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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Standards as Political Footballs

In a piece published in a 2001 issue of English Journal, "Standards, Standards Everywhere, and Not a Spot to Think," I opened with a story about my daughter, then in middle school:
[M]y eleven-year-old daughter, Jessica, made an observation: “All they care about is the PACT test; they don’t care if we learn anything.” She was speaking of the most recent statewide testing (in South Carolina) that will determine grade promotion and eventually graduation. (p. 63).
My daughter not only recognized but as a student lived the nightmare that has always been the accountability/standards/testing approach to schools begun in the early 1980s and accelerating even as you read this blog post.

The essential problems with standards in the accountability era include that standards de-professionalize teachers, standards linked to high-stakes tests ask less of students, and because of the high-stakes associated with the tests linked to the standards, standards and curriculum are inevitably trumped by what is tested is what is taught.

But we must also add to the unavoidable failure of standards that they are doomed each time a new set comes about because standards are trapped in a partisan political and bureaucratic system and thus are always political footballs.

Let's return to my home state of SC where
The South Carolina education committee met on Monday to review and approve new science standards for students except for one clause: the one that involves the use of the phrase “natural selection.” 
The clause in question reads, ”Conceptual Understanding: Biological evolution occurs primarily when natural selection acts on the genetic variation in a population and changes the distribution of traits in that population over multiple generations.” P. 78 of the South Carolina Academic Standards and Performance Indicators for Science.”
Now why is this occurring?:
Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, argued against teaching natural selection as fact, when he believes there are other theories students deserve to learn. 
According to the Post and Courier, Fair said at the meeting, “Natural selection is a direct reference to Darwinism. And the implication of Darwinism. is that it is start to finish.” 
He further added, “To teach that natural selection is the answer to origins is wrong. I don’t have a problem with teaching theories. I don’t think it should be taught as fact.” 
The committee approved all measures except that clause, which now gets sent back to the committee level for review. State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said after the meeting he was not surprised by the debate that took place, according to the paper. 
Zais said, “This has been going on here in South Carolina for a long a time. “We ought to teach both sides and let students draw their own conclusions.”
And there you have it.

If there should be a debate about what is taught in science classes (and for the record, curriculum should likely always be a debate and not a fixed body), it must be among scientists and science educators—not state senators, political committees, governors, and superintendents of education.

In the evolution of standards in SC, then, we have a great irony of everything that is wrong with the standards movement.

* Posted on the birthday of Charles Darwin, RIP...

1 comment:

  1. this is a very good observation. an eye opener to leaders of the state or any country that when education is concern, people who has the authority and direct knowledge to run the education system are the people who are in the education sector not politicians because politicians served only for their own benefits especially if they have a business to protect.