I want to be clear on the subject of national standards for education. I think that it absolutely makes the best kind of sense to establish broad answers to the question, “What do people need to know, in order to compete in the global market?” If we as a nation do not answer that question, clearly and consistently “from sea to shining sea,” we will continue to decline into has-been status in the world.
But who will provide those answers? And how will they be framed?
In the US, it’s politics and money that dictate our approach, so we know we’re in for a rough ride. Already the debates have begun. I would like to add my voice to the chorus of people saying, “This time, don’t leave out the teachers!”
In June, Education Week published an article about leaders from the major math and reading professional education associations publicly voicing concerns that they are being shut out of the process in favor of the national testing companies (“Subject-Matter Groups Want Voice in Standards,” published June 15, 2009).
Recently, developments seem to be headed in the direction of greater teacher inclusion. Education Week’s July 1 story, “Expert Panels Named in Common-Standards Push,” describes the addition of significant numbers of representatives from teachers’ subject-matter organizations to the panels developing drafts of proposed standards. This seems to me to be the only rational approach.
I know it’s currently fashionable to look down our noses at teachers, and question how “highly qualified” they are. But the fact is that I don’t know any teachers who got into this gig for the money, and have no interest in their students’ well-being. Much political hay is made about tenured teachers who have burned out, given up, and don’t care any more. That such teachers exist is unquestionable. But, like Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen,” they mostly are the fixation of fevered ideologues’ ranting.
In my experience, no one thinks longer and harder about what students need to know, and how to teach it to them, than teachers do. Most of us care deeply, and constantly try to do better and better at our work. Our opinions are expert opinions, as opposed to the all-too-common ignorant bumbling of laypersons who may care, but who often have no clue what the craft and art of teaching is really like.
Any push to create national standards surely must involve the prominent participation of the nation’s best experts on the subject–Teachers!