Education Week sponsors regular online chats on its Web site, edweek.org. On Jan. 18, readers took part in a lively discussion with the education historian Diane Ravitch about national standards, curricula, and tests.
The text-based chat followed the release last month of Quality Counts at 10: A Decade of Standards-Based Reform, the 10th annual Education Week report on state policy efforts for improving education (Jan. 5, 2006). Ms. Ravitch, an assistant U.S. secretary of education under the first President Bush and now a research professor of education at New York University, wrote a commentary that accompanied the report. Here is a sampling of the online discussion of that essay.
Question: You support national content standards not just for reading and math, but also for history, science, foreign languages, and the arts. Isn’t this a national core curriculum? Should this curriculum be voluntary, or should it be required as a condition of federal funding?
Ravitch: I am not certain about whether the standards should be voluntary. I don’t like the idea of mandating things. My initial instinct says that good standards and assessments that produce good results will “sell” themselves to the public. Yet I know how fiercely the status quo of low standards (and the current regime of low national standards) will struggle to survive. And yes, I do believe in a national core curriculum, since I would like to see all American children have the ability to read, write, and speak a foreign language and have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and have other experiences with the arts.
Question: How would national standards take into consideration geographical and demographic differences and needs? How would they be unlike a “one size fits all” education and still meet the needs of a widely diverse society?
Read a full transcript of “Reconsidering National Standards, Curricula, and Tests: A Talk With Diane Ravitch.”
Ravitch: Let’s take math and science as starting points. We should have national standards in both subjects, because there are already implicit international standards and our students fall way behind. If we had strong, clear, explicit national standards in those subjects, then teachers would know what they are expected to teach, textbooks would align their content to match the standards, tests would reflect the standards, and teacher education would embed those standards when preparing future teachers. … There is not a different kind of math or science in different parts of the city or state or nation.
Question: Our nation has a heritage rich in creativity and innovation. Do you fear that a move toward national standards akin to Japan/Europe might result in a numbing drumbeat of rote memorization and practice-testing, giving us young adults who can perform but not think?
Ravitch: I don’t think that is a danger at all. I see as a far greater danger the current path of do-your-own-thing, in which very creative youngsters are subjected to mind-numbing, time-wasting activities.