National Standards, Testing and Curriculum
We have had national standards in academic subject areas for a long time. I knew the national standards for foreign language back when I was in college over ten years ago, and became familiar with the others while teaching in Texas. We are on our way to a national test, reportedly to minimize the ability of states to lower their academic standards in order to comply with the annual yearly progress goals of NCLB. In reality, the national tests already exist; they are just voluntary. Pretty soon, I'm sure, that will be voluntary like NCLB is voluntary.

We are also very much on our way to a national curriculum. With Reading First's billion dollar budget to fund literacy programs which meet its "research-based" standards, the US Department of Education is exerting incredible control over the curriculum decisions of local school boards. The methods favored heavily by Reading First are those based on behavioral models of education, such as that developed by the University of Kansas, and (the department's star) Direct Instruction, developed at the University of Oregon. These methods have historically delivered consistently higher standardized tests scores and that is the only measure of success in America.

I have a lot of criticisms of these models, but the fact remains that they are superior to much of what schools are and have been doing in the name of education. The real problem to me is the fact that these initiatives are taking away from local control, a supposed hallmark of our educational system and one of the four pillars of the No Child Left Behind Act. In the act, however "local control" really only means that schools have a little more flexibility in how they spend the money they receive from the central government, not in the way they follow or interpret any of the provisions of the act.

I found this story, A Tale of Two Schools, to be a fascinating look into the real world of applying for federal aid. Clearly, Roosevelt needed some direction. It is the status of such schools that have led many to pressure their state and national government for more control and accountability. These are the situations that end up highlighted in Secretary Spellings' speeches and op-eds. Of course, increased federal involvement is not the only solution, but it is the solution Americans seem programmed to reach for any time we see a problem.

Cherry Valley highlights the main problem with accepting federal money for any program. They have something that is working...a program similar to what Reading First advocates, in fact. But there are significant differences that they have tailored to meet the needs of their students that would be eradicated if they followed the guidelines necessary to secure a grant from the Department. For any system to be successful, it has to be adaptable.

Then, of course, there is always the question of whether or not students need to learn anything in elementary school other than reading and math. The 180 minutes of language instruction and 90 minutes of math instruction required per day in these programs leaves very little of the day for any other subject. I figured that after I accounted for phys ed, lunch, announcements and computer lab, I had about five minutes left to deal with all other subjects.

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