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NCLB Outrages

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

NOTE: These two pieces were run as op-eds in the Boston Globe. Nobody ever accused the Globe of being subtle. They ran the Carlsson-Paige & Levin piece as is. The ran the Driscoll piece with a cheerful, 4-color piece of children working on a collaborative project.

Driscoll's arrogance is revealed in the statement: To waste time trying to decide what kids need to learn. . . That just about says all you need to know about him. But keep reading: you'll also learn, no thanks to the Globe, that he's a lobbyist.

by Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane E. Levin

The proposed common core national education standards for K-12 - which will impose higher academic standards on younger children - contradict decades of early education theory and research about how young children learn best and how to close the achievement gap.

The imposition of one-size-fits-all standards on young children can't solve the problems of an education system that is fundamentally unequal. Children in wealthy school districts receive many times the resources that children in poor communities do. The United States stands out in sharp contrast to the many countries that take a central and equal approach to school funding. Our unequal funding only adds to the disadvantages, such as hunger and lack of health care, that so many children bring to school resulting from the widening income disparities in our nation.

The proposed standards focus exclusively on teaching isolated reading and math skills starting in kindergarten. Academic learning is separated from social, emotional, and physical growth. But theory, research, and experience tell us that meaningful learning in young children does not come from rote skills. Children build knowledge through hands-on experience with materials, peers, and teachers in meaningful ways that relate to what they already know, to their developmental levels, and their interests.

If adopted, the national standards will lead to more rote learning by all young children, but especially our poorest young learners who are in overcrowded classrooms with less qualified teachers who will have to resort to more direct instruction rather than hands-on, experiential learning. Even if we did see better test scores after an implementation of national standards, it's unlikely that children would be able to apply the skills learned by rote to real-life situations, use them to solve new problems, or discover the satisfactions inherent when learning is meaningful. This will set young children up for school failure later on when transfer of knowledge and self-motivation become crucial to school success.

The increase in teacher-directed instruction that has resulted from No Child Left Behind has already pushed play out of the curriculum in kindergartens countrywide. This is a far greater problem than many realize. Play is the cornerstone of social, emotional, and cognitive learning and healthy development. It is through play that children develop the foundation for cognitive concepts, problem solving skills, and critical thinking which is essential for later academic learning. Play generates imagination and creativity, planning and self-regulation. It helps children develop a love for learning.

The No Child Left Behind Act, with its high-stakes testing beginning in 3rd grade, has led many schools, especially in poor communities, to start the drill and testing regime in kindergarten. This shift, even before the release of the new standards, has eroded the foundation young children need for school success.

We won't make genuine progress in closing the achievement gap in our nation's schools until we address the underlying inequities that are its root cause. Imposing more standards and tests is a misplaced, misleading, even harmful approach. If these standards are imposed, we will see a continuing achievement gap and new levels of stress and failure among young children. Worst of all, we will have missed an opportunity to give our nation's children the best possible education, the one they deserve and the one our future depends on.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor of education at Lesley University, is author of Taking Back Childhood. Diane E. Levin, a professor of education at Wheelock College, is author of So Sexy So Soon.

Reader Comment: The Globe should have insisted on a more complete by-line for the piece. Dr. Driscoll, in addition to being the former education commissioner, is currently a lobbyist at Liberty Square Group and on the board of the Fordham Institute, a recipient of significant funding from the Gates Foundation, the major driver behind the Common Core Standards (see Diane Ravitch's recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 210-212).

Common core standards
by David P. Driscoll

They're good for the state

MASSACHUSETTS IS participating in the national common core standards initiative and people who have shown little interest in academic standards are rushing to condemn the process.

During my time as commissioner of education in Massachusetts, I oversaw the state's curriculum frameworks in all major subjects, and I strongly support the common core standards.

The current debate reminds me of the "math wars" we fought in Massachusetts when I first recommended the adoption of statewide math standards. The problem with that debate was that it had nothing to do with math. Opponents argued about process, challenged the right of the state to impose standards, and voiced their fears that districts, schools, and individual students would eventually be held accountable for meeting the standards. The same thing is happening now.

The Common Core Standards Initiative is an effort by two national organizations -- the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor's Association -- to develop standards that will guide what all students need to learn in English and math. They are drawing upon the standards developed by the highest performing states, including Massachusetts, and getting input from hundreds of K-12 educators, higher education faculty, and experts from state educational agencies, as well as think tanks, business organizations, and others. These standards will be voluntary and promise to represent a clear improvement over the mediocre standards many states currently follow.

Massachusetts' current standards are strong, nationally recognized, and have played a major role in the academic success of our students over the past decade. That said, it is too early to assume that adopting the common core standards would mean backing away from the academic rigor that has become the norm in the Massachusetts public schools. We have seen great improvement in each new draft and anticipate that the final product will at least meet --if not exceed -- our current standards.

To waste time trying to decide what kids need to learn keeps us from confronting the real crisis in education today. We do not hold our kids to high enough standards of conduct, work ethic, and exploration of real learning. There is real work to do in preparing and supporting teachers and principals so they can support and motivate their students. The best educators are the ones who take whatever academic goals they are provided and use their minds and hearts to create engaging, productive classrooms where every student can learn.

Massachusetts will benefit from these common standards, and their rollout will end the injustice that some children face in schools that follow standards that are much lower and less challenging. Their adoption will set the basis for a strong common assessment that will allow us to compare our progress against other states and learn -- state by state, city by city, and school by school -- those areas in which we need to improve.

There is really no downside to participating in this process. We have not committed to adopting the new standards, and should not until we can ensure that they do not represent a decline in rigor. In the meantime, failing to support the effort and not providing counsel on content as they are developed would be parochial and selfish.

I get a kick out of how the same people who argued against the development of state standards now like to brag about the success our students are having on national and international assessments. We clearly did something right in Massachusetts, and the nation can benefit from our experience. Itâs time to put this useless debate aside and get on with the real work.

David P. Driscoll is the former Massachusetts commissioner of education.

— Nancy Carlsson-Paige & Diane E. Levin and David Driscoll
Boston Globe


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