Standards – at last!
I rattled around the country quite a bit growing up — 18 moves and 10 schools in my first 18 years. And, no, neither of my parents was in the military!
At a young age, I learned that different schools had different expectations for kids and different ways to teach those kids. I started learning to read by the “see and say” method in Maryland only to move to suburban Chicago and discover that phonics was actually the way to learn. Later, I found that math and English in a Wisconsin factory town were a whole lot easier than the math and English in a college town in Michigan.
That unintended exercise in experiential learning has had a profound impact on my understanding and feelings about standards. Why did teachers in Michigan expect me to learn math that teachers in Wisconsin did not? Why were the demands in English so much higher in Michigan than they had been in a neighboring state?
I have, in many ways large and small, abandoned my belief that local school boards and local school districts have the wisdom to make decisions about what children need to learn in order to be prepared for life after high school. There may have been a time when so many graduates worked in agriculture or local industries that it made sense to trust local authorities to decide what education was necessary to be successful in the local community. (Although I think the truth is that local school boards and local educators never set “standards,” they merely bought textbooks and, thus, always ceded such decision making to someone outside the community.) When even many mom-and-pop operations confront global issues, however, knitting together a framework for education that works for children everywhere is imperative.
Having standards that are accepted across the nation is just the beginning for creating a cohesive education system. As Vicki Phillips and Carina Wong point out in their article, “Tying Together the Common Core of Standards, Instruction, and Assessment,” www.pdkintl.org/kappan/index.htm developing instructional units and assessments aligned to the Common Core of Standards must be the next work.
Agreeing on standards is essential to ensure that we prepare teachers well for tomorrow’s classrooms. As University of Michigan’s Deborah Ball said to me during an interview last summer, how can we know what teachers should know and be able to do in a classroom until we know what we expect students to learn? That really is so very basic.
Then, consider the role that standards will play as we begin to break out of the physical boxes that are schools today. Tomorrow’s students won’t be attending schools that are in physical places. We can anticipate that students will soon be customizing their learning by shopping for education in online malls, selecting among a menu of courses and teachers, perhaps only applying to their local district for the funds to pay for the work and for verification that they’ve met graduation requirements. Such online learning options means students will need the ability to move seamlessly from one course to another or one school to another, confident that everything is linked to a clear set of standards that applies to every education provider.
Teachers, too, will develop deeper individual expertise and in entrepreneurial fashion begin to serve students who want the knowledge they have to offer. Where I moved physically from one site to another, tomorrow’s students will move virtually, studying with teachers across the country and around the world, again all made possible by standards that guide every course.
Standards is an essential step towards ensuring equity and quality learning for all children everywhere. Both our democratic and our competitive needs demand that we move ahead quickly to embrace standards that apply to schools from one end of the country to the other.