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Posted at 06:53 PM ET, 05/10/2011

Great common standards battle: ho-hum

I apologize to both sides in the latest outbreak of heated conflict over common standards for our schools. Many of the combatants are friends of mine, sources of inspiration and clever quotes. I have read their feverish prose. I have felt their fear of the end of our hopes and dreams for our kids.

It’s still a big bore.

Here is the helpful and detailed release I got from Bill Evers, a former heavyweight in the George W. Bush Education Department who is now back at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution as a research fellow and inexhaustible troublemaker. Evers became a vibrant supporter of school reform when he led a fight against the confusing new math program that invaded his California school district. I like his ideas on most things, but the standards battle seems meaningless to me because it takes us many miles away from what is actually happening in classrooms.

The coalition of more than 100 leaders who have signed “Closing the Door on Innovation,” a manifesto against the move toward common curriculum standards throughout the country, makes several points.

They say the common standards are a blow to the creative competition between different teaching systems under federalism. They say there’s little evidence that common lessons and common tests will help our kids learn more. They say many of the standards accepted by 44 states and D.C. aren’t sound. They say there is no research-based concensus on this.

I say I have been been watching great teachers at work for nearly 30 years and I have yet to hear any of them say: “That lesson worked because of the great standard that inspired it.”

Our schools will get better if we train and support our teachers better, if we are more careful in the way we pick and train their principals and if we provide more time for instruction and encourage a team spirit in every school. The anti-standards folks make one point, but only one, that is relevant to those things we have to do: a common standard may get in the way of a creative teacher who wants to emphasize something other than what the standard demands.

But I am confident that once the standards are up and running, they are going to be largely ignored by thousands of creative teachers, and nobody is going to do anything about it.

The common tests are another matter. They have more of a chance of having a bite, but I’m willing to bet Greg Forster, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Educational Choice who has already beaten me in a wager over voucher laws, that the common tests will never fly on a national scale. Madison and Hamilton still rule the educatonal sphere. We are going to be a federal system whether we like it or not.

So relax, and look for a contest that is more entertaining and consequential than this one. That Little League game down the block looks good. Some relish and mustard on my hot dog, please.

By  |  06:53 PM ET, 05/10/2011

 
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