Standards are Important… NOT!

My students, Charlie Belin and Brian Kisida, have a new article in the journal, Educational Policy, that examines the relationship between state science standards and science achievement according to NAEP.  As an indicator of the quality of state science standards they use Fordham’s ranking of those standards.  They find no relationship between Fordham’s ranking of standards and achievement.

Possible explanations for this result include:

1) Fordham is lousy at judging the quality of standards.

2) The quality of standards doesn’t matter.

I’m inclined toward the latter explanation, but either way, would it seem like a good idea to blow hundreds of millions, engage in endless and destructive in-fighting, and consume nearly all of the energy of the reform movement on something that makes virtually no difference?

I know, I know… the standards crowd readily admits that standards, by themselves, are not the issue.  It’s the way we link standards to teacher training, professional development, and assessments with consequences for teachers and students that really matters.  OK, so standards only matter if we also achieve a level of benevolent, top-down control over key aspects of the education system that has never been accomplished before.

Where have I heard this kind of argument before?  Oh yeah! That’s what the crazy guy in Harvard Square was yelling about when he said that the past failures of communism didn’t matter because it would finally work if we just did it correctly and completely.  And how much coercion and forced conformity would be required in the futile effort to achieve this level of top-down control?

Of course, it is also possible that Charlie and Brian’s analysis failed to capture the true causal relationship between standards and achievement given that is is only an observational study.  But if that is the case, the burden would still be on the advocates for national standards to demonstrate the causal connection between the reform they advocate and improved outcomes.  We shouldn’t remake all of American education on a hunch and a rationalization borrowed from the failure of communism.

5 Responses to Standards are Important… NOT!

  1. Robin says:

    The Fordham ratings always treat the standards as if their point was to prescribe content. The purpose of ‘standards-based reform’ is to shift the K-12 classroom from subject-matter transmission to Student Goals. All these surveys of the content standards as well as a great deal of the current Common Core debate on both sides obscures that fundamental reality. lays out that pursuit. Declarative knowledge really is the bug-a-boo since it allows its possessor to create their own conceptual understandings. That gets in the way of supplying the Enduring Understandings to be used to interpret experience.

    The latter is the main reason Texas did not need the Common Core and keeps using Understanding by design for teacher development. Provide the concept or desired skill and then backwards map how to get student there.

    Standards matter because they are a means of obfuscation. Parents and taxpayers remain largely unaware of the shift to a behavioral and psychological focus.

  2. Peter Meyer says:

    Jay, I’m writing this before reading the Belin and Kisida research, but I doubt they have explored the connection of curriculum to standards. Whether it’s top-down or bottom-up, it’s content that counts.

    • Robin says:


      I don’t know where you live, but I have kids in a school district that is both a member of the federal initiative League of Innovative Schools and Ken Kay’s EdLeader 21 consortium of suburban school districts. Teachers get fired for teaching content. Administrators only talk about Humanities and STEM now. What goes on in classrooms are activities designed to influence how students see themselves, each other, and the world.

      I have tracked down all the elements of the intended implementation and written a book explaining it. As a lawyer I knew to figure out who had the authority to bind and find out what was being required. Then I put it into the context of history and the related declarations of the whys for the sought changes. If you want to seek out a comparable use of aligned new assessments, new required classroom practices, and a shift in the curriculum to behavior being the measure of performance, look into the Queensland New Basics Project.

      They were very upfront in their reasons for the shift. The parallels to the actual required Common Core implementation is eerie. Just more confirmation of the actual whys. No wonder we are now allied with Austrlai on both 21st Century Skills and Next Generation Learning through the global push known as GELP-Global Education Leaders Programme.

  3. Bob Dean says:

    “But if that is the case, the burden would still be on the advocates for national standards to demonstrate the causal connection between the reform they advocate and improved outcomes.”

    lol…. don’t hold your breathe for the education community to use any honest data to base their newest fad on. Our system has become totally driven by money and politics. The education cartels survive by inventing the newest “silver bullet” every few years. What worked in the past is always thrown out for the latest “cure all.”

    We had de facto standards before the standards movement even started. They were determined by what colleges required for entrance. The standards movement, driven by the NCTM 1989 Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, dumbed down school mathematics. We have been going backwards since that time.

    Teacher evaluation based on the present bogus assessments will be the ruination of our inner city schools. All data shows that academic achievement can be closely tied to demographics. Why would any good teacher risk their career by teaching in the inner city where they are guaranteed to be labeled a failure?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s