Last week, CEOs in Change the Equation’s coalition came out forcefully for higher expectations for all students. It’s well known that most states have set a low bar for their students and that pass rates on state tests don’t tell us nearly enough about how students are really doing. But we do not believe for a moment that raising the bar in itself is enough to turn every student into a champion high jumper. We have much work ahead to get students to clear it.
Better standards and a higher bar on state tests won’t mean anything unless they have a real impact on how teachers teach. The New York Times ran a story on Sunday that offers a taste of what that impact might be. A large and diverse high school in Queens is already test driving new “Common Core” content standards that 43 states have pledged to adopt. If they’re a success, those standards will change what happens in the classroom. Here’s an example from Queens:
A math teacher, José Rios, used to take a day or two on probabilities, drawing bell-shaped curves on the blackboard to illustrate the pattern known as normal distribution. This year, he stretched the lesson by a day and had students work in groups to try to draw the same type of graphic using the heights of the 15 boys in the class.
“Eventually, they figured out they couldn’t because the sample was too small,” Mr. Rios said. “They learned that the size of the sample matters, and I didn’t have to tell them.”
One could argue that good teachers should always engage students in this way, with or without clear standards. Yet not all teachers do, and even the best teachers need support. The need staff development, better curriculum tied to the standards, teaching tools to help bring standards to life, and state tests that accurately test what’s in the standards.
That’s a pretty high bar, and we’re all going to have to clear it together.