When I was a graduate student in Administration and Supervision in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky, one of my professors told of a recent trip he had taken to France where he had visited schools and met with national education officials. He was in the office of one of the top officials and asked about what was being taught at the third grade level.
He said the administrator turned to look at the clock and said, “It’s Wednesday and it’s 10 o’clock, so the third graders are studying math right now.”
As I heard this more than 20 years ago, I may not remember the grade level or the subject area. But I do remember the point of the professor’s story and how stunned all of us in class were.
Throughout France, every school and every third grade class would be covering the same subject at the same time.
We discussed this radically different approach in France (and other countries) of having a national curriculum and even a national instructional schedule. Such is not true in the United States. Even within the same school district, you wouldn’t know when a particular subject would be taught, as that can vary from one school to the next. And you couldn’t be sure if, in fact, everyone in a grade level would be learning the same content. From school district to school district and state to state, different textbooks are being used.
No Child Left Behind, which was passed by Congress in 2002, was the first big national wave of change for public schools. The program, based on standards-based educational reform, was to provide state — if not national, initially — standards that students must achieve by certain grade levels.
The concept of school, teacher and student accountability is hard to argue against. And the concept that students must perform at a certain level in specified subjects before advancing to the next grade level — or graduating — would seem to be common sense.
But there’s that saying about “the devil is in the detail.” So many problems have developed on the road to No Child being Left Behind. More on that in another post.
Let’s move to the next wave of educational reform.
The Washington Post reported last week that the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have put forward a set of national standards for English and math. Thanks to Leslie Madison Brooks for her blog post about progress on the core curriculum.
Even though the process may take years to reach implementation — and every state won’t have to participate — the wheels are in motion.
According to the Web site for the Common Core State Standards Initiative, “The NGA Center and CCSSO are coordinating the process to develop these standards and have created an expert validation committee to provide an independent review of the common core state standards, as well as the grade-by-grade standards.”
Feedback on the proposed standards is being accepted until Oct. 21. The group plans to have the final standards developed by December, 2009. Then in 2010, they will begin developing standards for each grade level.
School is in full swing. Teachers of K-12 classes are busy planning lessons and grading papers. But the teachers who are the ones who will be implementing those national core standards would be prudent to add to their homework list — Read the core standards and provide feedback. And the rest of us — all of whom are affected in some way by the quality of the students produced by the American school system — should be concerned and involved in this development process, too. No Child Left Behind is a case study in how difficult it is to modify a program once enacted by Congress.