There was an article in the recent issue of Education Week entitled Experts to Weigh in on Common Tests. They will have their chance to speak to U.S. Department of Education in Atlanta, Boston and Denver.
A bit of background. Forty-eight of the 50 states have agreed to work together to develop “common academic standards” in math and language arts. In order to measure these standards, the Department of Education wants to develop a set of “common tests.”
The common academic standards will define what students should be able to master by the end of high school. According to the Education Week article, grade-by-grade common standards will follow. So the Department of Education wants to invest $350 million to solicit proposals to work out the details of “common tests.”
A little more background. Last year the Department of Education received nearly $5 billion dollars from the economic-stimulus package passed by Congress. Two programs have emerged that will be funded by this money. The first is Race to the Top Fund, (Appropriation: $4,350,000,000) and the second is money to be used for Investing in Innovation grants (Appropriation: $650,000,000).
Both of these funding programs are designed to lead to “education innovation and reform” in four core areas (follow this link for more information):
- Adopting internationally-benchmarked standards and assessments
- Recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers and principals
- Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practice; and
- Turning around our lowest-performing schools
Funding in these two areas (Race to Top; and Innovation) will be aimed at these goals:
- achieving significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates, and
- ensuring that students are prepared for success in college and careers.
The article, and the links to the U.S. Department of Education website where The Race to the Top and Innovation Grants are described raise the question of “What knowledge of most worth.” As soon as the Race to the Top was announced by Secretary Duncan, I was disappointed by the use of such a phrase, but even more so by the details of the goals of these two hugely appropriated programs. It seems to me that the article that was in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that I referred to in my last post about mathematics education is right on target here as a criticism of the underlying goals of the Race to the Top, but also the effort underway to establish a set of “common standards.” Given that we are starting in mathematics and language arts, it might be that Ken Sprague’s suggestion that we are simply developing math curriculum for math’s sake, and not taking into account how mathematics knowledge might be presented in a practical way.
For as long as I can remember as an educator, we have been engaged in developing state and national standards that try to answer the question: What knowledge is of most worth?
In an article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, he points out that our schools are in need of improvement, but he moves us in a different direction when thinking about improving schooling. He said this:
So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity. Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.
Are these new efforts by the 48 states to develop a common set of standards, and the U.S. Department of Education to fund the development of “common tests” leading us in the right direction? What role will entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity play in the new common standards? Or will they? What do you think?Tags: Assessment, common standards, common tests, content standards, U.S. Department of Education