Thursday, February 11, 2010

What standards did we just adopt?

Yesterday, Kentucky’s education leaders tried to get a leg up on the Race to the Top (RTTT) federal education funding sweepstakes by jumping the gun on adopting the Common Core Standards.

Those education standards are being created by a 48-state consortium under the sponsorship of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

While I am hopeful that the final Common Core Standards will be a good step forward, the draft standards adopted yesterday are not ready for prime time and adopting the current draft may be counterproductive.

Consider this:

Just a few days ago, the Boston Globe opined on the current draft standards’ problems.

Among other things, the Globe says the standards are not in a format that is really useful to classroom teachers. That’s a pretty serious problem. It was a constant problem with our old standards, as well. No education standards will work if teachers can’t use them.

The Globe’s comments come from a state that many believe currently has the country’s best education standards. As evidence of that, Massachusetts leads the nation in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress testing. Certainly, the Globe’s concerns cannot be idly dismissed.

Furthermore, we know the draft standards Kentucky’s educators just adopted are not yet good enough for the NGA and the CCSSO. The current draft generated so many comments following its release that representatives from both those organizations tell us another draft revision for comment is coming, probably in March. We likely won’t see the final Common Core Standards document until April, although that schedule is only tentative at this point.

We do know that the final document had been expected before now. Yesterday’s combined meeting of Kentucky’s education boards was scheduled based on that expectation. Unfortunately, the standards creation process didn’t cooperate. Anxious to look good in the Race to the Top competition, and given the challenges of gathering all the members of all the different boards at one time, Kentucky’s educators decided to press forward with the meeting as scheduled, anyway.

Thus, in what is mostly a symbolic act of faith, Kentucky jumped in, adopting a draft product that still has known issues and possibly may not look very much like the final version of the standards.

Meanwhile other states are taking a much more orderly approach to adopting these very critical standards.

Other states are still asking a lot of questions, as well.

In any event, to reiterate what I said above, I think the Common Core Standards could turn out to be a really good product. Certainly, some of the best education expertise in the country has been involved in the process, expertise Kentucky never could have afforded on its own.

But, making a big show out of adopting something that isn’t ready may backfire. Could RTTT judges consider adopting something that isn’t finalized as a reckless action, and treat our application accordingly?

And, requiring our educators to starting working now with draft standards that will go through at least one more public comment period before being finalized might take us down some dead end streets, as well. With money tight, that could be a problem, as well.

Of course, if some of the critics cited by the Boston Globe and in other sources turn out to be right, and the final Common Core Standards documents don’t turn out to be as good as I think they will, then there is the possibility that we could have made a mistake yesterday. That can happen when you sign a blank piece of paper which will have the contract language added at a later date.

In any event, in an attempt to make a publicity splash, our educators decided not to wait.

Here’s hoping that gamble pays off. The bottom line is that our kids’ futures are the chips in this high stakes game.

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