Education Expert Says Attacks on Rigorous, Comparable Education Standards Largely ‘Fear Mongering,’ ‘Conspiracy Theories’

A review of several books critiquing states’ rigorous, comparable education standards finds that most “offer more folly than wisdom.” Robert Pondiscio of the Fordham Institute, who led the evaluation, notes that few of the books make an attempt to persuade readers to reject higher standards on “merits or lack thereof.”

“Some barely take up the content of the standards at all. Instead, they mainly traffic in fear mongering and paranoid conspiracy theories about corporate greed,” Pondiscio notes. “On close examination, many of these books are not about the standards at all. Instead, they are broad-brush attacks on ed reform at large.”

It is important to note, Pondiscio adds, education standards do not dictate a formula for teaching – and instruction that treats them that way gets it backwards. “I would wager that when I. M. Pei was commissioned to design the Louvre Pyramid, his first move was not to reach for a copy of the Paris building codes for inspiration. It should be no different with teaching.”

Contrary to the fears stirred by some authors, Pondiscio notes that education standards by themselves accomplish little. “They set a bar that can only be reached and cleared by means of strong curricula, exceptional teaching, fair and rigorous assessments, and meaningful accountability systems. The challenge, now and always, is not setting standards or even agreeing to them. The challenge is in meeting them.”

Regrettably, the outcome of the “overheated” debate over raising academic expectations is the “estrangement of potential allies in a far more important struggle: the quest for instructional reform,” Pondiscio concludes. “One can only imagine how much progress we might have made if, instead of attacking the standards, its principled critics had devoted their energies to helping the field choose materials, create curriculum, train teachers, and insist on implementation with fidelity.”

Read Robert Pondiscio’s full review on EducationNext.org