Why higher standards are impossible

Rigorous academic standards are impossible. Full stop. Sorry, Checker (barriers #3 and #4).

Oklahoma’s recent fold is instructive. In 2005, the legislature voted in Achieving Classroom Excellence, a three-part implementation of tougher high school standards. High school graduates, beginning in 2012, would have to pass end-of-course tests in algebra, geometry, English, history, and science.

The math tests didn’t seem like cakewalks ( Algebra, Geometry) although the English test seems rudimentary.

But then, the state provided exemptions, which are an entirely different story. According to the exemption requirements, students could score an 18 on the ACT Math subtest (460 or thereabouts on the SAT) and a 15/17 on the English and Reading tests (430 ditto) in order to graduate. Any student who couldn’t pass the state tests faced a far friendlier standard–and a much lower one.

And yet, even with that low bye, Oklahoma is looking to end the requirement, because at least 6,000 students a year are at risk of not graduating.

Given that thousands of Oklahoma ACT testers can’t meet the exemption standard, which is above the mean for African Americans, and just at the mean for Hispanics and Native Americans, that’s not much of a shock.

I can never tell which side does more damage. Progressive educators set standards embarrassingly low while pretending to teach a challenging “idea-rich” curriculum. They think it’s demeaning to teach low ability kids what they need to know, so instead they “scaffold” advanced concepts and lead the kids through a mock-version of the real thing. So the kids “read” Hamlet, but in fact, all they do is watch a movie and talk about how they felt when their moms let them down. They are given difficult math problems to solve, in no particular sequence of instruction, but they don’t really have to solve them. It’s not the answer that’s important, it’s the process of thinking about the problem, didn’t you know?

And as frustrating and fraudulent as this behavior is, eduformers top progressives with their purely delusional insistence that all students can learn the same advanced curriculum.

Simple question: what is the algebra mastery rate for students with sub-100 IQs? What’s that? You don’t know? Well, it doesn’t have to be IQ. Pick the cognitive metric of your choice and take the bottom half. How are they doing in algebra?

You still don’t know?

Then kindly shut up about higher standards for all.

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7 responses to “Why higher standards are impossible

  • Baramos

    I had to laugh at your comment about “scaffolding” Hamlet–it really was demeaning when I saw a similar stab at teaching Romeo and Juliet to a low-level 9th grade English class. The teacher had them reading a “modern-day” translation which mostly consisted of a summary of the plot, with only three actual scenes included. I believe their entire study of Romeo and Juliet consisted of a whole two days of reading this super-abridged version, then watching a film version. Those kids were certainly capable of learning far more than that.

    Basically the side-by-side versions of Shakespeare are about as far down the hole of “scaffolding” as teachers should go–kids can read the whole play and actually memorize events, characters, etc. I don’t care how low-level they are–if they are not actually suffering from mental disorders they can handle more than what I saw in this particular school.

    • educationrealist

      You’ve reminded me of the time I taught Twelfth Night (different school) ,when only a few of my freshman students had the ability and interest to read Shakespeare. I agree that “scaffolding” (sigh–I can do the lingo) can be more challenging than that. In fact, I spent the two weeks with them exploring ways to read difficult literature. It was pretty successful and the curriculum was lots of fun to develop.

      Were you observing because you were in ed school?

  • Steve Sailer

    “Romeo and Juliet” is a tough read, even by Shakespeare’s standards. He really let himself run riot verbally in R&J. “Julius Caesar” is a much easier intro to Shakespeare’s use of the language, and it’s still a bear.

    • educationrealist

      The one advantage of R/J over Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar (I agree about the language) is the simplicity of the story. When you’re working with kids who really aren’t ever going to understand the language of any Shakespearean play, then you want to make sure that they grasp the content, which has its own value. A kid who never understands “What light through yonder window breaks” literally may still benefit from knowing a) there’s a famous play called R&J, b) the leads were “starcrossed lovers” whose families were feuding, c) it ended sadly. So if that kid is reading another book later on that makes literary allusions to the Montagues and the Capulets, or Mercutio, he’ll get the reference.

      When I teach any difficult book to mid- or low-ability students, I focus on ensuring they understanding the content, as well as the process and mechanics of the story. If nothing else, the kids are increasing their content knowledge, which is the unsung elephant in reading skills. The nice thing about Shakespeare is that all his great plays are filmed, and they were meant to be seen (as opposed to read) anyway.

      That’s why teaching English is more satisfying than teaching math, even though it’s much harder to move state test scores. You might be teaching them works they don’t understand, but at least they are getting practice writing and understanding.

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