As I’ve said before (here, here, and elsewhere), I can’t understand the enthusiasm of education reformers for national standards and testing. Advocates for the status quo and/or pure nonsense are much better positioned to control the process of national standard-setting and test-writing than are advocates for meaningful reform grounded in evidence-based approaches.
In case you had any doubts, the current round of national standards and testing craze is once again being hijacked by the Dark Side. My colleague, Sandra Stotsky, has an excellent piece in the current issue of City Journal ringing the alarm bells:
A distinct lack of interest in allowing mathematicians a major voice in determining the content of the high school mathematics curriculum isn’t confined to educational research publications or presentations. A new effort is under way to develop national math standards for K–12. The two organizations running the effort—the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with support from both the Department of Education and the National Education Association—have not yet invited a single mathematical or science society to ensure that the high school mathematics standards and “college-readiness” standards they propose in fact prepare American high school students for the freshman calculus courses that serve as the basis for undergraduate majors in engineering, science, and mathematics (as well as other mathematics-dependent majors and technical/occupational programs). The effort, which is being pushed very quickly, seems determined to do an end run around the country’s mathematical and scientific organizations and the panel’s recommendations on the major topics for school algebra.
Who controls this process? Advocates of “constructivism” and “cultural-historical activity theory” do. If you don’t know what this gobbledy-gook means, Sandy helpfully explains:
Two theories lie behind the educators’ new approach to math teaching: “cultural-historical activity theory” and “constructivism.” According to cultural-historical activity theory, schooling as it exists today reinforces an illegitimate social order. Typical of this mindset is Brian Greer, a mathematics educator at Portland State University, who argues “against the goal of ‘algebra for all’ on the grounds that . . . most individuals in our society do not need to have studied algebra.” According to Greer, the proper approach to teaching math “now questions whether mathematics as a school subject should continue to be dominated by mathematics as an academic discipline or should reflect more fully the range of mathematical activities in which humans engage.” The primary role of math teachers, constructivists say in turn, shouldn’t be to explain or otherwise try to “transfer” their mathematical knowledge to students; that would be ineffective. Instead, they must help the students construct their own understanding of mathematics and find their own math solutions.
We need to stop this national standards train before we all go off the rails.