"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The National Standards Discussion: A Weapon of Mass Distraction

We are again invited to give our opinions about the content of national standards (http://www.parcconline.org/parcc-content-frameworks). We are not invited to discuss whether we need national standards and their spawn, national tests. For those who haven't been paying attention, the Department of Education is planning to impose more testing than has ever been seen on this planet, far more than is helpful or necessary.

Those who accept the invitation to discuss the content of the standards will have the impression they have a seat at the table. In reality, invitations to discuss the standards are a means of control, diverting attention from the real issues.

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum … That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate" (N. Chomsky, The Common Good, p. 42, 2002).

The problem in American education is not a lack of standards. The problem is poverty. Our students from middle-class families who attend well-funded schools score at the top of the world on international tests. The US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries. If all our children were protected from the effects of poverty our overall international test scores would be spectacular.

Poverty means little health care, poor nutrition and little access to books and has a devastating effect on school achievement. The best teaching is ineffective when children are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read. The impact of poverty could be profoundly reduced if we invested more on food programs, health care, and libraries, instead of on useless standards and tests.

We have been told not to worry about these things but instead to debate whether 10th graders should be required to write 40% of their essays as arguments, 40% as informational, and 20% narrative.

Susan Ohanian notes that issuing standards is like presenting menus to starving people. Now we are invited to discuss what should be on the menu.

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