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Podcast Transcript: Academic Standards (S1E1)

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Mullen: Welcome to the EXPLORING THE CORE PODCAST, where we delve into the elements that make up our education system and learn more about how that system can improve for the benefit of all students in schools today. I'm Greg Mullen, and in this episode, I address the need to understand academic standards and their role in the education system. With the incredible effort teachers are making every day, as they strive to motivate students to learn and prepare for each passing school year, I hope to impress the importance of standards as tools that celebrate student learning as much as they’re designed to identify gaps in skill development, as well as communicate academic growth to colleagues and families. I'll also be speaking with Ken O’Connor out of Toronto, Canada, a leader in Standards-Based Learning, about his thoughts on education, where it’s headed, and the challenges we face moving forward. Thank you for listening, I hope you enjoy the show.


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Standards are tools, and like any other tool, they must be used with intention. So what is it about standards that makes them such a difficult tool to use? I’ve come to see standards as a critical piece of a larger puzzle, one in which these academic standards have been evolving in phases and currently exist in the United States in the form of the Common Core State Standards; and it is this piece of the puzzle which I believe is a critical piece to understanding and improving our education system. It’s important that we first see the standards for what they are - a document. Instructions. A patterned outline of academic skills that develop over time. It’s important we recognize that This document does not say how or why students should develop those academic skills. It only says "what" academic skills students should develop at a minimum, as a means for identifying skill development over time. That's it. As a tool, they can be used with other tools such as rubrics and assessments in order to measure academic growth, but it’s important to recognize the value of this tool, these standards, and its role in education.


I’ve always been interested in arguments against the Common Core State Standards. I wonder still if there were people against the state standards in the late nineties when states first developed and adopted academic standards. Where was this frustration coming from toward simply identifying what is and ought to be taught? It’s an interesting thing, people’s reaction to the phrase Common Core , because when I ask teachers and parents about a particular skill - let’s say, counting to one hundred; I’m rarely met with vitriol about such an academic expectation. In fact, I typically get responses that such a skill Copyright 2019 Exploring the Core LLC. All Rights Reserved. www. ExploringTheCore.com is totally fine for students to learn as early as Kindergarten, or even Preschool. The moment I mention that skill is in fact listed in the Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten, the conversation pivots, sometimes quite radically, to talking about things like cursive writing and how it wasn’t included, or critical thinking, or how students today are taught how to add and multiply in strange new ways. Even now, as you’re listening to this podcast, you likely have opinions about each of these important topics.


I believe these kinds of disagreements reflect larger divisions in how people view not only what students should be taught, but also how students should be taught, and who should make decisions about a child’s education; but it’s important that I stress the role of standards is not about the how or why in education - they are solely a tool defining the what. As you listen to this episode, I want you to know that I recognize the need to discuss the how, the why, and the who behind deciding what is to be taught. I also recognize those aspects are important enough to be discussed in their own episodes later in this podcast series. So, for today, let’s focus on the value of standards and the role they do, and ought to serve in education.


I’ve always felt It was unfortunate that standards were adopted wholesale for all K-12 grade levels. I don’t believe policy makers and school district officials presented a strong case to the teachers, students, and families, as to the usefulness of academic standards; and as a result, we have come to feel that standards are put upon us rather than offered to us.