Part 3: 50 States, 50 Sets of Standards v. One Country, One Set of Standards

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here

Freedom to innovate.
Ability to be more nimble.
Unique state personalities.

Laboratories of Innovation
The 10th Amendment.

When I’ve asked those who are staunchly against the idea one set of standards or read their writing, there’s generally a pattern. If the person has identified as against a particular set of standards, the response is generally about how horrible, terrible that particular set of standards is.* If not, the response tends to be around the reasons listed above. My take away from these conversations and readings is that if each state is allowed to develop their own content standards, then they’ll be able to experiment with new ideas and meet the unique needs of their students. I disagree.

My claim: One country with one set of learning standards helps increase educational innovation.

If you haven’t heard her name yet, I’d like to introduce you to Frances Tariga Weshnak. She’s a chef and all-around badass. She speaks multiple languages and forged a life for herself after her father kicked her out as a teenager. Right now, she’s a part of Top Chef Season 13 but I first saw her on Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen.

Alas, last week Frances was asked to pack her knives and leave Top Chef. She knew it was coming as soon as time was called and when she presented her dish, my husband and I commented on the difference between this chef and the one we saw on the other shows. Granted, editing may have a great deal to do with but I’d like to use Frances to support my claim that having fewer options can make us more creative.

On Chopped, chefs are given four ingredients and a pantry. Frances was amazing. She was confident, assertive, and a problem-solver.

On Cutthroat Kitchen, chefs are given a dish to cook and access to a pantry for 1 minute. Frances excelled. She dealt with any sabotages thrown her way and served up three great dishes.

On Top Chef, chefs are given a meal theme and access to a grocery store and a budget. Frances floundered. She kept changing her mind, substituting ingredients, and doubting herself. She appeared to spend so long figuring how to start, she didn’t have enough time to ensure it was a quality dish.

The sheer number of decisions that teachers have to make is astounding. What resources to use, which instructional strategies to use when, which is the right way to frame a question, how to best capture evidence of student learning through assessment, when to push, when to hold back. How to make content relevant for each and every child. If teachers start with the same standards – the grains of sand that make up the castle of a child’s education – it is easier to share resources, it is easier to share lessons from experimentation, it’s easier to focus on what matters. Kate, a math educator, made a similar point as a comment on Part 2.

With a shared set of standards, teachers at least have a shared, specific starting point. When innovation happens, there’s one less variable that has to be eliminated in order to figure out what made the innovation successful. With 50 sets of standards, the starting point is “Math” or “Science.” Finland, a country held up as an example by some of the same people who cite the reasons at the top of this blog, has national standards. New Zealand, a personal favorite of mine in terms of culturally competent ed and quality assessment practices, has national standards. For me, this really goes back to the issue of 50 states or one country. Do we want innovation to stay locked at the state level or do we want it to go national?

*Most people tend to hate on the Common Core when it comes to “one set of standards.” It’s worth noting that the following content areas have national standards, and in some cases have had them for years:

Dance (as a form of expression)
Dance (as a physical activity)

Mathematics (From National Council of Teachers of Mathematics-foundation for CCSS-M)
Business Education
Computer Science
Supporting Gifted Learners
Supporting Students Learning English

The National Council of Teachers of English has their own philosophy set of standards around reading and writing English

Ready for Part 4, the conclusion? Have at it!

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