Friday, September 25, 2009

National Academic Standards - What Do You Think?

From the NY Times:

The first official draft of proposed national educational standards was released on Monday, a joint project of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The curriculum guidelines detail math and English skills that all students should have by the end of high school. Forty-eight states (Texas and Alaska are the holdouts) have signed on to the effort, called the Common Core Standards Initiative, to write the standards. This is one step on a long road: there is a 30-day comment period, and then the panel convened by the governors association will work on grade-by-grade standards from kindergarten onward.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the new proposal? What are the obstacles to adopting common curriculum standards? Should this be a national goal, or should education reform efforts be directed elsewhere?

Check out the article at the NY Times for the pros and cons. Or for more, check out what the Washington Post has to report on national standards:

The proposal aims to lift expectations for students beyond current standards, which vary widely from state to state, and establish for the first time an effective national consensus on core academic goals to help the United States keep pace with global competitors. Such agreement has proven elusive in the past because of a long tradition of local control over standards, testing and curriculum.

The proposal, posted at, was drafted over the summer by a group including experts affiliated with the organizations that oversee the ACT and SAT college admissions exams, as well as Achieve Inc., a standards advocate based in the District. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers launched the Common Core Standards Initiative this year, enlisting 48 states and the District of Columbia. The two holdouts are Texas, which recently updated its standards, and Alaska, where officials reportedly are reserving judgment.


Shayna Steinfeld said...

When a group of us from Emory LaVista met face to face with Senator Isakson a number of years ago to discuss problems with No Child Left Behind, I mentioned the national standards idea and his response was "local control" -- education has historically been local. My problem is that Georgia has historically been towards the bottom and hasn't seemed to me to have sought a "best practices" practice of utilizing the best of what's out there. I think the problem will be balancing this out. I think that there is a lot to be gained in states like ours that historically rank in the bottom half and, possibly, much to lose in the those that rank towards the top as everyone meets somewhere in the middle. I have always thought that NCLB's goal of having kids meet standards based on tests set by a state on criterion based testing was pretty silly -- we needed to be evaluating our progress based on something more objective and national (ITBS, SAT, ACT, NAEP, Stanford, etc.) so we know how our kids are really doing vis a vis the rest of the country and not just how well they are doing based against Georgia's curriculum. We also need to be measuring individual kid's progress from year to year and should not be measuring based on how a teacher does with one group of kids one year and a different group of kids the next year -- we should look at where an individual child is at the start of the teacher's time with him or her and where that child is at the end of that teacher's time with him or her so we can evaluate how far that particular child has come. My thoughts....

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter where the standards come from if local schools are not using rigorous curriculum and holding students accountable for reaching those standards. Ou

How many children who fail the CRCT the second time around are held back? Not many, even when we know that kids don't have the skills to do the work in the upcoming grades.

True education reform is needed and true local control of schools is also needed. Our large school districts need to be split up into manageable pieces, so that we have children who are able to compete in an ever changing in the world economy.

The way educators look at data (looking at different sets of children from year to year) would never wash in any scientific research study. We compare apples and oranges and come up with bananas.

No Duh said...

As long as there are teachers' "unions," it's all a moot point anyway.

As long as teachers are not critically evaluated and held accountable for their actions (and inactions), it doesn't matter how many standards you try to apply. It is virtually impossible to apply objective performance standards on teaching. The way it is now, when Johnny fails, the teachers claim they can't be responsible if Johnny can't do the work. Look over here, Janie did the work and got an A, so I must be a good teacher.

But, without the teachers' "unions," we could evaluate teachers subjectively, the way the rest of us are! In the real world, it's not always about how many widgets you can make, but how you make them that matters.

As to National standards -- seems logical. I've always cared more about what my children score on the ITBS anyway. Why don't we save a lot of money and roll out Iowa's standards throughout the country!

I'm assuming we are talking about minimum standards -- nothing says states (i.e. Massachusetts) can't set their own sights higher.

Shayna Steinfeld said...

I definitely agree that the large Districts need to be made smaller -- way too much gets to be swept under the carpet in the large districts (like DCSS) -- just move them around and no one really notices. You can't really focus on the real problems with such a monstrous sized system. The time may be coming with enough noise to actually accomplish this on a local level if there is enough movement at the ground level with local state legislators. You can do something on this front.

