Monday, March 24, 2008

"Standards" -- What Standards?

Below, I'm using information about my state, Connecticut (CT). If you live somewhere else, your schools probably have similarly bad "standards."

School administrators often mention their school's "Standards," but no one in the public knows what they are talking about. Here's why: The administrators don't know either, because, in CT and other states, there really are no standards. "Standards" is just a word they like to use.

My dictionary defines "standard" as follows: "A degree or level of requirement, excellence or attainment."

There is an organization, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, that looks into all the states' standards for English and Math. Its findings are on its website . Every five years, they report on the standards for every state. The Connecticut Standards for both of those subjects are rated F (the worst).

Fordham: >>Two-thirds of school children in America attend class in states with mediocre (or worse) expectations for what their students should learn. <<

also Fordham: >>The Unfortunate Influence of 1990s-era National Standards. The standards developed by professional associations such as the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics continue to create havoc, as states embrace their faulty fads and anti-knowledge orientation. << Got that? "anti-knowledge orientation."

The following is what Fordham says about CT's English curriculum standards:
"The standards suffer from systemic vagueness. For example, one suggests that students "maintain a multimedia portfolio that provides opportunities for reflection and dialogue regarding creative processes." These are empty words, unwelcome anywhere, but are particularly insufferable in English standards. Vocabulary development is ignored, and the state fails to outline a core literature for its high school students. Connecticut recently updated its English standards and, from our perspective, managed to make them worse.

"Despite having updated their standards since 2000, Connecticut's overall grade has gone from C to F. Many features are not clear, specific, or measurable, while the language is also pretentious and vague. Meanwhile, there is little on vocabulary development through the grades.
"Language Art, as taught in CT schools, is undefined and unteachable and content-free. Therefore, if districts do not have their own standards, they are merely passing along a poor program.

>>CT gets an F for its math standards, which are a mishmash of trendiness and vacuity. CT places on its students the burden of "constructing" the number system, eschewing memorization and mathematical reasoning for a reliance on technology, manipulatives, and "real life experiences." When the standards do get to the task of defining skills to be learned, such as the K-4 directive to "develop proficiency with basic addition," the state gives teachers and students little guidance as to how this amorphous goal is to be realized, and relies on calculator use throughout the grades as a crutch.<<

2005 State Report Card
Clarity: 0.67
Content: 0.33
Reason: 0.00
Negative Qualities: 1.00
Weighted Score: 1.37
Final Grade:
2000 Grade: D
1998 Grade: D
Connecticut’s standards are marked by vagueness and ambiguity. For example, the Common Core goals and standards, which are also repeated in the Framework, are no more than broad aspirations for all of the grades K-12, as in this example: 'Students will use mathematical skills and concepts with proficiency and confidence, and appreciate the power and utility of mathematics as a discipline and as a tool for solving problems.'Laudable, surely, but this is not a standard, strictly speaking. To be fair, the Framework does include more specific performance standards, but they mostly serve to highlight Connecticut’s constructivist approach to mathematics education:>> Connecticut students are not expected to have automatic recall of basic number facts, nor are they required to master computational algorithms.
The standard says: "Instructional activities and opportunities need to focus on developing an understanding of mathematics as opposed to the memorization of rules and mechanical application of algorithms.

>> . . . Technology plays an important role in developing number sense. Students should have opportunities to use the calculator as a teaching and exploration tool. Young children can use the constant feature of most calculators to count, forward or backward, or to skip count, forward or backward. . . . At the 5-8 grade level, students continue to need experiences that involve the regular and consistent use of concrete models. Ambiguity Abounds Still, the Framework is not completely devoid of arithmetic and computation requirements. In K-4, for example, students “develop proficiency with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts through the use of a variety of strategies and contexts,” while in grades 5-8, they “develop, use, and explain procedures for performing calculations with whole numbers, decimals, fractions, and integers.” A promising start, but in keeping with the amorphous nature of Connecticut’s standards, no procedures or strategies are identified.

>>The ambiguity of these standards works against the careful development of fractions and credible preparation for algebra. The Pythagorean Theorem is mentioned only once, in a convoluted standard for grades 5-8: Describe and use fundamental concepts and properties of, and relationships among, points, lines, planes, angles and shapes, including incidence, parallelism, perpendicularity, congruence, similarity, and the Pythagorean Theorem. Quadratic polynomials and the quadratic equation receive no mention in these standards. Finally, the Goals 2000 sample activities do little to clarify the mathematical content of the standards and are at best suitable as classroom enrichment activities.

Surely, CT has enough academic talent to do better. a local group -- perhaps the school board itself -- could come up with standards that a) are true standards, b) make sense, c) include specific requirements for learning, and d) demand accountability from employees.


A Bishops Wife said...

I live in Illinois,we chose to homeshool in October. We pulled them out because the teacher was not teaching them. The boys are 9 and could not even do simple addition and subtraction. We have spent alot of time trying to get them "caught up".

You are so right on the money with this. My neice has been a teacher for two years now, and is looking forward to the fact she will be quitting after this year. She hates being a teacher. How sad.

christinemm said...

This is terrible news for public education in Connecticut. "They" say we have a wonderful education system in Connecticut.

I can't believe the score went down since 2000 either.

Put this down as another reason to homeschool.

I'm linking to your piece tomorrow.

I hope you are feeling well.

Andriy said...

Two other states that also have about the same vague standards:
Tennessee and Florida

In Tennessee, the school standards are bad. They merely promote themselves, although they are nothing(which is why we have so many damn hillbillies)

WebMaster said...

I started school in Connecticut right into kindergarten.

I had severe dyslexia and I was assigned a full time tutor and given all the help I needed. By the time I was finished elementary I was up to speed with other students and in some respects passing them.

I learned to love learning. To know that the bush years and state mishandling have killed what it was just makes me sad.