A Standard of Mediocrity

Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which depicts both my horror, and the “cool” thing my son told me about from his school day today.

This week my son started Kindergarten.  Aside from the parental concerns of the basic safety of my son, whether he would remember where he was supposed to go, and whether he would be happy, I could not help but examine the state of public education in Pennsylvania, and I bet my qualitative observations could be applied to all other states.

First, I was astounded at Back to School night that I heard about state assessments!  My son has been in school three days of his life, and I have already heard the phrase!!!  Perhaps more ridiculous is the teacher is teaching to the test already.  It’s simple, I’ll give you, but we were told to help her ensure all students hold their scissors and pencil correctly.  This assessment was coming in the middle of the year, and the teacher wants all her students to pass.  (Please understand, I’m not faulting the teacher, but rather the system.)  HOLD ON!  My son has four months to master holding scissors and his pencil!  Please tell me this is not all that we will be doing in kindergarten?

I understand the need for young children to display proficiency in fine motor skills, but if my son isn’t proficient on a scissors-holding test, he will be put into a lower-level group (and yes, I heard “Response to Intervention” too) based on this alone!  How sad.  Couldn’t a student demonstrate this skill in other ways?  Coloring with crayons?  Building with Legos?

While I support children learning the basic skills, I was saddened to think this was the only emphasis.  I would like my son to learn those basic skills WHILE engaged in active learning and projects.  Yes, I know that means skills must still be taught, but please do not separate the skills from the FUN OF LEARNING!

My Back-to-School night followed an afternoon of shocking professional development with the Common Core standards.  You know the ones, the higher level of accountability than individual state standards… Here’s what I found.  My 10th grade students, on the third day of school, were able to display proficiency on the grade 11-12 Reading and Writing Standards for literacy.  To quote:

  • Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account
  • Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, identifying important issues that remain unresolved.
  • Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and
    media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content
  • Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

I know as a nation we are still trying to push all students toward a higher level of excellence, but I am beginning to lose any support for standards.  In both cases today, with my son and my own classroom, I found the standards seem to only attack the median skills required for competency.  Yes, this is exactly what standards are supposed to do, provide a guide to ensure all students are proficient on the same skills.

Then how about we propose a “Common Core” of excellence, because as I see it, the Common Core still only addresses the average learner.

Taken either way, I am really saddened by public education.  Is this all we’ve got?  As a teacher and hopefully an educational leader, I plan to push my entire career for something better.  Accepting average work, slightly better than mediocre, means our future leaders, engineers, and scientists will only be slightly better than average… or won’t be products of American public schools.

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2 thoughts on “A Standard of Mediocrity

  1. Bill August 30, 2012 / 11:49 am

    We did this (common core, Keystone, etc.) last week. The technical term for what we’re seeing is call ‘regression to the mean.’ It always brings to mind a Tom Petty lyric: ‘As we celebrate mediocrity, the boys upstairs wanna see how much you’ll pay for what you used to get for free.’ Slightly different context, but we’re definitely celebrating mediocrity.

    • Justin Staub, Ed.D. August 30, 2012 / 4:25 pm

      Bill, it’s always a pleasure to share educational ideas with you. Fortunately technology can bridge the distance between us.

      To quote Tom Petty, “I won’t back down.” I’ve seen how powerful challenging students to a new level can be. I accept that most of the students in my school are exceptional learners, but even those that are educationally challenged still thrive because they want to learn. When you present a challenge for most individuals, and support them through the challenge, they learn a great deal.

      I have become staunchly grounded in this belief, and the more I observe both my sons and my school students, I realize American public education serves to regress most students to the mean.

      Thanks for your comments.

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