"All questions of the grading of the child and his promotion|
should be determined by reference to the same standard."
-- John Dewey
You would think that when schools talk about standards, as in adopting
"standards-based" math, or observing "high academic standards",
it would be clear what they are talking about.
"I looked up 'standard' in the dictionary.|
There were eleven different definitions."
-- Dave Winer
In general, schools talking about their "rigorous" "high standards" are as
believable as Microsoft talking about "easy-to-use" software.
These schools need to cite exactly which supposedly "rigorous"
standard they are observing.
A widespread deception is to adopt a so-called "standard" drawn up
by such progressivist, constructivist groups as the
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) or the
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). These are no more the
agreed-upon "standard" for schools than the platform of one of the national
political parties. But when your school talks about "standards-based" programs
what they really mean is that they observe the fuzzy theories
in vogue with outfits like the NCTM.
We hasten to add that truly rigorous standards really do exist.
Among the better known are the
Core Knowledge Sequence, the curriculum
of the National Heritage Academies, or the
Hillsdale Academy Reference Guide.
The Making of "Weak" Standards
When you see the beautifully printed schools standards of many states including Illinois,
it's hard to fathom how they can be considered "weak." Chock-full of
grids, tables and elaborate enumerations of bullet points, tallying dozens of pages,
and festooned with colorful headings and encodings,
they certainly don't look wimpy.
Prof. E. D. Hirsch helps to explain what is wrong, in this excerpt (p. 115) from his book,
The Knowledge Deficit:
... the thick documents that purport to be "state standards"
and "district curricula" are so generalized that they provide no real
guidance to teachers. ... Typically in the United States, state and district
guidelines offer schools no definite information about grade-by-grade content. ...
Let's look at one state's guidelines for language arts. ... This state's
curriculum guide is quite typical. It is a 103-page document organized
into a dozen broad categories, all of which apply to all the grades
from Kindergarten through grade twelve.
The general categories have process rubrics like
"Students shall demonstrate knowledge and understanding of media as a mode of communication,"
"Students shall employ a wide variety of strategies as they write, using the
writing process appropriately," and
"Students shall apply a wide range of strategies to read and comprehend
Then, in the more "detailed" amplifications of these categories for
the early grades, we find directives like, "Distinguish the purpose
of various types of media presentations, using informational or
entertainment presentations," "Use a variety of planning
strategies/organizers," and "Draft information collected during
reading and/or research into writing." For later grades, the detailed
amplifications are directives like, "Write research reports that
include a thesis and use a variety of sources" and "Read a variety of
literature, including historical fiction, autobiography, and
realistic fiction." The whole document is composed of similarly
This illustrated the main shortcoming of these process-oriented, formalistic guidelines --
they offer no real guidance. ... [They] guarantee an incoherent education with
huge gaps and boring repetitions. ...
Gaps and repetitions are the reality of American students' school
experience ... These gaps and repetitions occur
unwittingly, not through the fecklessness of guideline makers nor the
incompetence of teachers, but under the influence of very inadequate process theories. ...
For students, the vagueness of the local guidelines produces an
educational experience that is sparse, repetitious, incoherent,
and fragmented. For teachers, the incoherence produces an intensely
unsatisfactory professional experience, which induces a large percentage of
them to leave the profession each year.