Cerebration said...

I do think we have an issue with poor teaching in many cases in DeKalb. We also have some clueless, overpaid leaders, but we have a wide open door due to low entrance testing and standards that allows for sub-par teachers. Then, once hired and found to be sub-par, they are nearly impossible to remove.

I can tell many personal stories about disrespectful teachers in DeKalb. Many of the Lakeside teachers have "issues" - race and otherwise, and it's not getting better. The best teachers I've met teach at Kittredge or ironically, Cross Keys. Three good ones at Oak Grove moved back to their home states up north several years back - one after having to contend with a violent student with little support from the principal and virtually none from the county.

A national curriculum won't change teacher quality. And it's been pretty much proven that teacher quality is key. We need better teaching training in our colleges and higher licensing standards in Georgia.

Ella Smith said...

I am in leadership classes now and the best practices now all point toward collaborative planning.

Basically all teachers at a school in the same subject plan together and are teaching the same subject in the same way. They meet and learn new ways of doing things. Their assessements are the same. So one teacher is not much harder or much easier than another teacher.

Test scores are looked at and teachers know how they are doing compared to the group. Principals and department head know. There is constant checkpoint testing to know how teachings are doing.

Today school systems can get rid of teachers if their evaluations are poor. Our teachers unions are not unions in the sense of other unions.

However, I do not see Dekalb County doing these practices.

Cerebration said...

Truthfully, I've only met about 2 teachers in my area of DeKalb (the Lakeside district) who I would label "very good". Two more could be labeled "excellent". Many would be labeled "hostile". For example, one teacher who when I told her that my child with ld was troubled by receiving a 6 page study guide the night before a test yelled at me, "That's bullsh*t". She was never reprimanded for treating me that way. One continually lost my child's homework assignments, giving zeros and calling my child a "liar" - until we starting making copies of the homework and showing the teacher the dated copies. Or how about the (pregnant) Spanish teacher who offered an early morning tutorial, but only showed up once out of the five times my child attended and waited by the teacher's closed, locked door?! Or the long-term sub who filled in for the pregnant one on maternity leave, but didn't know one word of Spanish? How about another who threw a water bottle across the room
because a child didn't know an answer? Or the same one who kicked a hole in his desk for the same reason? (Which the principal when told said, "I wondered how that hole got there!") Or the math teacher (who had the decency to finally quit) who could not solve the problems herself and had to leave the classroom to ask the teacher across the hall? Or the one who berated a 9th grader and stood him in the hall because he couldn't come up with a direct object the teacher approved of? Or the one who paid no attention to students "Powerpoint" presentations (busy homework) while she worked on her computer? How about the coach who taught "Entrepreneurship" yet never actually spoke to his class for a full year?

None of these teachers were ever fired or even reprimanded as far as I know.

Cerebration said...

Schools are begging for quality teachers. In fact, it seems that colleges have resorted to bribing people into the teaching profession. Check out the "TEACH" Grant program at FAFSA.

Through the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, Congress created the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program that provides grants of up to $4,000 per year to students who intend to teach in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves students from low-income families.

In exchange for receiving a TEACH Grant, you must agree to serve as a full-time teacher in a high-need field in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves low-income students (see below for more information on high-need fields and schools serving low-income students).

As a recipient of a TEACH Grant, you must teach for at least four academic years within eight calendar years of completing the program of study for which you received a TEACH Grant. IMPORTANT: If you fail to complete this service obligation, all amounts of TEACH Grants that you received will be converted to a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan. You must then repay this loan to the U.S. Department of Education. You will be charged interest from the date the grant(s) was disbursed. Note: TEACH Grant recipients will be given a 6-month grace period prior to entering repayment if a TEACH Grant is converted to a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

Student Eligibility Requirements
To receive a TEACH Grant you must meet the following criteria:

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), although you do not have to demonstrate financial need.

Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
Be enrolled as an undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate student in a postsecondary educational institution that has chosen to participate in the TEACH Grant Program.

Be enrolled in course work that is necessary to begin a career in teaching or plan to complete such course work. Such course work may include subject area courses (e.g., math courses for a student who intends to be a math teacher).

Meet certain academic achievement requirements (generally, scoring above the 75th percentile on a college admissions test or maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25).

Anonymous said...

