NY Times decades behind on standards

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The editorial on the national standards in today’s New York Times is uninformed as to beggar belief. “National School Standards, At Last” argues that:

The countries that have left the United States behind in math and science education have one thing in common: They offer the same high education standards — often the same curriculum — from one end of the nation to the other.

The problem with the proposed national standards is not that they would be uniform, though there are good reasons to fear what they would mean for states like Massachusetts, which have used federalism to push ever higher. The principal problem is that the proposed standards are not high at all.

The Times goes on to call the new standards “rigorous”. The Times says that the standards are “based on intensive research” and that they “reflect what students must know to succeed at college and to find good jobs in the 21st century. They are internationally benchmarked…”

All of these statements are half-truths at best. So is the claim that the proposed standards are “vertically aligned, building in complexity each year.”

Worst of all, the editorial is stale in its view of what has happened in this country since the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report. I understand that the Times writes for the country, but big parts of this country have advanced really great standards that would be weakened with the thin gruel that the NGA and CCSSO are pushing.
In essence the Times is arguing that it is better to have academic standards than not to have any. That’s a view that might have been valid back in 1983, but while the Times editorial board slept, many states have spent billions, expended political capital, and engaged citizens in years of debate in order to implement high standards.

States have led the way, and the federal government would be in error, and states would have to be stupid, to let these new proposed common core standards replace all of the states’ effort. Especially in places like Massachusetts, where our standards are higher, and where we have demonstrated what works.

The Globe editorial board on February 3, entitled “Obama’s education plan errs in abandoning ‘proficiency’ goal,” demonstrated far greater knowledge of education reform – which is only normal given this state’s experience and the Globe‘s strong hand in supporting hard reforms like high standards, accountability and charter schools. The piece was on the Obama administration’s “retreat”

from a deadline to bring every child in 98,000 public schools to academic proficiency by 2014. What was seen as an attainable goal in the Bush years is now a “utopian goal,’’ according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The editorial closes strong:

The Obama administration wants to replace universal proficiency with a mandate for all students to leave high school “college or career ready.’’ What that means isn’t entirely clear yet. But it would be a setback for standards-based education in America if the new requirement relies heavily on so-called “21st century skills’’ – global awareness, media literacy, and critical thinking – that are now the rage in education circles.

Massachusetts manages to promote proficiency without punishing students who can’t reach that grade on the challenging MCAS test. Schools are required to create specific “education proficiency plans’’ for such students that include intensive classes in areas of academic weakness. If students show good progress in these classes, they remain on track to graduate, even without achieving MCAS proficiency.

In Massachusetts, where students rank at or near the top of national assessments, educators regularly produce students who are “college or career ready.’’ The Obama administration could learn a thing or two by taking proficiency standards as seriously in Washington as they are taken here.

Let’s hope the new editor of the Globe‘s editorial pages Peter Canellos continues to stand strong for what is best for Massachusetts and does not simply buy the view of the Mother Ship in New York.