Putting Education Reform To The Test

A Close Reading Of Arguments For And Against Common Education Standards

Wally Hartshorn / Flickr

The Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, near Cork, Ireland. The stone imparts "the ability to deceive without offending" -- flattery would be a form -- to those who kiss it.

University of South Florida education professor Sherman Dorn parses some of the language — what he calls “blarney” in a St. Pat’s Day theme — surrounding new education standards adopted by Florida, 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

The standards, known as Common Core, ask students to know fewer topics, but to have a deeper understanding of those topics. The goal is that students will be ready for college-level work or a job upon graduating high school.

Dorn’s list has 10 items, but we’ll focus on two: Whether Common Core means the end of local control of education and the differences whether common standards will mean a common curriculum.

Common Core won’t change local control much, Dorn writes, because state education policies already undermine local control:

Blarney #2: A national curriculum would violate the history of local control in education.

Flattery object: This claim flatters its audience’s small-c conservatism with regard to institutions, specifically local school boards.

Why this is blarney: Every state today has a set of curriculum standards. There is at least a consistent argument by those who argue againstĀ anyĀ curriculum standards, but for people to refer toĀ stateĀ standards as “local control” is just not accurate.Ā Anyone who argues that national standards are somehow a greater infringement on local school boards than state standards isĀ ignoringĀ the history of education, not honoring it.

As for creating a common curriculum?

Blarney #10: The Common Core will block curricular innovation by standardizing all curriculum.

Flattery object: This claim flatters its audience’s belief that formal curriculum standards are the most important determinant of curricular stability, and that somehow the Common Core is more of a monopolizing force than various state standards.

Why this is blarney: Curriculum standards by committee are rarely as coherent as this argument implies. Is there theĀ potential for curriculum standards to embed a particular set of assumptions? Certainly, but in most of those cases the standards are likely to reflect current practices, such as the emphasis in most high school U.S. history courses to emphasize national development in a triumphal narrative. The stability of those structures rely more on the (small-c) conservative nature of the academic school curriculum than formal standards. And to the extent that formal curricular standards impede innovation, that would have happened when state curricular standards popped up, long before the Common Core.

Go read the full list at Dorn’s blog.


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