Today's chat, "Perspectives on Common Standards," sponsored by ASCD, is open for questions. Please start submitting them now.
The chat itself will begin at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 10:14 EdWeek Producer: Jennifer
Hi, everybody. This is Mark Bomster, the editor of this year's Quality Counts report on the latest surge in the push for common academic standards. Today we've got a pair of terrific guests who can offers some sharp--and perhaps contrasting--perspectives on this timely topic. Let's get started by having our panelists introduce themselves briefly. Alfie and Gene?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:00 Mark Bomster
Delighted to be here. I write books & articles, and give lectures & workshops, that deal with a range of issues in education. (The articles are available at www.alfiekohn.org.) Among those issues: the difference between a focus on meeting kids’ needs (helping them to become creative thinkers, excited about making sense of ideas), on the one hand, and seeing schools (and, by extension, children) in mostly economic terms, on the other. When the subject is learning but people start talking like corporate CEOs, about “global competitiveness in the 21st century” – that’s when every educator needs to say, “Now wait just a minute…” My most recent Ed Week article, “Debunking the Case for National Standards,” looks not only at the standards themselves but at broader questions about the purpose of education that lurk underneath.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:01 Alfie Kohn
Thank you for this opportunity to answer your questions. I'm Gene Wilhoit, executive director of CCSSO. I've spent my entire professional career serving education as a teacher, administrator, commissioner, special assistant to USED, and the leader of 2 national education associations.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:01 Gene Wilhoit
Thanks so much for those introductions. Let's start off with a question from Sue, which the both of you might want to tackle:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:02 Mark Bomster
[Comment From SueSue: ]
Who initiated this push for national standards? What was their purpose for establishing them? What provisions are made for districts that are "lower" or "higher" than others? Are the standards considered basic with each state supplementing for more advanced areas?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:03 EdWeek Producer: Jennifer
Sue: This is a call from multiple parties: parents are confused by differences across states, policymakers want greater clarify, teachers are concerned about current standards -- and states overall called us to action.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:04 Gene Wilhoit
I'll let Gene deal with the specifics of the current initiative, but it's important to remember that the folks really directing it are corporate executives, politicians (e.g., governors), and testing companies. The question of purpose is critical, as I suggested in my opening comment. I hope we'll spend more time on that today.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:04 Alfie Kohn
Sue: The standards are benchmarked to college and career success; internationally aligned; evidence-based -- they are beyond "basic."
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:05 Gene Wilhoit
Here's a question from R.J. Kost:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:05 Mark Bomster
[Comment From R. J. KostR. J. Kost: ]
Wouldn't it make sense that if we will have common standards the next need would be common national curriculum?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:06 R. J. Kost
And this is a potentially touchy issue that both of you might want to tackle, from your individual points of view.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:07 Mark Bomster
I think it's very likely that that would happen, irrespective of what's being said at this stage to reassure teachers. And there's strong reason to believe that a national test is part of this bargain as well. Every teacher would do well to reflect on what that means for his or her ability to respond to the needs and interests of the particular kids in the classroom.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:07 Alfie Kohn
RJ: No. We are being more specific and thoughtful about what students should know and be able to do. Curriculum frameworks and instructional delivery are the pervue of states and moreso local educators. It is essential that these steps be taken for the standards to come alive.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:07 Gene Wilhoit
We've got powerful constituencies pushing in the direction of specificity -- they're already doing so with the national standards initiative and they've largely succeeded over the last couple of decades with prescriptive state standards. I can't imagine that the national standards will be left as general guidelines.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:08 Alfie Kohn
Once again, an interesting question for both of you, from Elisabeth Titrud:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:09 Mark Bomster
[Comment From Elisabeth TitrudElisabeth Titrud: ]
Developing common standards is a worthy goal. My question is will common standards be developed for each type of student population in terms of content knowledge learned, seperate from learning for the year.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:09 Elisabeth Titrud
RJ: we have been deliberate that this remain a state-led effort of collaboration. These are voluntary. We have taken numerous actions to counter efforts to federalize.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:09 Gene Wilhoit
Just to respond to Gene here. There's a strong political interest in representing national standards as being merely "core" standards and to emphasize that the feds aren't driving it (just funding it!).
