What is the proper role of standards in schools?

Anyone following Wisconsin politics is well aware of the recent debates around the Common Core State Standards as connected with Senate Bill 516, which sought to establish a Model Academic Standards Board. More recently, many Wisconsin schools have begun the move toward aligning with the Common Core State Standards, but this bill would lead to school standards being shaped by a state board and much more influenced state legislature.

As a result of this bill, much public debate seems to turn the discussion into a debate between two options related to standards. This cartoon from the Wisconsin State Journal represents it as a debate between “educated elites writing education standards” or “uneducated elites” doing the same thing. In this February 20, 2014 release from Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers, his reasons for opposing this bill, namely that it would, “subject kids to political whipsaw.”

Amid such debates, it is easy to think that we must choose between two options. However, I continue to point out that these debates are delaying our attention to a more fundamental question that remains largely unexplored. What is the proper role of academic standards in schools? Should standards serve as a guideline for schools and educators? Or, should they serve as a ruler by which to measure schools and learners? This is ultimately a question about the mission and purpose of schools. Why do schools exist? What is their purpose?

I remain convinced that we are in need of a candid discussion about educational philosophy. However, mainstream news outlets find it more difficult to cultivate widespread and substantive discussion about educational philosophy, especially in United States public education, which seems to lean heavily upon philosophies rooted in pragmatism and utilitarianism.

Posted in blog, common core, education, education reform

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is the author of Missional Moonshots, Assistant Vice President of Academics, Associate Professor of education, and a frequent keynote speaker and consultant on topics related to educational innovation and entrepreneurship, futures in education, and the intersection of education and digital culture. Opinions expressed here do not reflect those of his primary employer(s).