Good Standards Should Specify What Kids Are Supposed To Learn

2878715058_71f39c618e_nIn a footnote at the end of this post summarizing the weaknesses of the Next Generation Science Standards, Checker Finn and Kathleen Porter-Magee write:

 The NGSS team says it will be releasing another appendix—there are already a dozen!—that will discuss college and career readiness. For now, we must assume that what’s actually in—and missing from—NGSS is intended to yield readiness for advanced study of science, including college-level science.

This is not an exaggeration: a “college and career readiness” appendix will make a full baker’s dozen for the NGSS.

Meanwhile, Lisa Hansel makes the case that the Common Core ELA standards are sufficiently content-rich because “they do not stand alone”:

To ensure that students acquire the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to read with ease across academic domains, the standards repeatedly call for a content-rich curriculum…

The CCSS are stronger than states’ previous efforts to produce ELA standards because they do explain the need for domain-based studies organized in a coherent, content-rich curriculum. But in deference to America’s tradition of local control, the CCSS fall short of sealing the deal, of requiring even a few specific texts for each grade.

I haven’t followed the CCSS nearly as closely as I’ve followed the NGSS, but it sounds to me like Lisa is saying more or less what the NGSS authors are saying: namely, “Our standards themselves may not be very clear, but hopefully that specificity will be achieved in other, supplementary material.”

This should be a big red flag for people considering the new standards. Specifying what kids are supposed to learn is not something you do to complement standards documents, it’s the central purpose of the standards themselves.

You routinely hear defenders of the new standards insist that they recognize that content and skills are “both important” to learning in a domain. That claim rings hollow, however, in light of the fact that the NGSS – and, apparently, the CCSS? – place such a low priority on content that they don’t bother to fully integrate it into the primary standards document.

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