Monday, November 9, 2009

A Surprising Surprise

I often find myself surprised by the things that education researchers seem to find surprising. Take a recent analysis by the Brookings Institute on education standards. As the researchers write, "Our analyses suggest that the creation of common standards will have little impact on our future in and of itself." Rather, the researchers conclude, it's measures like "aligned assessments, and aligned curriculum, and accountability for educators, and accountability for students, and aligned professional development, and managerial autonomy for school leaders, and teachers who drawn from the best and brightest, and so on" that actually have a real benefit on student learning.

In other words, just setting standards doesn't cause kids to meet them. You also need to ensure that teaching and all the other aspects of what actually goes on in the classroom are high quality if you want to get great results. The researchers write that these findings "surprised many readers." Really? It's surprising to people that setting a goal isn't enough and that you need to make sure you're actually working toward achieving that goal?

The Brookings people are careful to point out that standards are not useless and I agree with them. It makes sense to have clear benchmarks for what students should be able to do. However, we can't confuse the setting of those benchmarks with steps that will actually help students meet them. Surprisingly, that's surprising to some people.

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