While half the country is apparently out Googling Asperger's Syndrome (thanks to Tuesday's new episode of "Parenthood," I guess), the National Governors Association has released a plan to help not just kids on TV, but all U.S. kids: Common Core Standards for education from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Currently, no national standards exist for schools, which are instead subject to myriad state and local curriculum guides and classroom benchmarks. The independence of schools from national control has long been a hallmark of the U.S. education system, as communities have often fought to teach their children in their own way/image. This has led, increasingly, to strange initiatives that limit what students are allowed to see in their textbooks: Think of Kansas's efforts to alter the teaching of evolution, or the ongoing battle in Texas over whether the state's textbooks should more centrally feature conservative activists.
While politicians fight over what's acceptable in the classroom, U.S. schools and students have consistently fallen behind other developed countries in national scores on math and reading, in high school graduation rates, and in numbers of young people with college degrees. Strangely, though teachers aren't held to a national standard, students who want to go to college are, through the ACT and SAT.
The core standards aim to fix this. They're not so prescriptive as to subvert the will of a community, but they provide very clear benchmarks for each grade level in writing, reading, and math. For instance, in sixth grade, students should be able to look at an informational text and "distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment"; by 11th and 12th grade, readers should be able to look at an informational text and "synthesize and apply multiple sources of information presented in different formats in order to address a quest or solve a problem, including resolving conflicting information." No specific textbooks or readings are assigned, but suggestions and examples are offered to point teachers and school districts in the right direction. They're clear, concise, and well-studied standards.
These standards provide for "vertical learning," where students consistently build on skills and expand knowledge bases from one year to the next, instead of learning one thing and then bouncing to something else that seems completely unrelated. Think back to your own high school experience, and you may realize how revolutionary that is.
More than any of the specific standards, though, I find the scope and focus of the study to be extremely exciting. Check this out:
To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, report on, and create a high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new. The need to research and to consume and produce media is embedded into every element of today’s curriculum.
Methinks the Core Standards might just be creating an Army of Good Bloggers. At the very least, emphasizing the need for critical reading and written analysis may lead to fewer students who are sucked in by poorly drawn arguments, leading to... an informed populous! Just imagine!