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Benchmarks, Standards, and Common Core, Oh My*!

As I was entering K-12 education about 20 years ago "standards" had been around for a relatively short period of time. Now there are state standards and benchmarks, national standards and benchmarks (including Common Core), and local standards. There is nothing inherently WRONG with these academic standards...I guess. And their AIM is good...I think. But. The reality is that the standards are HUGE, unwieldy documents that as a public school teacher, I found did not really make any difference in kids' learning. And now since working with homeschooling families, the idea of being worried about adhering to a set of state or national standards is laughable. Almost nothing could be less important in my opinion!

Of all the things that affect where a student finds themselves, lets say at the end of their K-12 education, I promise that these documents written by legislators is not in the top 500 most influential entities!

Again, there really isn't anything inherently BAD about these over-arching (yet incredibly detailed) documents. But I am zero percent convinced they HELP students or teachers - traditional school or otherwise - and so end up being a waste of time.

And time IS precious. We HAVE to make decisions about what we do with our children - there aren't enough days in 200 lifetimes to learn everything one could. So, we learn some things, and not others. But the way the standards are written (in my opinion and experience) require inordinate amounts of time to:

  1. Read and understand the standards.

  2. Find or make lessons and activities that meet them (this is what public schools are claiming to do now).

  3. Evaluate a student's work to determine if they have 'met' this standard.

This is the most sterile and robotic approach to education and learning that I can imagine! And in PRACTICE I don't think standards really change what teachers do or what students learn.

But all this is beside the point. Completely. Every child is so unique: their combination of interests, natural talents, and learning styles is utterly their own. Trying to create an overarching set of standards to force onto each child is ridiculous.

This is not to say there aren't some things that maybe EVERYONE should learn by the time they are young adults. However, it is getting increasingly hard to actually know what those might be. The Common Core and academic standards do try to address this: and they are constantly updating them to try to keep up with changes in society and what we best believe students should know. And they ARE based on good research about how and what students can learn. But the problem remains that they are GIANT unwieldy things that even expert, veteran teachers have real trouble implementing in any real way.

So, my solution? Let's SIMPLIFY things. Please. Life is much easier this way.

Are there some BIG IDEAS in subjects like History and Science etc. that kids should know? YES! But these BIG IDEAS aren't facts to memorize, they are understandings that take time. Rushing through standards to 'check off' that a student has done X, Y, and Z does NOT equate to actually understanding the big ideas in a subject.

A better (and far simpler) approach is to encourage students to learn DEEPLY about whatever it is that they are interested in. For example: the more they can learn about ANY aspect of - say the battle of Hastings in 1066 - the more they will understand of history as a WHOLE. Same goes for whatever their favorite animal is: dolphins? Well do you know how many kinds of dolphins there are?! I don't and I am biology teacher! But if that is what your child is interested in, they will FIND OUT. They will also find out that some species have gone extinct in recent times and more are facing extinction due to human activities. THAT trend is true across the natural world. No standards need to be in place for that learning to happen.

So please, don't get overly worried about your state and national standards. I promise it isn't having much of an influence of what kids in traditional school are ACTUALLY doing and learning. Much more important by (no exaggeration) ONE MILLION times is nurturing your child's curiosity and working closely with them to be sure they are learning, growing, and thriving.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Email me:

*Ok, I wish I had seen or read The Wizard of Oz Recently - the only lion was actually the cowardly lion right? I don't know quite how else I can extend this analogy to the standards, but at least we don't need to be afraid of them. The lion turned out to be a super OK guy - not sure if the same will be able to be said of the standards?

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