Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Plea for National Standards

One of the many, many reasons I believe in national educational standards is that it avoids having personal agendas stand in the way of teaching our children. The latest flap in Texas (of course) is just an example of this kind of interference:
Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.
A term on the Texas BOE (as with most state boards) is not a paid position, but it offers perks out the wazoo; members are wined and dined and courted by publishing companies, and they are subject to intense lobbying by special interests.

We have a vague notion in this country that our schools have local control, and that this is a good thing for communities. However, if that were ever true, it went right out the window the moment we began to develop state standards. Why should it be easier to be a 3rd grader in North Carolina than in Michigan? Why should California and Indiana be the only two states whose standards and objectives match?

If we truly had local control in Dryden, we would teach creationism and have 20 minutes of prayer rather than sustained silent reading. We don't. We are subject to state standards that are put together and revised by an invisible and constantly changing group of educators and laypeople. Our state standards don't look like Ohio's or Pennsylvania's. Does that mean that kids in those states are competing for places at different colleges? positions at different companies?

"National standards" sounds somehow Soviet to some people, but it doesn't have to be that way. I'm not suggesting that every school buy the same textbooks or teach the same way; just that there be some sense that these are the skills we as a nation want our children to learn in order to be successful workers and citizens of our nation and the world. No dentists, no special interests, just two longtime educators picked by lottery from each state. I'd even chair the committee!


David Makar said...

No dentists?

KAZ said...

The chair of the board right now is a dentist. Perhaps I shouldn't discriminate--some of my best friends are dentists--but really. Just cuz he wields a drill shouldn't mean he has this much power over what kids learn.