There’s a great deal of debate in Florida today about the Common Core standards. While appropriate standards are an important part of educating today’s children to become tomorrow’s citizens, entrepreneurs, employers, and employees, they are far from the most important factor.
Curriculum standards set goals and benchmarks for what students ought to know and know how to do at certain ages and stages of their academic careers. Standards do not require teachers to use certain textbooks or follow particular methods, nor do they require students to read certain novels. Textbooks and methods chosen by teachers, administrators, Boards of Education, or states are means to the end of meeting the curriculum standards. The Common Core standards were developed by professional educators (not by politicians), and there’s little reason for them to generate much authentic controversy or opposition except perhaps the fact that they are pitched at a high, college-preparatory level, and thus might not be the best goals for every student in America’s schools today.
But no matter how good or appropriate the standards are, they will not have the effect of transforming educational outcomes for the vast majority of American students.
That’s because there’s a factor that’s vastly more important to great educational outcomes than curriculum standards: that each teacher has the freedom to meet the needs of each child and the ability to inspire each child’s learning journey.
Schools work best when they know each child well and have both the mind-set and the freedom to respond to the particular needs of their students, their teachers, their physical plant, their mission, and their core values. Ideally, each teacher knows each child well. Ideally, each teacher understands what each student needs in order to learn best.
The more that decisions are made away from the school’s offices and classrooms, the more they are made at the district and state level, the less responsive they are to the actual needs of the individual school community and, thus, the students. That’s not a recipe for a high quality educational experience.
Do standards matter? Yes. But a much more important ingredient of student success is the quality of people who populate the teacher side of the teacher-student relationship, the most important part of learning.