Tuesday, December 5, 2006

A Reply to Susan's Response

I won't quote Susan Ohanian without her permission but my comments below were in response to her comments to me yesterday:

Yes, there other camps as there are several political parties but there are the two major ones. From my communications with those who are opposed to national standards as I believe you are, their major fear/concern is that the standards will be shaped by individuals who do not understand the needs of children, individuals who will bring us back to the Dark Ages. I certainly believe that such conservative individuals are out there and they’re not all from CA and TX! However, I have been calling for both National Math Standards and a balance between procedural and conceptual understanding for the past 20 years. I’d like you to read my statements to the National Math Panel at some point.

I knew that in the absence of clearly defined objectives with abundant examples, the NCTM Standards would be misunderstood or, worse, subverted. This is exactly what has happened. Way before NCLB, states like NJ where I reside decided to have Core Curriculum Content Standards. As one of its architects, I fought to keep the verbiage simple, concise and crystal clear so that curriculum leaders and classroom teachers would not have to guess what was meant by an objective or expectation. BUT the standards we and other states produced were just as ambiguous as NCTM’s. Teachers did not and still do not know exactly what is to be covered at each grade level or course. It was left to the authors and textbook publishers to interpret and I believe they have made serious errors. Forget the testing frenzy for the moment. For 50 states to have 50 sets of noncongruent standards (of course they overlap), and textbook companies trying to include some or all of this to make everyone happy is insane. This is what happens when we don’t have a coherent national vision for mathematics. NCLB had nothing to do with this nightmare since this started in the early 90’s in many states. Testing evolved naturally as states needed to measure how the standards were delivered. Little thought was given to the deleterious effects of testing kids to death, particularly those students who already have 2 strikes against them and/or are emotionally fragile. But some form of assessment has always been necessary and always will. Teachers need to know what has been learned and how to help those who are struggling. Districts, states and federal governments need to have measurable results to determine policies and funding, although we know how political and dangerous this can be.
Yes, I knew you were not opposed to goals! But I used that term euphemistically for National Standards (and I do suspect that is anathema to you). If the groups developing these standards are ‘balanced’ and I do keep very close tabs on the Panel and the American Diploma Project group, then there is hope. I see some good people on these committees who share my beliefs in a balanced view of curriculum. The outcomes are not yet predetermined despite the politics (no I’m not naive!).
Thanks you for your quick response.
Dave Marain

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