Controversy in the k-12 standards work groups not always bad
Today’s post comes from James Shuls personal blog. James is an appointed member of the K-5 math standards Work Group established by HB1490. As many have heard, the work group meetings are sometimes fraught with fireworks as folks with differing viewpoints try to convince each other that their viewpoint is better. James offers his opinion that such controversial discussions are not a sign of failure, merely a natural product of our diverse culture.
Yesterday, I was in Jefferson City with a dedicated group of people committed to developing new K-5 math standards. Each of us was tapped for the task by a state lawmaker or by an education group within the state. Although we may not have gotten as much accomplished as we would have liked, the meeting was smooth and we were working together.
A reporter stopped by our meeting, maybe he was looking for some fireworks after hearing about the discord from earlier meetings. He asked me what I saw as the real benefit to developing new learning standards for Missouri’s schools. I said:
When you’re able to bring these groups together — of very different people — and we’re able to come together to make a product, I think that in and of itself is going to be superior to Common Core. We have something that a broad, diverse group of Missourians can agree upon. That’s gonna be the real benefit to these new standards,
As I wrote on Education News yesterday, conflict is inevitable. It is especially inevitable when you foist something as important as what children learn on unsuspecting people without their knowledge.
This conflict should have been expected. What’s more, it is a good thing. The citizens of Missouri are a diverse group of individuals. There are only two ways we can avoid conflict — stop centrally imposing standards or suppress the voices of some citizens.
Personally, I wish we would do the former. Setting standards implies that we know when students should learn each topic, which we do not. It stifles creativity and limits innovation. Moreover, there is not compelling evidence that setting standards at the state level will significantly impact student achievement. [emphasis added] Thus, in an ideal world, we would equip local schools with the power to determine what works best for their students. We would allow them to determine which set of standards they would use. In other words, let them decide if fractions are best learned in fifth grade or sixth. Let them decide if students should be prepared for algebra at eighth grade or ninth. Of course, with this level of decentralization parents also should be empowered to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children.
Unfortunately, I am in the minority when it comes to standards. So, we will continue to develop what we believe to be “good” standards or “better” standards than the Common Core.
My group has only worked through the math standards for 5th grade and part of Kindergarten. Substantively, they are not that much different than Common Core. However, as I said to the reporter, if we are able to produce a set of standards that have been developed by Missourians and are supported by the very individuals who initially clashed at the work group meetings, then that in and of itself will be an improvement to the Common Core.
I agree with James on this “there is not compelling evidence that setting standards at the state level will significantly impact student achievement.” Whatever we come up with in the work groups will be liked by some and disliked by others. To the extent that standards can be clear enough for any first year teacher in a rural community who has little support to understand and yet open enough for veteran teachers to apply their expertise to teaching them in the ways they have found success with, then we will have good standards. But if the only thing that changes in Missouri are the standards, we have no guarantee that our student outcomes will be any different. If our teacher training programs continue to be weak and not require content expertise, if DESE does not refocus its attention on being a resource to districts by providing research and curricular options, if the state board of education continues to allow the federal government to dictate what we do in our schools, then very little will change in this state when it comes to education. The disagreement is less about the individual standards themselves than who controls the process for deciding what we should be teaching our children.