Reformist and well-admired-by-me Deborah Meier hates the idea of a national exam, as well as national standards. Sylvia points out astutely in the comments on the last post that the NAEP may be a successful measure of learning because it is based on random sampling, versus being administered to all students.
Me? As usual, I’m trying to blaze a middle trail in my head. Surely there must be a way to satisfy the very real need for agreement on a core, essential set of knowledge that all American students should strive to attain, while allowing for equally necessary local approaches, additions, and revisions. What might that look like? Could high schools, for example, serve as the main repository for locally and individually-directed study, while elementary and middle schools set the basic foundations upon which all states would agree?
I’m starting to wonder something heretical, actually: if the outraged hullabaloo that followed former New York governor George Pataki’s statement that an 8th grade education level was sufficient was misplaced. Granted, the implication here was that the state releases all responsibility for education after 8th grade, versus merely shifting the educational focus of the higher grades. However, consider the benefits of getting everyone’s fingers out the curriculum pie past 8th grade except those to whom it matters most: the families, students, and local communities the schools serve.
Of course, arranging high schools with a high degree of internal choice has its distinct drawbacks, as Harry Brighouse points out:
…[such a Shopping Mall] school ensures that students will choose their way into college-prep, vocationally-oriented, or non-demanding classes depending on the attentiveness and aspirations of their parents, the peer group they are in, and their own perception of their own abilities. The texture of school life is beautifully placed on display in the book, and the way that “empowering” students to choose classes ends up sorting them more effectively even than tracking would is nicely…well, tracked. (One of the many things that has always puzzled me about so many American left-educators is that they oppose tracking and are utterly convinced that parental choice of schools will lead to inequality, but defend student choice of classes within schools to the hilt, whereas Shopping Mall High School shows that it has much the same effect as tracking, and is driven by exactly the same dynamic as choice of schools).
Mm. Take that, Deborah?
Maybe they get this right in Norway.