Standards for quality of mind?

Marion Brady describes Eight problems with Common Core Standards (just to start with) on WashPost‘s Answer Sheet. Marc Tucker begs to disagree (he doesn’t really beg) on Ed Week‘s Top Performers.


Standards shouldn’t be attached to school subjects, but to the qualities of mind it’s hoped the study of school subjects promotes.

. . . The world changes. The future is indiscernible. Clinging to a static strategy in a dynamic world may be comfortable, even comforting, but it’s a Titanic-deck-chair exercise.

. . . The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact, the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields of study is vast, expands by the hour, and will go in directions no one can predict.

He adds: “No amount of schooling can effectively counter” childhood poverty, which is the main reason for poor school performance; the Common Core kills innovation and the standards will lead to “national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).”  Also, the standards will “standardize” minds. Finally, the goal of “success in college and careers” is “pedestrian” at best. “The young should be exploring the potentials of humanness.”

Tucker guesses that “qualities of mind” would include synthesizing material, analyzing, problem solving and writing. These are “grounded in the disciplines,” he argues.

 . . .  the core academic disciplines (the core subjects in the school curriculum) provide the conceptual underpinning for deep understanding of virtually everything we want our students to know and further, that learning does not transfer easily or well, or sometimes at all, across those disciplines. . . . Like it or not, if we don’t have standards for the disciplines, we will have no standards at all.

The world changes, Tucker concedes.But a solid foundation of knowledge will help today’s kindergarteners learn and adapt throughout their lives.

It is hard to imagine that, by some time next year, arithmetic will be obsolete, along with ratio and proportion.  Or that it will be unnecessary to be able to write a short essay that clearly and concisely expresses a few key ideas.  Or that no citizen of this country will need to know anything about the history of the development of freedom and the conditions under which it thrives and perishes. Or that the earth revolves around the sun . . .

The Common Core Standards don’t try to cover everything a teacher might want to teach or a student might want to learn, Tucker adds. The point is to “define a much smaller core that all teachers should teach and all students should learn.”

Should we focus more on poverty? OK, writes Tucker. But when there are no or low standards for low-income students, they’re taught less and learn less.

What Brady calls “innovation,” Tucker calls “chaos.”

Here is what the research shows about what happens when teachers are free to “innovate” in this way:  the teacher in any given grade, having incoming students who have been taught by many teachers, some of who have taught a given topic at length, others who have taught it only superficially, and still others who have taught it not at all, start at the beginning, at the introductory level for this topic. . . . Researchers, when asking students what they are doing as late as February, are told that, “we are reviewing last year.”

Bad tests? Nothing in the standards calls for tests to be designed badly, Tucker writes.

Standardized minds?

There is not a country that has consistently high student performance that does not have some form of student achievement standards.

Finally, Tucker defends the “pedestrian”  goals of career and college readiness, rather than exploring the “potentials of humanness.”

Fewer than 20 percent of any given cohort of students entering the ninth grade end up with a 2-year degree or certificate within four years of entering postsecondary education or getting a 4-year degree with 6 years of entering postsecondary education.  I’m all for the “potentials of humanness”, but the American people are hurting, the American standard of living is falling and the American economy is suffering because we are wasting the potential of our students by failing to give them the skills they need to make a decent living.

While I have concerns about Common Core Standards, I’d be a lot more worried about schools devoted to instilling “qualities of mind” and “humanness”  but no particular set of knowledge and skills.

BTW, here’s ACT on Rising to the Challenge of College and Career Readiness.

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