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On Standards, Having Them, and Changing Them

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It’s good to have goals, you could almost say it’s productive or makes you productive to have some sort of goal: it’s a thing to aim for. Something to earn credits toward or accumulate piggy-bank dollars for or practice new skills or check off a bucket list. My assessment class told me to make sure grading points were “tangible and measurable.” In some cases, this means making sure that there’s a bottom line or cut-off point.

Neil deGrasse Tyson (and a whole bunch of other astrophysicists) decided that Pluto was no longer a planet, and was more suited to Kuiper Belt dwarf planet status. Dr. Tyson’s possibly most (recently) famous for his book called The Pluto Files (also an episode of NOVA). Here is a lovely explanation by CGP Grey on why Pluto is excluded from planetary-status. (His other videos are equally fascinating and well-thought out and funny.)

This is the problem with education standards. No Child Left Behind had a great basic idea: giving American children a baseline for their education. Each state was to set standards for their students at grades 3, 5, 8, and sometime in high school (usually 10th grade), and each minority group, in addition to the school as a whole, was to be monitored for proficiency. If the school or any segment of the school falls below a certain percentage, the school is put on a list. If the school fails for multiple years, then various penalties are enacted, costing the school money which should have been used for normal school business. This has lead to reduced monies for arts, music, physical education, electives in general, as well as gifted programs and other more social services that schools may provide.

NCLB is messing with everyone. Eight states were recently granted a waiver from the federal government. That’s a total of 19. Another 18 states have applied for waivers, as well as Wash DC. So, if 37 states of 50 think (read: know) their schools can’t get to their goals, is this the fault of the state (which set the goals in the first place) or the federal government, which is monitoring the whole thing?

Race To The Top is something of a quick fix. It does nothing to fix the standards themselves, but to change who’s accountable and for what. While NCLB only imposed monetary penalties (in the form of reduced funding or orders on how to spending remaining funds), RTTT will give money to states if they meet certain criteria in an application process.

The bigger question is what to do now for national standards. Since we have national education standards, no matter how flawed, it’s politically impossible to just dump standards and have none, even though no-national-standards worked for a couple hundred years. Education needs a Pluto Files-style revision, along with the societal recognition of the good (or bad) of the new system.

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