Sunday, December 31, 2006

Thoughts on Standards and Credentials

Well, I am at it again! I read a newspaper article from Seattle that profiled a program in which the public schools provided some services to homeschooling families in the area. Foolishly, I went to the discussion board for the article. Naturally the discussions used the article as a starting point for discussions about a lot of concerns regarding homeschooling. One such discussion was about standards and whether "amateurs" could teach their children properly. In other words, the concern is about credentials for teaching.

I couldn't help it--I just spent about 2 hours crafting an essay in response. It that forum, it is probably pearls before...well, it is probably politically incorrect to finish that sentence, but you know what I mean! :) Here is an abbreviated version of what I said:

About Educational Standards:
There has been much discussion about standards. I hold a public school teaching license (Secondary Science/Math/Social Studies and K-12 Special Education).I taught public school for 10 years. In my experience, the standards we are required to teach to are often vague, poorly stated, or so numerous that they cannot be met in the 180-day school year. I served on an advisory board for the science standards in my state when I was teaching genetics at the university level. I learned that the development of standards is often a political process in which it was more important to use politically correct jargon and to make sure not to offend anyone than it was to make sure that our students graduate with the content knowledge and skills necessary to function in an increasingly "flat world."

Am I against the very concept of standards? Not at all. The standards that I use to educate my son are higher than those of the public schools in which I taught. I demand that he can not only read and report back what what he reads (decoding and comprehension), but that he gains the background to ask questions about what he reads and compare the ideas in a particular piece of writing to other ideas that he knows about. I am educating my son to participate in the "great conversation" that is Western Civilization, and to appreciate how his life and his ideas are part of something much greater than himself; something that preceded his stay on the planet and that will continue after he is gone. My issue with the current standards movement is not that standards are bad. It is that standards ought to proceed from an integrated set of ideas about what education is and what it ought to accomplish. I do not see that in the standards that are being promulgated in my state at this time, and I do not believe that that the the current emphasis on testing can solve our current educational problems because the standards upon which they are based do not rest on a solid foundation of a well thought out set of ideas. I have many other concerns about NCLB that are tangential to this conversation about standards, but that is another discussion.

Are parents amateurs if they do not hold teaching credentials?
Most of the parents I know who are homeschooling their children are college educated people who have at least a BA or BS in their field. That is what is required of a public school teacher. The courses in education that I took focused primarily on classroom management, discipline, the legal responsibilities of a teacher, testing and other topics of importance to someone who is going to need to teach and manage large groups of other people's children. These skills are not terribly important in the situation of homeschooling because the parent is not managing large groups of other people's children. In this case, the concern about "amateur" v. "professional" is like comparing apples to oranges because the situations are not the same. The characteristics that made me a "good teacher" in the sense of being someone who could organize and convey information in a way that students could understand were not taught to me in any school of education. Rather, they came from my content knowledge, my experience and the experiences shared with me by veteran teachers. Much of what it takes to be a good teacher in this sense comes from the ability to observe a child and learn what it is that he (or she!) needs in order to learn. When I was teaching, parents were often my best source of information about the children I taught, because they knew their child intimately.


There it is!

No photos, no anecdotes, today!
Tomorrow I will be more chatty! Today, I just had to put my thoughts down--somewhere!

1 comment:

Amie said...

Very well written, you make excellent valid points.

Something I have always found interesting is that we have all these requirements for k-12 teachers, yet you need no teacher training to teach in college. My cousin teaches college math without any teaching credentials.