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David said in July 13th, 2010 at 5:04 pm

National standards? What national standards? With 50 different state departments of education, the District of Columbia, and assorted U.S. territories, we have a hodgepodge of benchmark expectations that are not consistent across state or territorial lines.

How high should our standards be? Which instructional objectives should be taught at each grade level? What are the core competencies for each subject area?

At a March 2010 meeting with state governors and education officials, President Obama observed, “Today’s system of 50 different sets of benchmarks for academic success means fourth grade readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming — and they’re getting the same grade. …”

The problem with establishing a national standard is that the 10th Amendment of our Constitution says that powers not granted to the national government nor prohibited to the states by the Constitution of the United States are reserved to the states or the people.

The right to control what is taught in our schools is considered a fundamental “state’s right.”

In recent years the Federal government has eroded this right. How did they do this? George Bush did an end run around the 10th Amendment by tying Federal funding to state participation in standardized testing. Any state which chose not to implement standardized testing would lose millions of dollars in Federal funding.

What happened?

Accountability has become the watchword of the past decade. In some states, like Texas, where the entire concept of accountability began under Governor George Bush, education has devolved into a “teach to the test” mentality. Not only did we teach and test and teach and test and teach and test … but each time we tested, we had to identify which objectives each student passed and which objectives each student failed. My district required teachers to document how each student did on each practice test. We were also required to document how we would reteach lessons that specific students had failed.

I finally left the field of elementary education (and eventually became a chef instructor) after I lost interest in teaching. I opted out of elementary ed because I no longer felt like a teacher. I felt like an educational accountant.

With this being said, I must admit to being a Federalist with regards to the creation of national standards. I think we should emulate the French. The French government defines the standards for something like 75% of the national curriculum and individual regions then define the remaining standards. By doing this, the national government has defined the core instructional objectives that will be taught. The reason that regional areas are allowed input is because this allows education to be adopted to the needs of a community. Students in rural areas for example, may study agriculture or animal husbandry while students in industrialized areas can study welding or mechanics.

Without a national standard, students who move across state lines are likely to develop gaps in their education. I am certainly a case in point. As a child, I attended a private school in Arizona, a public school in Georgia, and international American schools in Ghana, Thailand, and El Salvador.

Although I had a great cultural experience, the problem with moving from school to school across state and national borders is that my high school education was filled with The end result is that my secondary education was top heavy soft sciences … psychology, sociology, and anthropology. The only science classes I was able to take were geology and biology. I never had the opportunity to take physics or chemistry.

Why should any of this matter?

When my father wanted me to follow in his footsteps and attend medical school, I became an undergrad premed student. I lasted for one semester. Without high school chemistry, I lacked the prerequisites to pass chemistry 101 in college. The fact that our teaching assistant was a German who spoke very little English did not help …

George Bush said that he wanted a level playing field by having accountable standards … but whose standards are we using? And how can our playing field be level when school funding from property tax dollars differs between high poverty inner city areas, affluent suburbs, and rural communities?

How can we expect students to learn if they have no adult role models in their lives? How can we learn if they’re hungry or abused? Would you believe that some kids are even homeless? How can we expect a student to learn if the child in question is busy wondering where he’ll sleep tonight and whether he’ll have anything to eat before he goes to bed?

The issue of “accountability” must be tied to a war on crime and poverty.

Please understand that I am not advocating a socialist system of government. The problem with the socialists is that they’ve forgotten that people have an inherent, “What’s in it for me” motivation. Socialist economies breed a sense of entitlement because there are no expectations for individual performance. The worker who is dutiful and diligent and hardworking makes the same amount of money as the worker who is lazy, careless, and late.

What I am saying is that the playing field as it exists today, is not even close to being level. In order for all students to have the opportunity to benefit from education, they need to have their basic minimum needs met. All students need food, clothing, and shelter. I also think they need to feel safe and they need to feel loved.

If there is any doubt that some students are less equal than others, look at Detroit which has an abysmal 25% rate of graduation.