Having National Standards and Teacher Freedom, Too

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To the Editor:

In their Oct. 15, 2008, letters to the editor, David Marshak and Ronald A. Wolk take me to task for arguing in favor of a national curriculum. They are entitled to their opinion, but they misunderstand my position ("The Case for National Standards and Testing," Commentary, Sept. 17, 2008).

It is altogether possible to have clear and well-defined standards set at the national level and at the same time guarantee teachers the flexibility and freedom to develop instructional strategies to meet the unique needs of their students.

In an interview in September conducted by Public School Insights, a blog sponsored by the Washington-based Learning First Alliance, Reijo Laukkanen, a member of Finland’s National Board of Education, explained how such a system works. There are ambitious national content standards that serve as targets, but classroom teachers are allowed to exercise their own professional judgment and creativity to help their students hit the targets. In fact, Mr. Laukkanen stressed the importance of protecting the right of teachers to run their classes as they see fit.

National standards, moreover, do not prevent the establishment of objectives for students who have no desire to go on to tertiary education. I’ve had numerous articles published in major newspapers across the country about the importance of career and technical education for these students. But there is no reason why doing this coherently at a national level should pose a threat.

What seems to be a far more likely outcome of continuing along the present path of allowing each state to set its own content standards and means of testing them is the shortchanging of students. The United States is entering a new era of education brought about by globalization. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water as we attempt to prepare young people for the future as far as anyone can possibly see, but neither can we deny the changing realities.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles, Calif.

Vol. 28, Issue 10, Page 27

Published in Print: October 29, 2008, as Having National Standards And Teacher Freedom, Too
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