There are numerous misconceptions about the impact that national education standards and tests would have on education. But a new misconception has surfaced: that centralized standards-setting will free teachers to teach.
National standards proponents claim that standardizing what every public school child in America will learn will somehow liberate education. Take Melinda Gates’s recent remarks during the Foundation for Excellence in Education summit in October:
Let’s say I’m a beginning teacher in a rural area of a small state, about to teach equivalent fractions to 3rd graders for the first time. But there are so many options. I could draw diagrams on the board. I could show that four quarters are equivalent to one dollar. But how do I know what works best?
It used to be that having all of these options was a benefit for teachers; teacher training programs and education schools have long stressed the concept of differentiated instruction. After all, children learn differently. But Gates seems to believe that teachers couldn’t possibly make that decision without the official help. She continued:
If my state has implemented the common core, I should be able to consult an on-line library where I could watch videos from “Teachers of the Year” in every single state to see how they make this concept clear and hold the kids’ attention.… [National standards] will give teachers and schools more freedom, not less.
What would liberate education is a thriving marketplace of ideas, not nationalization. As Jay Greene notes, “a nationalized education system in the US could be done but it would run roughshod over the needs and legitimate interests of many individuals.”
National standards are unlikely to make U.S. students more competitive, will fail to provide meaningful information to parents, and will put more emphasis on uniformity rather than standards of excellence. And children won’t be the only ones to lose out: With Washington dictating what will be taught in every classroom across the country, teachers will be anything but free to teach how they see fit.