On Feb. 1, Education Week readers questioned Marshall S. Smith, the U.S. undersecretary of education during the Clinton administration and now the program director for education at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, about the next steps for standards-based education reform. Mr. Smith wrote an essay that appeared in Quality Counts at 10: A Decade of Standards-Based Reform, the 10th annual report on state policy efforts for improving education. Below are excerpts from the online chat.
Question: Since we have already made gains in establishing standards and at least having accountability measures, wouldn’t the logical next step be to improve instructional resources, teacher-preparation programs, and the secondary school environment?
Smith: The short answer is YES! Of course, I would have hoped that we would have simultaneously improved instructional resources, teacher training, and school environments as we implemented standards and accountability. Now, we have to convince state legislatures and governors and federal officials to provide the [funding] necessary for the resources and teacher training. But we also need collectively to take action in improving secondary school and other school environments. This can be done, but it will take hard work and political will.
Question: What has been the true cost/effect of standards-based education on K-8 foreign languages, social studies, and science education, not only [in terms of] students and the completeness of their education, but also [as it relates] to teacher-preparation institutions and their capacity to meet the new global challenges facing this nation?
Smith: This is a narrowing-the-curriculum problem. If we focus only on math and language literacy, what happens to the rest of the curriculum? I agree, this is potentially a very serious problem. In California, we have lost a very high percentage of our arts, music, physical education, and other teachers, and rarely have K-8 foreign languages. My sense is that it is time to begin to redress this imbalance—I don’t know of any way to have this magically happen.
A full transcript of this chat is online at www.edweek.org/chat/smith.
Question: What standards—and resources to meet those standards—do you suggest for the group that has traditionally been called “slow learners”: students who typically do not meet standards and typically do not qualify for any services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?
Smith: This issue is one of the most important equity issues we face. We are on the horns of a dilemma: whether to work at a slow pace and thereby ensure that these students fail to meet the standards, or to accelerate the pace, with hopes that they will catch up. I believe that some of the problem is time—people learn at different speeds, and many of these students simply may need more time than others to meet the standard.