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:10 Alfie Kohn
Elizabeth: The common core includes both statements of college and career-readiness as well as learning progressions. These should provide guidance to educators, but will not determine how a teacher teachers or how students are engaged in the learning process.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:10 Gene Wilhoit
[cont'd] But what difference does that make in practical terms if all states, or nearly all, have signed onto something where there are one-size-fits-all standards?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:11 Alfie Kohn
Alfie: We're presenting the goals here. How a state, district, school, teacher, parent gets to those goals is not what we're working on here.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:12 Gene Wilhoit
Gene, can you address this question from Ellen about some subject areas, we might not always think of?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:12 Mark Bomster
[Comment From EllenEllen: ]
From my college freshmen: Will there be common standards in all areas of academics (i.e. physical education, music, reading, etc)
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:12 Ellen
Alfie: A characteristic of high performing countries is a very clear statement of results -- while providing supports and discretion to educators around implementation.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:13 Gene Wilhoit
Can you be specific, Gene? Goals as in "helping students to communicate clearly" or goals as in "rocks and minerals in 4th grade? If we're only providing "guidance," does that mean that I, as a teacher, can choose to develop an entirely differerent set of topics based on the needs and interests of my kids this year?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:13 Alfie Kohn
Ellen: At this point we have chosen to focus on ELA and math. It is critical that these be done right before we consider other areas. Interest has been expressed by other content areas, but no official plans yet.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:14 Gene Wilhoit
I'm glad you raised the idea of "high performing countries." First, does that mean anything other than scores on standardized exams? Second, what exactly does the evidence show? I noted in my Ed Week commentary that even if you use standardized test results as your outcome (which I do with great reluctance), countries with national standards/curriculums are represented among those with the highest and the lowest TIMSS scores.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:14 Alfie Kohn
[cont'd] Also, have a look at the newly published report of the distinguished Cambridge Primary Review in England, an enormously ambitious 3-year study by a wide-ranging group of experts. They concluded: “Centralisation of the core educational activities of curriculum, assessment, teaching…has gone too far.” And Prof. Yong Zhao pointed out in Kappan last month that there’s a profound lack of equity in China and Singapore, both of which have national standards.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:16 Alfie Kohn
Alfie: To you first question -- Yes. To your second, it's a matter of implementation. Standards are essential, but insufficient. Standards are a piece of the pie.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:16 Gene Wilhoit
Alfie, here's a question from Benjamin Kramer touching on your point of view:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:16 Mark Bomster
[Comment From Benjamin KramerBenjamin Kramer: ]
Does Alfie see a legitimate role that conversations about standards can play in schools, districts, regions, states, etc. to improve learning and instruction in authentic ways?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:16 Benjamin Kramer
Wait -- if standards are insufficient, what else do you need? Specific curriculum? Tests to enforce compliance?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:17 Alfie Kohn
Gene, I'd like to pass a long a question from Patricia Hughes about how the current national discussion is going:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:17 Mark Bomster
[Comment From Patricia HughesPatricia Hughes: ]
Is there a general consensus or status across the states yet?
Alfie: What we need are a number of other elements none of which should be standardized or driven from the top including curricular frameworks & assessments and prof development, materials and supplies, leadership supports, organization of day and year, intervention strategies, diagnostic capacities, etc.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:19 Gene Wilhoit
BK: Actually, you asked not about a legitimate role for standards, but for conversations about standards. My answer is: You bet, as long as those standards get to the underlying assumptions about how kids learn and what we want from our schools . . . rather than just arguing about this versus that standard.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:20 Alfie Kohn
Patricia: General concensus is that common or shared standards is a positive direction to pursue; states are deeply engaged in the development process; we are 1/2 way through revisions and will make changes as necessary while holding onto higher, clearer, fewer principles.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:20 Gene Wilhoit
Sorry -- I meant as long as those CONVERSATIONS get to the underlying assumptions...
