The BLOG: Voices

Why do we have academic standards in K-12?

There seems to be much confusion about why we have academic standards at all.

Some folks want them because they want uniformity across schools. It doesn’t matter whether the standards are low or high so long as they are the same for all kids.

And then there are critics of Common Core’s standards like me. I’m not a libertarian. I developed first-class standards for Massachusetts in all major subjects when I was deputy commissioner in the department of education from 1999-2003. I am in favor of the same standards for all kids but only if they are high standards — demanding standards — standards that stretch kids’ minds — standards that spell out the general content that kids should learn in K-12. If the standards aren’t first-class, why have them at all?

That’s why I have been a persistent critic of Common Core’s standards since 2009. They weren’t designed to do or be any of these things. We are told they will raise academic expectations for all kids, but that was the sales pitch. How could Common Core’s standards have been sold to state boards of education if its members, state legislators, parents, school administrators, and teachers were told the truth about these standards, and if one very rich man’s money wasn’t behind the project?

That is why complicit commissioners of education and state boards of education don’t dare to put college teachers of undergraduate courses in mathematics, science, and engineering on the committees that governors have often mandated (as in Indiana and New Jersey) to review and revise their adopted Common Core standards. They know that experts in their own higher education institutions will recognize the fraudulent standards their mathematically illiterate boards adopted.

So, what are first-class standards good for, if we had them?

1.  They guide the classroom curriculum a teacher teaches.

2.  They guide the development of sound textbooks.

3.  They guide teacher training. A good teacher preparation program makes sure it admits or graduates prospective teachers who know enough about the subject of the standards to teach to them knowledgeably.

4.  They guide professional development for teachers and administrators. The professional development industry needs a lot of guidance about what to do in workshops for educators, and a first-class set of academic standards in every subject gives them the backbone they need.

5.   They provide the basis for tests for prospective teachers and for K-12 students. We tend to forget that prospective teachers must pass a licensure test showing they are capable of teaching the subject they hope to teach. That licensure test for subject matter knowledge should be based on first-class content standards in that subject. The tests that K-12 students take, to show how much they are learning in K-12, should also be based on first-class content standards. Otherwise, why bother developing statewide tests based on shabby standards?

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky is a former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education. 

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