This letter is reposted with permission from its author, Wendy Hart of Alpine School Board, of Utah’s largest school district.
Wendy Hart is sitting on the left in this photo.
Dear State Board Members,
I am asking that you restart the entire process of science standards adoption. There is a very real, very large deficit of public trust on the issue of standards. While I appreciate the parent review committees and the public comment periods, it really is the perception that this was a ‘done deal’. The subsequent release of the Fine Arts standards that are identical to the national fine arts standards indicates a desire by either this Board or the USOE or both to completely align everything we do to a national set of standards created by a national set of ‘supposed’ experts in these fields. The assumption that national (or broadly-adopted) standards are inherently superior is flawed, as is the assertion that a lack of national (or broadly-adopted) standards will prohibit individual students to grow up to be successful, educated individuals. Some high-performing nations have national standards, but about the same number do not.
Here are some of my concerns and requests.
The most major concern is that of creating uniformity and centralization. Education is not something that can or should be standardized. We like to think that there are certain basics that all kids should know, and there may be, but they are very broad and many must keep the individual child in mind. In point of fact, that is why we have teachers…to customize and personalize this process of every individual. Our system of education has been extremely successful when we harness the power of the individual, and not try to fit everyone into the same mold. I realize with accountability measures, this is a very difficult thing to do. But it doesn’t get easier when we buy into the idea that we will be left behind if we don’t keep up with the national standards group du jour. While that may be true, we will never have the opportunity to excel either. And, I’m afraid, that is the intent. When we have no risk, we have no chance of failure, but we have no chance of success either. Centralization removes the flexibility of adaptation and change. Even if we have the power to change, in a few years, we will lack the ability due to SAT, GED, ACT and textbooks all aligning. We have to be completely sure that these are the very best standards and that we will NEVER want to change without the rest of the states going along.
Additionally, adopting national or broadly adopted standards has been touted as allowing teachers greater resources. I have heard this repeated over many years as justification for national or frequently adopted standards. We have felt slighted in the past for having had our own standards. However, I hope you understand that in trying to find non-CC textbooks and materials, right now, it is virtually impossible. You have to order out-of-print materials and lots of things on eBay. Common Core was officially adopted by 46 state only 5 years ago. So, while you may have a lot of materials to choose from that are aligned to CC, they are really shades of gray. Bright colors and pastels no longer exist. There are no laboratories of education that are trying different ideas and finding success or failure. There is no compelling free-market interest to create or to continue to supply textbooks and teaching materials to the small private and homeschool market and the 5 states that didn’t sign on to Common Core. It’s a boon for the textbook suppliers–one set of standards equals one set of teaching materials that can be moved around and modified, but, ultimately, stay the same. (Bill Gates predicted as much, and was quite excited about it. Bill Gates at the National Conference of State Legislatures clip on Common Core ) It has been suggested that because of this lack of resources, we MUST align our standards to those of other states. With all due respect, we will then be hastening the demise of diversity and options. We are walking directly into that trap and helping set the bait for others.
4.) Taken as a whole, over the course of 13 years, is there a prevailing worldview that emerges, and if so, is that worldview consistent with the diversity and the values of the citizens of this state? Do we seek to provide a broad, general knowledge, without influencing the attitudes, values, and beliefs of our students?
5.) What are the pieces that are missing from the current standards? For example, the NGSS does not address Life Systems, specifically body systems, or Computer Science. Climate change is heavily emphasized, but electric circuits are briefly mentioned. While I appreciate both climate change and electric circuits being taught, it appears, at least to me, that there is an over-emphasis of one at the expense of others. It is usually easier to find problems in things that exist. It is much more difficult to take the time to determine what isn’t even there. (This concept is why the request to point out the standards one doesn’t like doesn’t work. I can point to those I don’t like, but I can’t point to those that do not exist but should.)
6.) Do the standards seek to obtain compliance of thought, instead of an understanding of the rationale and disagreements involved in controversial or politically charged issues? This is especially important in science. If we create a generation of students who believe that all science is not to be questioned, we have failed in our task. Science is always to be questioned, and refined. We should be constantly looking for ways to support or to disprove the current knowledge of the day.
7.) Have you looked at some of the available curricular materials, as well as other states’ implementations, to make sure that implementation of these standards, while supposedly wonderful in theory, won’t fall flat in the application? My past experience with the adoption of new standards and ‘programs’ (over the last decade) has been a trail of grand promises and disappointing results that are always blamed on local districts and teachers. There has never been, to my knowledge, a set of bad standards. It’s always, we are told, just poor implementation. With all due respect, if a set of standards can’t be implemented successfully in at least 51% of the schools, then they should not be adopted, no matter what the claims and promises. (Please see item #3.)
8.) Is there enough emphasis on fact and foundational knowledge? There is a trend to focus on the ‘critical thinking’ and to not get bogged down into rote memorization. While I can appreciate and respect that position, it is impossible to have critical thinking about any issue without the foundational, factual knowledge of the subject. Especially for children in the early grades who have limited abstraction and limited reasoning skills, are we allowing and encouraging those fact-based pieces of information that will form the foundation for greater understanding later on?
9.) Will these standards strengthen the parent-child relationship or hinder it? For example, implementing standards that parents don’t understand, no matter how great they are supposed to be, creates a rift between parent and child. This is an unacceptable consequence for an education system that is supposed to be secondary and supportive to the primary role of the parent in educating his or her children. The more involved parents are, the better the academic success of the child. That is the number one factor in student success… the parent, not the standards. We need to keep that in mind.
Having attended the Provo meeting last night, I heard a lot of promises and things that sounded really good. I have heard all those things as they relate to Common Core and Investigations Math. In both instances, the promises did not materialize. Please do not adopt standards based on promises. Please adopt standards based on fact, and knowledge, and proof, not just the opinion of ‘experts’. Sometimes ‘experts’ are wrong or have their own agendas too.
The burden of proof is not on the people to show that the standards are bad, or wrong, or insufficient. It is up to you to demonstrate to us that adopting these new standards will provide the opportunity for each, individual student in Utah to live up to their potential, to be free to choose their own direction in life.
Thank you for all the long hours that you spend in our service and your willingness to listen, even when we disagree. It is greatly appreciated.
Mother of 3
Board Member, Alpine School District, Alpine/Cedar Hills/Highland