding. In the final analysis, reading comprehension is “domain specific” (you must have some background knowledge of the topic to understand, make correct inferences; there’s no such thing as a general ability to read with comprehension, think critically, etc.) Where test prep and strategies instruction fall down is in their tacit assumption that reading is a transferable skill and that strategies and test prep trickery can be used to compensate for a lack of general knowledge.

    When someone with a deep knowledge of baseball reads that “A-Rod hit into a 6-4-3 to end the game,” he or she knows that the New York Yankees lost when Alex Rodriguez hit a groundball to shortstop with a runner on first base and one out. That understanding is a function of background knowledge and no amount of test prep or strategy work will allow someone with no knowledge of the game to extract meaning from it.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    As before, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if public school grads were mostly literate. There wouldn’t have been any cry from employers, universities, annoyed parents.
    When you see a clunky, ham-handed government action, you can usually presume there’s a problem behind it nothing else solved. Doesn’t mean the clunky, ham-handed action will work. Just that there is a problem and nothing else worked.

    Teaching to the test is useful if the test is designed correctly, which is to say, to test for what is desired, which is literacy. Tough order. So we test for comprehension of simple stuff–better than nothing, right?–and teach to that. Better than nothing.

    As the husband of a veteran foreign language teacher, I understand that teaching language skills is work. Long hours of work outside the classroom.

    My guess is that some of these fads–which frequently fail–have as one of their features less work for the teacher.

    Robert Pondiscio’s analogy of a baseball report is right on point. To read well, you have to know something of the world, or at least that part of it you’re reading.

    I have often recommended Rosemary Sutcliff’s YA historical novels with the caveat that few kids and not that many adults know enough history to differentiate her work from F&SF. Problem is not the reading, but the education.

  4. They all did well enough in high school to qualify for California’s flagship state university, which is supposed to be one of the best in the country.

    That means that she gave them good grades, as did the other teachers, and the kids were underrepresented minorities. It has nothing to do with the type of instruction they received. They could have done nothing at all, given the kids As, and they’d have gone to Berkeley.

    The way to teach literacy for the twenty-first century turns out to be the same way it has been done in the last thirty centuries of civilization: to hire the brightest and best-educated teachers

    and then make sure you have the best and the brightest students. Otherwise, you can teach them all the literature you want, picked from the classics, and they still won’t be able to read.

  5. I’m a huge fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s work, as were my kids. They loved the classic legends and the historical novels with young, male heroes (!). However, what is F&SF?

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    mom
    Old acronym for the mag “Fantasy & Science Fiction”, as opposed to “Analog; a Magazine of Science Fact and Fiction”. The first published “Charly” a heartbreaker, and the first version of Heinlein’s “Starship Trooper”, while the latter did “Dune” in the early Sixties.
    But I could have said SciFi, meaning the background of Sutcliff’s stuff is about as foreign to most people under the age of, say, sixty as if it were placed on Mars or Middle Earth.

  7. Scrooge McDuck says:

    and then make sure you have the best and the brightest students. Otherwise, you can teach them all the literature you want, picked from the classics, and they still won’t be able to read.

    Excluding of course Jaime Escalante’s success at Garfield High School. Many thought that his students were not the best and the brightest, now didn’t they?

  8. Richard, I’m here to tell ya, there is no fad that is *less* work for the teacher.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    lightly.
    I have a friend who went from HS teacher to super of a small district without, he brags, ever bringing any work home.
    Well-organized guy, probably did yearbook which involved after school stuff and so forth. But not at home.
    I dunno. Bring home a class’ worth of tests every day–five classes–or homework, or notebooks to correct, or orals to listen to.
    We have to travel on the weekends, 2.5 hrs each way when the weather’s good. I drink lots of coffee and my wife has a clever little light which allows her to work then, too. Plus nights, etc.
    I’d be surprised of any educational innovation resulted in or could be predicted to require such time.

  10. I don’t think your buddy taught AP English all day, Richard :). I just knocked out 70 practice essays. In all seriousness, English is a bit of a different beast than other subjects, so I can’t speak for what kind of work folks in other subjects bring home. I do know a TOY Calc guy — extremely effective — who never brings papers home. I probably shouldn’t prep so much, either, you’re right.

  11. Excluding of course Jaime Escalante’s success at Garfield High School. Many thought that his students were not the best and the brightest, now didn’t they?

    Given that some number of them cheated, it appears they weren’t all quite the best and the brightest.

    But Escalante pushed them for far more than the normal school day for years on end–no doubt some of them quit along the way, winnowing out some weaker candidates. And I see a lot of evidence that he taught by rote, which certainly isn’t the method advocated here.

  12. Scrooge McDuck says:

    Given that some number of them cheated, it appears they weren’t all quite the best and the brightest.

    Nine of them cheated on one problem, per a Washington Post investigaation some years later. The students retook the test and all passed. The accusation of “rote teaching” is one that is levied on lots of teachers, and math texts (Saxon comes to mind) which is contestable.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Lightly.
    He didn’t teach AP English, nor did he teach Spanish, as my wife does, including some years of AP.
    Now, suppose twenty years ago in his career, somebody had shown up with an innovation which would have required more work after hours….

  14. The accusation of “rote teaching” is one that is levied on lots of teachers, and math texts (Saxon comes to mind) which is contestable.

    I’m not “accusing” anyone. I have no problem with rote teaching, if that’s how he taught kids.

    You should read what I said again and see if you can understand it. It appears you aren’t the “best and the brightest”, either.

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