Despite debate, learning standards have little impact on students – The Washington Post | Team Cansler


I play a lot of golf these days. My belief that I will improve my game is reinforced by the fact that I can’t remember how poorly I’ve played in the past, including yesterday.

A similar ineptitude and forgetfulness are reflected in proposed revisions to Virginia’s history and social science learning standards. A massive political battle is underway between those who support the new standards’ commitment to “the optimism, ideals and imagery captured in Ronald Reagan’s ‘Shining City upon a Hill’ speech” and critics who lament , which they say the new standards make “obvious” political bias, antiquated language used to describe enslaved people and Native Americans [and] highly subjective framing of American moralism and conservative ideals.”

The movement to rescue US schools from mediocrity with educational standards began in the 1980s when I began covering education. Since then I have watched the decline of this movement, including the estimated $80 billion spent creating the Common Core State Standards, which are now fading.

As I read my Washington Post colleague Joe Heim’s excellent report on the new controversy in Virginia, I kept saying to myself, “Are you kidding?” Both proponents and opponents of the new standards set for a Awaiting a vote by the Virginia Board of Education seem to think it’s still important to have such signposts. They only agree on what the standards should be.

Virginia is changing the way history and social studies are taught. Here’s how.

The Department of Education’s confidence in the power of the proposed revisions is comical, at least to me. Once the goals are announced, the department says they will come true. I’m sure that the hard-working civil servants who were ordered to write such nonsense don’t personally accept this fairytale view of school improvement.

“Each graduate of Virginia’s K-12 schools possesses a solid understanding of the places, people, events, and ideas that make up the history of Virginia, the United States, and world civilizations,” says the department. “Our students will learn from the rise and fall of civilizations over time so that we can trace and sustain systems of government and economies that have led to human achievement.”

Many experienced educators in the state government and in the schools know from their own experience that standards rarely work in the long run. Virginia created a learning standards program for English, math, science, and history in the late 1990s. I was allowed to sit in a room in Richmond and read all of the high school history exams after promising not to reveal the content. History has always been my favorite subject. I really liked the questions.

But from studying the disappointing results on history tests Americans have received since the 19th century, I also knew that as a people we don’t do well on this subject. Few of us need to know history for our work, so why bother?

What I once considered strong standards in Virginia has since declined, as have standards. High school graduates no longer have to take these tough exams. They can instead get the demonstrated recognition they need in history and social sciences through what the state refers to as “successful completion of assessments, which include state-developed performance tasks that are appropriately assessed locally.” [state school board] guidelines with government-developed rubrics.” Allowing schools to rate these assessments is one of many new tools, such as

Why Our Many Big Plans To Raise Education Standards Will Never Work

The experts are fed up with my questions about this, but remain polite. Tom Loveless, former director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said: “Standards rarely impact teaching and learning. The state’s ratings and textbook recommendations can sometimes be more influential, but I doubt the changes in history/social science standards will materially change what Virginia students are taught or the subjects on which they are tested.”

Natalie Wexler, author of “The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System — and How to Fix It,” said: “Academic standards alone often don’t influence what teachers do in practice, especially when they don’t connected are state tests – which are usually limited to math and reading.”

Chester E. Finn Jr., a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, was less pessimistic. “It’s true that government academic standards don’t teach anyone anything by themselves,” he said, but “over the long term, they affect the curriculum, teacher preparation, assessments, accountability and more.”

Our nation’s foremost educational historian, Diane Ravitch, in her commentary on me, focused on the madness of the political struggle over Virginia’s proposed revisions. “Horace Mann, the father of the common school idea, said that if politics is ever introduced into schools, the curriculum changes with every election.”

I think the Post’s education reporters have better things to do than write about bitter struggles over what useless standards say. But I learned something about how schools work when I covered the SOL battles two decades ago: It’s the teachers, not the standards, that make the difference.

I wish the Virginia educators luck in navigating this new controversy, as I still have hope for myself as I wave my battered 3-stick at the little yellow ball on the grass in front of me.

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