Monday, March 15, 2010

A Matter of Integrity

"Standards are important." I can't tell you how many times a week I hear these words. We have to have Standards, otherwise what will anyone be learning? How can we guarantee that all children learn, if all teachers are not teaching the same thing, at the same time, all across the country? This seems to be the general consensus, one re-emphasized by Obama's ratification of a new set of National Standards.

I have a son who is fortunate enough to attend a college prep private school. He is taking an African Studies class. His teacher has them read a wide variety of books, both fiction and non, and tells them stories so memorable, that the students remember them for years afterward. He does not have a text book for either his African Studies class or his integrated Humanities class. African Studies is not part of the State Standards, and yet, what my son is learning about this fascinating country is far more important than anything I see listed on the State Standards. He is learning to be interested in the world around him. Can that be a State Standard? Foster interest in the world?

No. It can not. State Standards look more like this:
All 11th grade students must be able to enhance meaning by employing rhetorical devices, including the extended use of parallelism, repetition, and analogy; the incorporation of visual aids (e.g., graphs, tables, pictures); and the issuance of a call for action.

What? What does that even mean? Why does it even matter? I'll tell you why. Because on the STAR test, there are questions like this:
The frank tone and objective viewpoint of this passage make it especially characteristic of which American literary period?
A the Revolutionary period
B the Realistic period
C the Naturalistic period
D the Contemporary period

And like this:
Paragraph 3 of the passage could best be classified as an
A epitaph.
B elegy.
C anecdote.
D allegory.

And like this:
Which statement best describes how the author uses rhetorical technique in this sentence?
A Understatement is used to introduce the topic with a sarcastic tone.
B Figurative language is used to intensify the impact of the statement.
C Word repetition is used to emphasize the importance of the subject of the document.
D Allusion is used to address the topic of the document on a historical level.

Teachers are fairly divided on the Standards front. There are those who have never even looked at them before, who believe that as long as they are true to the essence of their subject matter, their students will learn what they need to learn, and there won't be a problem. And then there are those who follow the Standards religiously, driving their curriculum forward with the force of a bulldozer in their attempt to cover everything that has been mandated by the State as critical information for their 2nd graders, or 8th graders, or 12th graders to know.

I have found that those who believe in the Standards movement are quick to bandy about terms that echo their support, and those who do not believe in the Standards movement, pretty much keep their mouths shut on the matter. You can only spot them because of the way in which they gaze longingly at the door while their colleagues and administrators wax poetic on the Holy Grail of the Standards driven curriculum.

Now that teacher performance is at risk of being intricately tied to test results, however, one has to wonder if this divide will exist for much longer. When faced with the chance of a lesser pay check, will I too buckle under the pressure to teach information that I believe to be superfluous? Not a chance. That's because I have my own set of standards. I'll give you an example:
Standard 1.1

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