A panel of educators convened by the nation’s governors and state school superintendents proposed a uniform set of academic standards on Wednesday, laying out their vision for what all the nation’s public school children should learn in math and English, year by year, from kindergarten to high school graduation.
The new proposals could transform American education, replacing the patchwork of standards ranging from mediocre to world-class that have been written by local educators in every state.
Under the proposed standards for English, for example, fifth graders would be expected to explain the differences between drama and prose stories, and to identify elements of drama like characters, dialogue and stage directions. Seventh graders would study, among other math concepts, proportional relationships, operations with rational numbers and solutions for linear equations.
Yes, but here's the essential rub with standards: What happens to seventh graders who can't do those things?
But what do you do with 7th graders who aren't smart enough to meet the standards?
Well, in European countries, they put kids of different intelligence on different tracks. But, our educational establishment hates tracking. So, we just put our fingers in our ears and close our eyes and assume everybody is equal in intelligence, and sue for disparate impact discrimination.
The new standards are likely to touch off a vast effort to rewrite textbooks, train teachers and produce appropriate tests, if a critical mass of states adopts them in coming months, as seems likely.
There is a lot of money in rewriting textbooks. By the way, one of the things that the proliferation of standards has contributed to is making children's textbooks so massive that many kids don't want to lug them from school to home to do their homework, so they don't do their homework.
But there could be opposition in some states, like Massachusetts, which already has high standards that advocates may want to keep.And why shouldn't Massachusetts have higher standards than West Virginia? Massachusetts has been the academic capital of America since the 1600s. There is a reason that the most academically distinguished towns in both Britain and America have exactly the same name: Cambridge.