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.