Half of all new teachers quit within the first five years. Shouldn't that be a wake up call?

Anonymous said...

I have no opposition to national standards because we are a highly mobile society and it is ridiculous to have different educational standards (particularly middle and high school) for each state. However, national standards will have little effect on improving GA and DCSS' dismal educational results.

First, everyone needs to understand that the national standards describe the minimum levels the drafters feel are required upon graduation from high school. The drafters point out that a higher level is needed for success in college and success in specialized areas such as engineering.

My fear is that for GA, the national standards will become the goal, not the bare minimum. There will be more "teaching to the test" and even less attention given to advanced students. I feel DCSS is one of the worst offenders in ignoring the advanced student for the entire metor area. The administration is 100% focused on the bottom.

I also share the concern that DCSS does not have sufficient teachers to teach more rigorous standards, especially at the high school level. I know one of the college professors who helped write the revised high school biology standards. She confided in me that many DCSS science teachers do not have the educational training in science to teach the new course. BTW, her children no longer attend public school.

Anonymous said...

That should be "metro" not metor.

Shayna said...

Wow -- that post about the biology teacher is eye-opening but it also confirms much of what I've learned in my own conversations with teachers. My sister-in-law's experience taking teacher boards in Mass. was an ordeal -- 4 days worth of tests with a 30% or so pass rate -- it reminded me of the bar exam. Couple that with the comment from the teacher from Pennsylvalania about training and most of the day being about fashion and the standards being the goal in Georgia and the floor in Penn. and it's no wonder we have such an issue.

I do have to pipe in that my son who left Lakeside had a few teachers who were true "gems" at Lakeside -- in our dozen years in Dekalb there have been a dozen or so teachers who have been truly outstanding but I can also name the teachers Cere is referring to in her post... they are really there. The fact that LHS hasn't had a principal in place for over 3 years in over a decade means that the Indians have been running the show without a Chief with the power and ability to really exercise control -- I've dubbed it "organized chaos" -- if the student does well with the teachers they land with, they've navigated it okay, if not, well then... If the teacher doesn't like the principal du jour, they complain to someone....parents, higher ups, school board members, etc. -- chaos is maintained. They retain their jobs (there have been exceptions) because of the process involved in the hiring/firing of teachers. Can you name 6 schools in DCSS with a principal in place for more than 5 years? Don't list them here please -- I don't think it's good for the school --the principal will get moved -- keep it to yourself. I sure do hope that Mr. Reed stays at LHS for at least these next 5 years to stop this cycle (or at least to prove me wrong)!

Anonymous said...

Georgia Schools cannot agree on allowing the President of the United States to speak to students for 15 mins, and we are going to agree on National Standards. This is not new. Study the history of education. This has been suggested before. How are individual beliefs going to stay out of the standards selected? Will they be tested before they are implemented? How often will they be revised and updated? Will teachers be fully trained on teaching them? I do not mean only teachers in Georgia, but teachers all over the United States. What about the Fine Arts? Will they be part of these standards? What about Health and Physical education? Is this going to be another government unfunded mandate? Will all schools, not only Title I schools, be given the materials, books and technology to teach these standards. In a time that money is being cut in education, who will pay for it? Can we trust the State of Georgia to fund the cost? Funding to schools is important. As the economy improves and more options are available, we will continue to lose our best minds and our best educators to other fields. How many of you have children that want to become teachers? How many of you have a burning desire to go into a school and teach each day? Our students need so much. It is not just the academics that is important. Our students do need strong instruction, but they also need to learn how to live in a diverse and changing society. It sometime seems that people are looking for some "magic formula" to change education. We try this for a while and then we pick up something else that sounds good. A good education takes hard work. The students, teachers, parents, leaders and community have to all put in hard work. If you are a lawyer, a teacher, a parent, a student, a dancer, a football player, a community activist to do your best and reach your best, it took hard work and the support of someone along the line that believed in you and helped you. National Standards alone will not solve the education in Georgia or any other place. The schools must be valued. The state seems to worry more about a new stadium for the Falcons then they do about doing right for ALL of the children in Georgia Schools. The cuts to education impact everyone. Schools are training our future. Our governmental leaders and our educational reformers have to also fund the great changes that they want to implement for ALL SCHOOLS AND ALL STUDENTS.