Stop the National Standards Train

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.

12 Responses to Stop the National Standards Train

  1. Patrick says:

    Having been to a college where constructivism was very popular among my fellow graduates, I do know they hate math and they really hate logic and empirical evidence.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Are you sure they were hostile to logic and empirical evidence? Maybe that was just an understanding that you constructed for yourself.

  3. GGW says:

    If it’s constructivism, no state will opt in.

    What if the national standards look kinda like what Massachusetts has now?

    Would you support it?

  4. Even if the standards looked great, at the odds are stacked heavily against that, we would have to worry about what would happen over time.

    Even in MA they are discovering that new regimes can take the system in a very different direction as the ed leadership is now pushing for Project 21C.

    What happens when there comes a Pharoh who knows not Joseph?

  5. Patrick says:


    That is quite possible…of course.

    I should note that the constructivists I knew were in political science and international relations – not education. I don’t think it is any different.

    Logic, rationality, emperical evidence bad. Emotions and intentions good.

    Logic, of course, was constructed by men to keep women down.

  6. Patrick says:

    a note: one of my graduate IR professors actually made that comment above… to which I quipped “a man also ‘discovered’ gravity, is that keeping women down too?”

  7. […] Jay Greene “can’t understand the enthusiasm of education reformers for national standards and testing.”  Jay sees plenty of room for mischief.  I’m inclined to agree.  However, if all we end up with is national testing that allows apples-to-apples comparisons of students from different states, it would help eliminate the clearly fraudulent state testing games we’re now seeing.  […]

  8. rse says:

    The states are already opting in en masse in their desperate search for more revenue.

    To be competitive in the hunt for an RttT grant states and local districts who want their share of the loot must commit in advance to the CC Standards. The first applications are due in January so they are essentially agreeing to adopt standards without really knowing how they will work.

    Weak national standards hit taxpayers multiple times. We have to pay the costs of ARRA as federal taxpayers and we have to pay the costs of operating the poor schools as state and local taxpayers.

    It appears that ARRA was designed to federalize how local schools operate in a way no one would agree to without the current funding crisis.

  9. Tom Hoffman says:

    I’m puzzled by this analysis considering the standards development was actually turned over to testing companies and Achieve, hardly a bunch of constructivist hippies.

  10. GGW says:

    Good question. I’m not sure about what would happen with the Pharoah. My school didn’t have core knowledge. Joseph had the coat, right?

  11. Tom — Testing companies and I’m afraid to say Achieve just like money. They’ll go with just about whatever fad allows them to sell national standards and testing.

    GGW — Thanks for convincing me more that we could really use more Core Knowledge schools. : ) And yes, Joseph had a coat and became a favorite of the Pharaoh, but eventually successive Pharaohs forgot about what the Jews had done in loyal service to their regime and decided to enslave the Jews. The lesson is that you can’t rely on the good will of a dictator because over time the dictator changes.

  12. concerned says:

    Outstanding article by Stotsky!

    I wonder how many on the CCSSI panels were/are also “consultants” for math textbook companies having the largest market shares?

    How many of those had their R & D (and “implementation”) funded by tax payers through National Science Foundation grants?

    It’s time for the Mathematical Sciences Education Board to do a follow-up to this report:

    In response to our charge, the committee finds that:
    The corpus of evaluation studies as a whole across the 19 programs studied does not permit one to determine the effectiveness of individual programs with high degree of certainty, due to the restricted number of studies for any particular curriculum, limitations in the array of methods used, and the uneven quality of the studies.

    Therefore, according to our charge, we recommend that: No second phase of this evaluation review should be conducted to determine the effectiveness of any particular program or set of curricular programs dependent on the current database.


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