Educational Standards: Who’s raising the bar for our kids?

“The good thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.” ~ Andrew S. Tanenbaum, Professor of Computer Science, Amsterdam



There’s so much in the news about Standards these days. What’s the discourse about? Who should be setting the standards for our children anyway? Although the standing of young Americans is midstream in the international context, and those who see standardized testing as the sole measure of achievement believe we’re not “up to par,” might there be other paradigms for promoting quality in schools?

Not that many years ago a group of educators got together in an attempt to define and raise our country’s academic bar. The process resulted in the creation of new skills lists and related ways to evaluate students.

Since the Common Core was implemented there’s been a resoundingly negative response, in particular to the related assessments. Feedback includes:  (1)Testing is now a high stakes game that can impact teachers and schools (2) Time once devoted to authentic teaching and learning is now given over to test preparation, and (3) No significant funds are allocated to train our teachers. IMG_0517


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High standards are of critical importance, and those of us who work in schools have always believed so.

The question is, what inspires kids to reach new heights?  Ron Berger, author of An Ethic of Excellence says, “A school culture of quality connotes a culture of high standards for all students in all domains.” We, as adults, must model and set a high bar for learners in our communities, including ourselves. Making meaningful connections to content must be central to learning.

Here’s one example. Sixth graders at The Advent School in Boston tackle an annual science, art, and design project in which they create models for a sustainable community. They research environmentally/energy efficient building concepts, apply math and literacy skills, practice new techniques for construction, and over extended periods of time, probe deeply as architectural experts. Willing to experience repeated rounds of feedback, they conceive of spaces that reflect their scientific knowledge and their personal aesthetic. I watched this project evolve, and I observed teachers ratcheting up their expectations year after year. As adults raised the bar, the quality of student work and children’s level of pride increased substantially.


In Ron Berger’s universe, high standards are part of classroom culture and originate from us – their teachers. When learning is focused on practical challenge, long-term investigation, and requires quality representation  – when we IMG_2692IMG_2707 teach our

Collaborative Project w/MIT’s D-Lab

children to engage in peer critique and assess themselves using rubrics that they help develop, it won’t just be adults who are setting the standards. Students will be raising the bar for themselves.

IMG_6812IMG_6839Berger describes “a culture built around beautiful student work” and reminds us that [having high standards] is a long term commitment. It’s a way of life.” Isn’t that what we’re really after in our schools any way?

Let’s raise the bar and kids will too, Nancy Harris Frohlich

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