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SAN ANTONIO, TX - The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) sponsored the First Annual Standards-Based Reform Conference: Moving the Agenda Forward on August 8-10. The conference was an unprecedented meeting of teachers, administrators, policymakers, and elected officials from all over the country who want to maintain standards as the driving force behind reforming American schools.
Key players of the standards movement hosted the conference, including Marc S. Tucker, President, NCEE; Judy B. Codding, Director, National Alliance for Restructuring Education; Eugene T. Paslov, Executive Director, New Standards; and Lauren B. Resnick, Co-director of New Standards and Director of Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh.
Marking the Education Summit in Palisades, NY, last March as a monumental turning point in American education, the group has determined that the "next round of education reform must be driven by standards" and that "new standards and assessments without a powerful plan to create educational settings in which youngsters can reach the standards is a fraud." The lack of standards, they warn, produces "potentially disastrous results." Not only does the public perceive a need for standards, but the Goals 2000 Act requires schools to adopt such standards. NCEE believes it is perfectly positioned to provide the product.
NCEE manages New Standards, a partnership involving 19 states, which "has produced the nation's most comprehensive and integrated internationally-benchmarked performance standards for the schools."
The conference featured some three dozen sessions on the philosophy, policy, and practice of transforming the way schools operate through performance standards. Just released in September, the standards are described as "state-of-the-art," "comprehensive," and "internationally benchmarked." Performance standards have been written in four areas: English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Applied Learning. Financial support for their development was provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and other unspecified "partners."
Marc Tucker gave the keynote speech on the first day of the conference, divulging his "religion" by beginning, "At summer revivals, people come forward to speak about how they came to Jesus . . . what I have to say to you is how I came to standards." Tucker said that, as the national debate shifted from whether there should be national standards to what the national standards should say, American leaders put together something that had been "unthinkable" for 200 years.
Tucker is widely known as the author of an 18-page letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton which laid out an ambitious plan to "remold" the public schools into a "national human resource development system" that "literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone - young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student."
Three components comprise New Standards' assessment system: performance standards, on-demand examinations, and a portfolio system. The performance standards are based on national content standards developed by professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association (see Education Reporter, June 1996). On-demand examination, also known as the reference examination, assesses how well a student performs "under standardized conditions." The portfolio system is used to accumulate and store students' work, functioning as evidence of meeting performance standards that require longer timeframes than projects measured by the reference examination.
A major component tying into the standards movement is the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM), a state-certified "prerequisite for enrollment in all professional and technical degree programs," as well as for all hiring. New Standards "is well along the path that will provide the technical means to implement the CIM plan" as set forth in a 1990 report called America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages!, a call for creating a new workforce through a nationalized training and labor market system. New Standards, said Tucker, was originally designed to institute a CIM. Tucker's plan to gradually abolish the high school diploma in favor of the CIM would take place over seven or eight years, "giving everyone a chance to adjust."
The standards are explicitely driven by the belief that all children, regardless of nature or nurture, can achieve at the same "high levels." The American tracking system is disparaged for its "assumption that only a few can achieve at high levels." Tucker's critics believe that, because students do differ in their abilities, standards can only be as high as the lowest achiever if every student is to meet the same requirements.
Another presupposition embedded within the standards movement is that thinking without "hands on" is useless; knowledge without practical application is superfluous. The purpose of school, therefore, is to not to learn to think or acquire knowledge for the sake of learning, but to solve "complex problems that characterize modern life and work." Standards, after all, should develop "what is needed for citizenship, employment and life-long learning." This makes the schools' mission preparing children to join the global workforce, rather than encouraging individual achievement.
NCEE also manages National Alliance and Workforce Development Program, both of which are also working to overhaul our entire education and labor market systems.