Last week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that
Not everyone is flailing at the donkey. Some states have school standards already higher than the ones promoted by the Race to the Top, and have taken umbrage at what they see as an invitation to race to the middle, or even race to the bottom. A few weeks ago we reported on The New K-12 Standards Debate. The Race to the Top (RttT; we pronounce it “ratatat”) is intimately tied to something called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI; which we now pronounce “sissy”). CCSSI is a product of the cogitations of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. But don’t be fooled. CCSSI is really the stalking horse of the Obama administration, which had to outsource the curriculum-building in light of restrictions on what the federal government can do by way of muscling into the states’ supervision of public schools.
CCSSI was released as a draft report in March—allowing time for the public to comment before it freezes into place as a monument to its own magnificence. The last day for the public to comment was April 2. We are now in the unofficial period for public lamentations.
Some of the problems were immediately apparent. CCSSI, for example, shuns specific curricular content in favor of “skills” and vague hortatory positions. It calls, for example, for students to be able to “cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text,” but declines to say what texts. This is a fine formula for avoiding controversy and debate, but means that CCSSI is pretty much an empty shell. State A can decide that a diligent search for textual evidence in the pages of Spiderman #457 will suffice, while across the border, State B has students mining the Iliad.
No state, of course, will veer to either of those extremes, but the differences do matter. And some states clearly view the proposed standards as a step backwards.
The Pioneer Institute has now released a white paper by mathematics professor R. James Milgram and Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Sandra Stotsky, Fair to Middling: A National Standards Progress Report, that devotes thirty pages to entombing CCSSI in its own mediocrity. Sections include, “An Organizing Scheme Incapable of Generating Grade-Level Academic Standards in
We at the National Association of Scholars are, of course, chiefly interested in standards in higher education, but that inevitably draws us into the question of how the nation’s schools prepare students for college. The answer right now is “not very well.” The answer tomorrow may be “considerably worse.” This piñata is a Pandora’s box.