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:20 Alfie Kohn
I'm troubled by the P.R. campaign I see: We'll satisfy the politicans and corporations that want "rigorous, specific, enforceable, clear, defined standards" -- but we'll also reassure teachers that we won't tell you how to teach. This doesn't add up.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:22 Alfie Kohn
Gene, here's a practical question about implementation--if and when-- from Deborah Mapp-Embry:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:22 Mark Bomster
[Comment From Deborah Mapp-EmbryDeborah Mapp-Embry: ]
Will teachers and teacher educators be given the professional development needed so they have adequate dispositions, skills and knowledge to engage and teach all students - including diverse students - new standards?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:22 Deborah Mapp-Embry
Deborah-Yes. It would be a MAJOR mistake to implement revised standards without this most important step of awareness and training. In fact, we are suggesting to states that they engage in prof growth opps as a first step & provide adequate time to adjust and prepare.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:24 Gene Wilhoit
Gene, here's an interesting question from Dee:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:24 Mark Bomster
[Comment From Felix CruzFelix Cruz: ]
If common standards are adopted, how will they affect proficiency and assessment testing? I would imagine they would need to be revised.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:24 Felix Cruz
I don’t know which would be worse: compelling teachers to do something that they don’t have the training to do – or compelling them to get the training to do something that distant authorities have unilaterally decided they have to do.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:25 Alfie Kohn
Sorry, Felix's question popped up first--thanks for responding. Gene, here's Dee's question:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:25 Mark Bomster
[Comment From DeeDee: ]
Gene, when you say the standards are "evidence-based", what do you mean? Evidence of what?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:25 Dee
EdWeek Producer: Jennifer:
While Alfie and Gene answer these questions, here's a question for the audience:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:26 EdWeek Producer: Jennifer
Are you in favor of common national standards? Yes
( 69% )
( 31% )
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:26
Felix: Yes. Assessment systems must be aligned with expectations (standards) in a thoughtful and deliberate way. This should be a process of 2-3 years that engages experts and practitioners and will hopefully result in better forms of assessment of student learning.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:26 Gene Wilhoit
Dee asks an important question since you can’t prove with evidence that schools should embrace one goal vs. another, only whether a given strategy is effective at reaching that goal. So value judgments – in this case, those of Achieve, Inc., the National Governors’ Assn., et al. – are unavoidably at the heart of this initiative, despite strenuous efforts to claim it’s “evidence-based” – which is what we heard about NCLB.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:28 Alfie Kohn
Dee: We wanted to positively influence the standards-setting process -- moving from concensus model that led to an expansion of standards, creating an un-teachable set of standards. We ask ourselves and others what evidence exists that this standard leads to -- or is correlated with -- success in college and careers. WE don't have as strong an evidence base as we need, but it's been helpful to constantly challenge ourselves against this design.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:29 Gene Wilhoit
"Assessment systems must be aligned with [national] expectations (standards)." Now there's a sentence that should strike fear in the heart of all good teachers.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:29 Alfie Kohn
Here's a question that steps a bit outside the purely academic realm, and which both of you may want to address:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:29 Mark Bomster
[Comment From StacyStacy: ]
What is your opinion about including social-emotional learning standards as part of the common core standards?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:29 Stacy
The dilemma is that standards that focus only on academic issues are incomplete, but standards that presume to tell us what kind of *people* we want our children to become are even more disturbing.
If we spend most of our time arguing about *which* national standards, we’ve already conceded what ought to receive most of our critical inspection: Whether we should have national standards at all, whether this degree of uniformity is good for learning and for children. Next should come the question of why politicians and corporate executives are in the driver’s seat – and what it means, in practical terms, for these folks to be directing our educational priorities. For us to skip right to asking “Which standards should be adopted” is like having a president announce that we’re going to invade and occupy some country, and we respond by asking about the number of tanks versus bombers that will be used.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:31 Alfie Kohn
Stacy: Social and emotional development is a critical component of student success. We struggled with this, and determined it was not appropriate tfor us to standardize.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:32 Gene Wilhoit
Alfie, this question is direted to you from Dwight, but I'd like Gene to touch on it as well, especially in light of the career-ready implications:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:33 Mark Bomster
[Comment From DwightDwight: ]
Alfie: What about students who choose a non-standard path in school-will they need a curriculum that is standard?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:33 Dwight
No one needs a curriculum that's standard! That's why the best teachers and schools differentiate their teaching, offering instruction that responds to the needs, talents, and interests of each student. It's not just the outliers who deserve to be treated as individuals. It's troubling when a district assumes that kids are interchangeable, and worse when it's one-size-fits-all for a whole state. Now we're being told a single size can be constructed from coast to coast.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:35 Alfie Kohn
[cont'd] Stanford’s Elliot Eisner put it well, I think: “The aim of education is not to train an army that marches to the same drummer, at the same pace, toward the same destination. Such an aim may be appropriate for totalitarian societies, but it is incompatible with democratic ideals.”
