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Lily Eskelsen's picture

I used to have a bulletin board in my classroom that read: Thou Shalt Not Whine. In my 6th grade, you weren’t allowed to complain about something unless the next words out of your mouth were: And here’s what I’m going to do about it.

I was proud of the passion that some of our most accomplished teachers and support professionals threw into Doing Something about preparing our students for the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in the 21st Century.

I was proud that we didn’t wait for the federal government to get this right. States (who own the primary responsibility for educating their communities’ children) decided not to whine about the testing insanity that has come to replace standards.

Amazing state partners came together to Do Something about it and create voluntary Common Core State Standards outlining what students should know and be able to do.

The federal government gave us the mindless gimmick called No Child Left Untested. It’s a testing game that has abandoned real standards. The Common Core takes us in a different direction. It’s is a critical first step in an effort to provide every student with a comprehensive, content-rich and complete education that develops the whole, blessed child.

I’ve checked. I can now report that there is no enterprise today looking for adults who can successfully guess the right answer when given four choices. The world is looking for those who can analyze, synthesize, create, build, innovate, energize, inspire and, perhaps most important, those who can learn and adapt as the world around them changes.

This is a profound moment for practitioners.

This initiative holds the promise of giving us a whole lot more work to do. But this time, it will be work that matters.

Real standards confirm that the purpose of education is profoundly bigger than hitting some test cut-score. The purpose of education is to open a child’s mind to its limitless possibilities.

These standards require me, as a teacher, to be a powerful professional. The non-education world cannot know what this will mean to us. Today, for too many teachers and too many students, there’s no joy in learning. It’s become a numbers strategy on how to get a quota of kids to hit a cut score on a test.

For one coach who also teaches Math, he said it was like practicing drills - you hit; you throw; you run... but you never actually learn to play the game.

Proper standards don’t stop at drills. Now, as we move forward with implementation, everything we teach will be in clear service to a clear standard. With this foundation, we can design teacher preparation, instruction and assessment around whether or not our kids know how to use the skills to actually play the game.

And the game becomes, ‘Can You Think’? Can you evaluate and defend an opinion and organize and reason and create and form a question?

With this foundation, we move towards a standards-based education and away from a testing-based education. There’s a difference.

When I taught 6th grade in Utah, we gave a standardized test in the spring. One year, I was told that the Social Studies section would cover the Civil Rights Movement.

This was good to know since our textbook had very little on the Civil Rights Movement. So, I developed a curriculum that covered segregation and Jim Crow and lunch counter sit-ins and voting rights. You should have heard these 12 year olds arguing about things they had never even thought of before - about civil disobedience and the ideals of America and our responsibility to those ideals.

Then we got the test. There was one question on the Civil Rights Movement. This was it:

Which of the following won the Nobel Peace Prize?
A. Rosa Parks B. Martin Luther King, Jr. C. George Washington Carver D. Charles Drew

In that entire week of study, I had never once mentioned that Martin Luther King, Jr. had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Almost all my kids missed that question, because after a week with me, they assumed they knew everything about Dr. King, so he was the first name they eliminated. After that, they just guessed.

Knowing who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 is not as important as WHY he won the Peace Prize. We don’t live in a multiple choice world. We must teach complex, critical thinking skills that are relevant to students who might be reading a history book on the Civil Rights Movement or a website on the pros and cons of nuclear power or a newspaper on the Gulf Oil Spill.

These Standards are everything. Because they are the foundation. On the cardboard foundation of No Child Left, the house falls. Strong standards are something we can build a future on.

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