Standards-Based Education is a Scam

There is no research basis for so-called standards-based education. There is not one shred of evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of many of the practices which I see in schools as I visit student teachers, not one study of the benefits of students knowing which standard they are “on.” Yet every teacher I talk with is being harassed to 1) post the standard they are covering (up) that day; 2) have the students write the standard on the papers they turn in; and 3) refer explicitly to the standard every 10 minutes. This latter practice insures that, when an administrator enters the room and quizzes students on what standard they are “studying,” the student is able to respond. If the student fails this quiz, the teacher is “written up.”

This is a colossal waste of instructional time.

I have had a student teacher explain to me how her school required the science lesson to include 10 minutes for the students to copy the standard verbatim into their notebooks. An additional 30 minutes was allotted so the students could “put the standard into their own words.” Since the decontextualized academic vocabulary of standards is meaningless to 12 year olds, a half hour was required for a vocabulary lesson. This is 40 minutes that could have been spent actually learning something. Since the class period was 50 minutes long, and since the last 5 minutes were required for “review of the standard,” actual instruction was 15 minutes or less. (Class did not start immediately and there were inevitable discipline problems during this excruciatingly boring “lesson.”) Is it any wonder that students in the U.S. are at the bottom of the industrialized world?

Ah, but hasn’t the standards and accountability focus raised test scores? Only on watered-down tests which are prepped for at the expense of learning. Districts in my area end all instruction in March, and have two or three weeks of “Boot Camp” during which students spend the entire school day practicing multiple choice tests which are amazingly, but not exactly, similar to the actual achievement test, which is administered in mid-April. Schools can point to improved scores and lessening of the achievement gap. It’s all a sham.

There’s a big test cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools. The truth is, many states in the US are in the midst of a cheating scandal. They’re cheating students out of education.

In the 1990’s, progressive education, teacher governance of schools and other reforms actually began showing promising results. You might recall that test scores on NAEP (a national test which measures students’ ability to reason) rose in that decade. However, as standards and accountability gained political momentum, progressive reforms were swept aside. NAEP scores sank back to 1980’s levels, where they remain. I predict that if we continue with curriculum composed of testing rather than teaching, NAEP scores will actually begin to fall, as have SAT scores.

How could this happen? I have always avoided conspiracy theories, but there’s pretty good evidence that the right-wing goal is to destroy public education. On the road to that end, the intermediate aim appears to be to prevent the sort of critical thinking which might challenge conservative dominance of the textbook industry, the media and the political process.