The Problem (and What's Right) with Standards
Actually, the only problem with standards is loading them with an unrealistic expectation. Many systems around the country (Seattle and Duval County, FL, come to mind) are relying on clearly expressed standards to improve student achievement.
Standards, and the setting of standards, can be a useful exercise. But, as Philip Daro has said, we already have standards, and students know what they are. He points out that our standards are whatever it takes to get a "B" in Ms. So-in-so's room. Unless our approaches to raising expectations, allowing teachers to improve effectiveness, engaging students, and energizing parents and the community recognize, accept, and build on the real sources of power in any school system, they are doomed to failure.
External standards will not make teachers more effective, especially if teachers are not part of the process of developing those standards. Just adopting or publishing standards will not cause students to engage or energize the community. And, efforts to hold teachers accountable for producing student outcomes consistent with adopted standards are doomed to failure because they ignore a very real and important power in any school system. Here is the way one scholar has expressed this problem:
Some ideas make too much sense. One is the idea that we can improve schools by holding them accountable for the right outcomes. This is the idea behind the work of the National Goals Panel, behind various proposals to institute national testing systems, behind many states' school restructuring plans, and behind most district superintendents' reform and improvement efforts. It even plays a role within schools themselves, being the idea that grips many principals preparing for next year, and at least some teachers preparing for next week.
Or, read this account of the application of research on motivation and creativity to the school setting. "Deci" in this piece is Edward Deci, Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester. This passage is from "Gold Star Junkies", which I highly recommend in its entirety. (Don't assume you know how it will end from this passage, or from the way it begins. It is a thoughtful, careful piece of writing.)
So, what's right with standards?
But, bottom line, like an athlete focused too tightly on the consequences of her actions, too tight a focus on "standards" from a testing, accountability standpoint at the teacher level can be counterproductive. If teachers are focused on teaching, if the conversation in schools focuses around student engagement and real, robust learning, and if the community is committed to and involved with our schools, the results will not only meet, but, I am convinced, exceed our expectations. We'll be surprised and amazed at how excellent our schools are. And that's the real standard.
(On January 11, 2000, the Board approved a contract with the National School Conference Institute for a professional development project with 24 schools. Much of the development work was to be provided by the Center for Performance Assessment, with all schools receiving a copy of Making Standards Work by Douglas Reeves and various types of seminars and consultations with Dr. Reeves and members of the Center Staff.)