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:36 Alfie Kohn
Dwight: all students must be prepared to enter a pathway of their choosing but within the context that every child will need education beyond HS. The individual path is appropriately determined by the student in consultation with parents, guardians, the school. It is the responsbility of state and local education systems to provide enriched, exciting, challenging, opportunities and options that result in students achieving to high levels in areas of interest & accomplishment. Career and technical is a important option that all schools should provide.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:36 Gene Wilhoit
We've got a lot of questions reflecting the concerns of folks working in the classroom. Here's one for both of you from Melissa Cain:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:36 Mark Bomster
[Comment From Melissa CainMelissa Cain: ]
I am a teacher educator and we have been focusing on knowledge, skills, and dispositions to teach to standards for years. Will this truly be any different? How will this be better for children?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:36 Melissa Cain
I'll let Gene tackle that one since I obviously believe it will be markedly worse for children.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:37 Alfie Kohn
And another one for Gene, from teacher Willie James Huff:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:38 Mark Bomster
[Comment From Willie James HuffWillie James Huff: ]
Gene: What have been the opinions of teachers you have talked to regarding a different school system?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:39 Willie James Huff
Melissa: This is better for kids because the expecations will be clear & the entire system from parent/guardian, teacher, community, school, distrcit, state will know what the results should be. There is also in our culture children moving from state to state, district to district, and transition should be smoother. Institutions will be motivated to be engaged in providing support. Teachers will have more freedom to focus on curricular designs and teaching strategies.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:40 Gene Wilhoit
Willie: I'm not quite clear what you're asking -- could you expand?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:41 Gene Wilhoit
Again, I ask: at what level of specificity will those "expectations" be pegged so that teachers have "more freedom"? I fear that it's a pseudofreedom, so constrained in actuality that teachers are going to have worry more about compliance, about "aligning" their teaching to someone else's goals.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:42 Alfie Kohn
Gene, you might want to talk a bit about the extent to which educators at the grassroots level have been brought into the current debate.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:42 Mark Bomster
And Alfie, a bit of a contrarian question for you:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:44 Mark Bomster
[Comment From BillBill: ]
Alfie, I tend to agree with you about this seemingly endless debate about standards being a distraction from the much more complex and meaningful issues around supporting quality teaching and learning, but do you fundamentally believe that it's not possible to have standards without the kind of oppressive and counterproductive standardization you're concerned about?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:44 Bill
My sense is that the ed. groups have been co-opted more than seriously consulted, allowed to offer their thoughts about how to tweak standards, the result being that the impression is given that one-size-fits-all standards have educational legitimacy and the support of educators.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:44 Alfie Kohn
RE: educators: Throughout all stages we have reached out to organizations representing teachers, to engage in in-depth conversations about the standards. Teachers are on the work teams writing the standards. Teachers have provided direct advice and we have attempted to respond in good faith. Additionally, we have provided opportunity for public input/comment and over 1,000 individuals and orgs have provided advice.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:45 Gene Wilhoit
Bill: Have a look at that article I linked to earlier. "Standards" in principle can be wonderful. I have nothing but praise for real standards-based education of the kind that the late Ted Sizer and Debbie Meier have created, with exhibitions of mastery. The question is: Who sets the standards -- are they guidelines or mandates -- and for what purpose? So far, I've yet to see any states offer standards without standardization.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:46 Alfie Kohn
[cont'd] And the prospects for this "core standards" movement offering something other than standardization are approximately zero. Standardization, although that word is carefully omitted, is the very basis for their argument for what they're doing!
