No Time to Backtrack on High School Standards

Amber Arellano’s Detroit News editorial on high school standards is highly recommended. (Get it here.) As she argues reducing the standards, particularly in math, – as many educators are pushing for – would be a big mistake.

The new graduation standards are one of the few accomplishments of Lansing policy makers in the last decade that is connected to building the economy of the future here in Michigan. That economy is going to be knowledge-based. Its imperative that we prepare our kids for that economy – not the lower skill/high pay economy of our past which is gone forever.

Our experience at Michigan Future is that if you change teaching and learning nearly all kids can meet higher standards. Two keys:

• Educators believing that all kids can learn. If principals and teachers don’t believe their kids can meet the standards they won’t. But when they do, kids often will exceed expectations. No guarantee, but without high expectations we are sure to fail.

• Transforming teaching and learning. The default position of most educators to deal with standardize tests is to go back to rote learning – teach to the test. It doesn’t work! Never has, never will. Schools with high achievement for all students are reinventing schooling. More project based; more learning outside the school building; taking responsibility for the whole child, not just delivering content.

Arellano cites educators who claim that the standards are eliminating much needed programs like vocational education.  That’s their fault, not the standards! Innovative educators are figuring out  how to integrate the  standards into their vocational programs. For many students its the way they will learn high skills: by doing, not listening to lectures.

Rather than fighting to change the standards, educators should be focused on delivering the kind of teaching and learning that works for all kids. And policy makers should be working to get resources to those who succeed and taking it away from those who don’t.

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