Friday, September 15, 2006

National standards an issue Down Under

Americans aren't the only ones wondering if a set of national education standards would help pump-up the volume on a currently-enemic public school system. Our neighbors "Down Under" are tackling the same issue -- and they've come up with a plan, reports Kevin Donnelly (guest-editorializing for the Thomas B. Fordham Institutes' Education Gadfly).

According to Donnelly, Australia is "developing so-called Statements of Learning in key subjects such as mathematics and English that describe 'the essential knowledge, skills, understandings and capacities that all students should have the opportunity to learn' at key stages in schooling (years 3, 5, 7, 9)." (Those are grades 2, 4, 6 and 8 at JIS, if I've got it straight.)

Supporters of the effort point to research that shows a correlation between national standards and higher academic performance. They also highlight the rationality of bringing the (sometimes vastly different) state standards into one consistant national plan (with national testing to back it up). And supporters highlight the benefits of giving teachers "clear, succinct, and easy-to-follow road maps at the start of each year that detail what is to be taught and what students are expected to learn."

But the Statements of Learning fall short, according to Donnelly, for several reasons:
  • They don't include any specific content information, (yes, we're back to content);
  • They don't include a way to assess success (yes, we're back to backwards design -- start with an assessment of what you want students to know and do, and then work back to how to get them there); and
  • They aren't meant to stand alone, but instead to be used as an "overlay" to existing state and territory curriculum standards (now we're talking sheer and utter confussion).
Having perused the Standards of Learning for English, I'd add one more problem to Donnelly's list: they are full of jargon, fluff, and meaningless sentences that any rational person would laugh at. But at least they're honest about it: "It is not the express intent that the document is promoted directly with teachers or the general community." (Whew, that's a relief. We poor dolts would surely couldn't handle all that high-falutin' fancy talk.)

(Click here for the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) webpage on the Statements of Learning; you can download PDFs for its standards covering English, Mathematics, Science, Civics & Citizenship, and Information & Communications Technologies.)


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