Somerby’s Takedown of “Tougher [Educational] Standards”

I’ve always had a problem with the whole call for “tougher standards” in education. I’m all for a clearly defined curriculum, but, if students aren’t learning well, then trouncing more of them won’t make them any smarter. This just seems like more ‘will-based’ policies. Thankfully, Bob Somerby provides a much-needed smackdown to conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks (italics original):

Offering utterly silly Good News, Brooks tells us that Superintendent Gallo “got the concessions she needed to try to improve” Central Falls High. In fact, the concessions were remarkably puny; no one with an ounce of sense would think they will address the mammoth problems the press has described at this struggling school. But it’s entirely possible that Brooks doesn’t know this. You see, in modern journalistic culture, high-minded people like Wolfe and Brooks feel free to write about public schools in the absence of any real background or knowledge. In this way, they show their love for the nation’s “educational experts”–and their contempt for low-income kids….

As major pundits know they must do, Brooks praises the notion of “tougher standards.” But how exactly will “tougher standards” help the kids at Central Falls High? In the past year, mainstream reporters have endlessly gaped at the low passing rates achieved at this school. Of course, those low passing rates were achieved under current standards.
Question: If these deserving kids can’t meet the current easier standards, why would they flourish if standards get tougher?

Good question. Because, ultimately, I don’t think this is about outcomes as much as it is justification of certain ideologies and perspectives. Intelligent Designer forbid that we actually tackle something like poverty, poor resources, and poorly designed curricula–or even simply admit these might have something to do with the problem. It’s much easier to tell the kids to pedal faster….

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3 Responses to Somerby’s Takedown of “Tougher [Educational] Standards”

  1. Tony P says:

    I’m reading Ravitch’s book right now. I just find myself shaking my head. They handed the keys to education to corporate America. Not very bright.
    I saw this when I was in college btw. The affiliations with the business community were interesting to say the least.

  2. Addicted to Reality says:

    In high school, I was on the track team & dabbled in high jumping (in addition to my main event of pole vaulting). I wasn’t great at it (high jumping). I was able to clear 5′ 7″ a couple of times, but you know, no matter how much higher I set the bar, I could never clear anything higher than that. If I was able to clear 5′ 7″, why couldn’t I go higher when I set the bar higher? I’m puzzled.

  3. Art says:

    Sounds like your chasing a circular argument to me. Many inner city employers see a high-school diploma as useless. Not so much because the job requires more knowledge but because the diploma has been watered down so much that it is meaningless. Tales of grossly illiterate and innumerate high-school graduates are legion.
    This is one of the reasons so many employers have shifted to some college as being the minimum standard. If they have some college the thought is they at least have the knowledge base of high-school graduates from previous decades.
    On the student end of this the kids know that a high-school diploma is a glorified rag that often means nothing more than you met the minimum standard for attendance. Knowing the prize for 12 years of six hours, five times a week, is a useless piece of paper tends to drain away most of any remaining enthusiasm.
    Higher standards could restore the high-school diploma to a badge of basic literacy, numeracy, and the ability to reason. Despite what the talking heads say about most jobs being high-tech the simple fact is that most jobs, even the high-tech variety, are 90% just knowing how to think, speak, write and do basic math.
    Restore the standards and the diploma would mean something to both the students and the employers.
    In boot camp the sergeant noted that ‘The harder we make it on you; the prouder you will be when you get through it and the more it will mean to you as time goes by’ was true.
    We could have a near 100% high-school graduation rate if we made getting a diploma just a matter of sending your name to an office that would mail back your diploma. Lower the bar, and the investment of time, enough and you can get high completion rates.
    Presently high-school is structured to require at least 1200 hours a year. And in return we give them a sheet of paper devoid of meaning because standards are so low. Is there any wonder why kids are dropping out?

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