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:48 Alfie Kohn
Alfie & all: it is critical that we separate standards which are clear statements about what students should know and be able to do as a result of their education process. This is absolutely & completely different than the process of delivering those standards to the students. Standards themselves provide the basis for necessary and meaningful conversations among educators about how they transform those standards into action.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:49 Gene Wilhoit
Here's a bit of an open-ended question that gives you both plenty to work with--and it would be great if you each could address both parts:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:49 Mark Bomster
[Comment From Deven ShaffDeven Shaff: ]
What is the worst thing that could happen if national standards are implemented? Best thing?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:49 Deven Shaff
Deven: Great question. The worst thing would be that the system doesn't support teachers and students through the difficult stages of implementation. The best thing would be that we embrace and embody these essential goals for every student with the goal of having all kids ready for college and career success.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:52 Gene Wilhoit
Worst thing: students are treated as little more than future employees, filled with facts and skills that U.S. corporations think they need to triumph over their counterparts in other countries. A single set of tests drive a single curriculum. The best teachers throw up their hands and leave. Schools become even more factory-like than they already like, with low-income kids of color getting the worst of it, as they already do.
Best-case scenario: in-fighting about the standards renders them functionally irrelevant so teachers can ignore them and function like professional educators who use their own judgment.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:53 Alfie Kohn
To return to an earlier point: I think you’d need overwhelming, conclusive evidence to justify a need for this kind of uniformity – evidence that it’s good for children, that it deepens learning & enhances interest in learning – before you’d even think of infringing on the autonomy of educators and local communities. I’d like to ask Gene again, then: where is that evidence?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:54 Alfie Kohn
Going your own way around expectations diverts teachers' attention from the important task of teaching and confuses students, lacks consistency from grade to grade, for outside influences to drive the education curriculum, and is an abdication of our responsibility to all kids.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:56 Gene Wilhoit
Around WHOSE expectations?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:56 Alfie Kohn
Do you think its OK for schools to have different expecations for different kids?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:58 Gene Wilhoit
And we don't want to leave this discussion without at least touching on the issue of assessment:
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:58 Mark Bomster
[Comment From karenkaren: ]
Given a common set of content standards, will there also be a common set of expectations against those standards? (performance or achievement level standards)
Tuesday January 26, 2010 3:58 karen
In other words, will there be what amounts to a set of national tests that we'll all have to teach to? A vital question. In my experience, the core standards folks have said yes but bent over backwards to "spin" their answer to make that terrible reality sound more palatable.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 4:00 Alfie Kohn
Karen: We don't know yet. There are conversations swirling. Many assessment issues are yet to be determined around the appropriate level for setting standards. We think there will be some general agreement that all students should achieve at college and career ready levels.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 4:01 Gene Wilhoit
To answer Gene's last question: High standards don't require common standards. There are different kinds of excellence. Uniformity undermines the chances for all kids to reach their potential.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 4:01 Alfie Kohn
I'd like to thank you both for a lively, enlightening and--as they say in diplomatic circles--frank discussion. And thanks to all who participated and to the many questioners we couldn't get to.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 4:02 Mark Bomster
Alfie: Shouldn't there be a common expectation that all students will achieve to high levels? Don't we owe this to every youngster?
Tuesday January 26, 2010 4:02 Gene Wilhoit
"High levels" as defined by whom and toward what end? What would best serve children in all their uniqueness and diversity is not to beg for this or that standard to be included, but to mobilize educators and parents to oppose this drive toward top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 4:03 Alfie Kohn
EdWeek Producer: Jennifer:
Thanks again to everyone for participating in today's chat, "Perspectives on Common Standards," sponsored by ASCD.
A transcript of this chat will be available immediately on this same page.
Tuesday January 26, 2010 4:03 EdWeek Producer: Jennifer
Live Chat: Perspectives on Common Standards
Tuesday, January 26, 3 p.m. Eastern time
As a major push by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association for common academic standards gains steam, challenges and questions abound: Is their approach a wise one? Will implementation details energize or deflect the momentum? Using the latest data and journalism in Quality Counts 2010, our guests provided insight and perspective on this timely issue. Read on for an in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of the new effort to establish common standards and assessments across states.
Guests: Alfie Kohn, author of What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? and other education books
Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers
Moderator: Mark W. Bomster, assistant managing editor, Education Week and executive project editor, Quality Counts 2010
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