Not the sexiest of titles. Bear with me.
There is a place in education for standards. Not all would agree, but it is actually true. We have expectations for things that every human should know, for example, toilet training. We expect everyone to be able to control their bowels.
Language. Everyone learns how to talk. No matter the circumstances, everyone learns the vocal sounds to put together into words to communicate with others in their communities.
Dress. Everyone learns how to put on their clothes.
Motion. Everyone learns how to control their muscles so they can run without falling on their face.
It is reasonable, then, to posit academic standards that we think every child should reach. The problem comes when we push too hard, too fast, and violate the developmental norms that are written in the human DNA of children. (Looking at you, Common Core.) A bigger problem erupts when we focus only on academic skills and not the entire human developmental agenda that children have. (Still looking at you, Common Core, with your insistence on kindergarten standards that deny children recess so they can sit at tables to do math worksheets. Because if children learn to multiply at age 5, they have no need to know how to get along with others, how to play fair, and how to share. [Sarcasm alert, if you need it.])
Another problem comes when the standards themselves are inappropriate to guide the education of children. I could write more, but many have said it better than I could. Start with Peter Greene of Curmudgucation fame, who ably criticizes the stupidity of context-free reading standards. (Reading cannot be taught, how much less tested, as a set of skills free of the content of what people are reading.)
A third problem comes when the standards are so broad and vague and poorly match the actual learning expectations we have. Now I come to the point of my screed. The high school Common Core standards for mathematics are atrocious. Bad, Very bad. Very, very bad.
I’m not a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ person to the party. But this year, as I have worked to develop a set of notes for Geometry lessons, the essential ‘what you must know,’ and to frame a set of master lesson plans for them, including a citation of the standard, I realize how poorly the Common Core has promulgated standards for high school mathematics.
Some are too vague; some miss the point. For some content we expect children to know, because they will be tested on it, there is no standard at all to match. To say nothing of knowledge children get tested on that are simply not in the standards. (For example, Florida Geometry students were asked to calculate the surface area of a sphere. You will search in vain to find that in the standards. Oh, I need to add a disclaimer here. I did not deliberately look at the test, But I have to watch the screens to make sure students are not cheating. Sometimes I can’t help but gain a sense of what a question is about even though I did not look at the specific question.)
This should not be. We were told that the Common Core backward mapped, that is, it started with what kids needed to enter college and worked down through the years to decide what they should learn in each grade level beginning with kindergarten. But later, the Common Core architects admitted that the high school mathematics standards were an afterthought, something they threw together as the grant dollars ran out and they didn’t have time to do it properly.
They wanted to backward map? That is the problem with Common Core; the writers did the job exactly backward. They should have started with what is developmentally appropriate and ended with what colleges should expect matriculating freshman to bring to the university.
As for me, sigh, one more job to add to my summer pile of work to do for next year. A long summer vacation, teachers have it great? Bah, don’t make me cynically laugh. In addition to everything else, I now have to write my own set of realistic standards for the course I teach.
I will share.