Let’s move on to the next piece in fixing US education, and it’s one that may seem counter-intuitive. It’s decreasing the scope of standards in many classes! Yes, that means, let’s teach students just a little less content, but before you judge, let me tell you why. This also does not necessarily apply to every subject area as I have seen some (like some ELA standards) that are more focused on specific skills rather than content.
I think for me, this change all starts with my experiences teaching history. I taught both world history and US history courses for years, and let’s just say those standards are a whole lot. In US, we had to teach the entire history of the US before the standardized test, and it included every reform movement you can think of because the politics of a civics class dictate that. In world, we had to teach the entire history of the world in a year, and the timeline jumped from continent to continent which made continuity almost impossible. Thankfully, the world did not have a standardized test. Each class had way too much content, and it made things challenging.
The question with these intense standards is “Why?” Why do we include content at the K-12 level that is really only a need for students who are entering that field of study in college and beyond. Why do we include those content pieces that most students forget before the end of the year is out? It’s one thing to teach content that is a building block for a greater understanding of the world, but it’s another thing to overfill standards with too much content making it impossible for students to get the experiences that make school fun and time to practice skills that will actually carry them forward.
If we continue to give teachers such intense standards, they focus on the content delivery aspect almost exclusively. If states were to take their standards and cut them down to just the necessary content, it would leave time for teachers to have students write, create, act, and practice future ready skills. They could gain deeper understanding of the content they were studying, and students could actually have fun in school! It also makes the state test at the end of the year less stressful for them.
A shrinking of standards though, may help the teachers even more. If you are in one of the classes where the standards are packed tightly, lessening the standards immediately takes some of the pressure off. Those classes are a race to get all of the content in before the test, and so that race of content delivery is understandable. That race means you have to either get creative with your scheduling, or your class is almost all content delivery, or you simply don’t finish the content. All of those choices aren’t perfect, so maybe by lessening the standards impact you can give teachers the time they need to push student learning the right way.
Now is this an easy process? No, it takes the state to make it work, and those politics always get in the way. Hopefully, someday we can lessen that political impact, but in today's world it looks like it may just be increasing. It means it’s time to advocate and make our educator voices heard. Call your state legislators and school boards to make this a priority!
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