Chill pills – the cure for education reform hysteria
(Written to a group of public librarians who may be vaguely aware of the Common Core State Standards, from the viewpoint of a school librarian.)
Recent results from a standardized test of students from 65 countries have reignited the argument that America’s public education system is in need of a drastic overhaul. With American students’ test scores at or below the international average, there is a creeping sense that our students are ill prepared for the future. As professionals with the honor of serving school age students, we must keep a serious mind towards these findings. But before we sound the alarm and take to the streets to “save” schools, it would be best to step back and think about our options.
The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, was a test administered in 2012 to learners ages three to fifteen, in the areas of reading literacy, math, and science. Without going into the considerations and demographic breakdowns behind the PISA figures, the results place students from the United States below average in mathematics, and near average in reading and science. These figures fell remarkably close to where they were 3 years ago, which was the last time the PISA was given. Assessing this data, the question becomes “What can be done to raise student achievement in the international realm?”
As a school librarian who serves the kids this test aims to evaluate, I don’t have a ready-made answer to that question. The most clear response I can offer is this- it is not time to panic. With the recent trends towards standards-based results (No Child Left Behind legislation being the most notable), many detractors are wary of any systems that appear to be data driven. This has led to open debates about whether imposing another system of standards will really solve anything, even inspiring some highly publicized town hall meetings in New York.
Many education officials will point to the widespread implementation of the Common Core State Standards as the means of salvation for our struggling system. The CCSS, which at last count have been adopted by 45 states, offer a uniform set of goals for students in grades k-12. These standards are being inserted into curricula across the U.S., often replacing the existing requirements of many districts in hopes that the learners of today will be “college and career ready.” And while many pros and cons of the standards have been bandied about by parents, students, school boards, educators, and librarians, it is too early to tell their effectiveness.
So without becoming just another critic of an unproven system, I come to you today with some possible considerations for ways in which librarians can approach these standards. First, there must be an increase in the amount of communication between public youth services librarians and their students’ friendly neighborhood school librarians. The professional tone of collaboration may be something libraries and school districts claim they strive towards, but the CCSS offers a chance for public servants to unite towards a common goal. As each side shares its experiences serving young learners within this context, it offers more opportunities for community representatives to evaluate the true results of the Common Core. In evaluating these results, we can then take the next steps of rallying for changes we deem necessary, such as supporting the standards that actually encourage student growth, decrying any arbitrary methodologies, and advocating on behalf of students who will surely face testing biases.
Admittedly, “wait and see” is not an aggressive stance towards improving students’ test results, but it is currently the wisest option. With a majority of states adopting the CCSS, it is better to first understand the system, and then try to implement changes. So before we rush to rearrange our educational model, let’s take a breath, think of the kids we serve, and work on this together.