Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

National Standards for Education

In today’s news there is a story about mandatory voluntary national standards for education. These are not EMS standards/protocols, but the issues are not significantly different. I will specifically address EMS standards/protocols in other posts, but the parallels should be pretty clear.

The Patrick administration will not adopt national academic standards if they are lower than those established in Massachusetts, long championed as having among the most rigorous expectations, according to the state’s education secretary.[1]

That is a sensible response, but maybe we need to consider it from the opposite direction. Is any other response sensible?

There is an advantage to being able to move from state to state and have a child transfer directly into the same grade. As a parent, I have moved across state lines several times. In my case, this advantage would have been minimal. The advantage does not seem to justify a national standard, unless that national standard produces very little harm in its unintended consequences.

“We are trying to sound the alarm,’’ said Jim Stergios, the institute’s (The Pioneer Institute, a conservative-leaning public policy research organization in Boston) executive director. “Massachusetts has the highest standards in the nation. Why would you want to change course?’’[1]

That is the big problem with the idea of national standards. National standards seem to place more value on uniformity, than on quality.

As with EMS, there are plenty of advantages to national standards. There is a big drawback when statewide standards, or nationwide standards, are proposed. Promises of benefits are the focus, but when the everybody standards are enacted, a mindless devotion to uniformity replaces many of the benefits.

Rather than have the standards raise up the places with lower quality, there is a backpedaling on raising the standards. The new goal is to prevent the standards from becoming a hardship for those who might benefit the most from standards.

The result is often a set of standards that makes improvement for the places of low quality optional. After all, it would somehow be elitist to insist that poor educators significantly improve their quality.

Here is an important point on standards from the article.

While adopting the standards would be voluntary, the Obama administration has said that it intends to withhold millions of dollars in grants for low-income students in states that refuse to join the effort — regardless of the quality of their existing standards.[1]

We’re here to offer you some protection. There are some dangerous people in the neighborhood. We would really hate to see anything bad happen to your nice store. Of course, this is completely voluntary.

What kind of miscreant would possibly decline an offer to join the effort?

Or decline to volunteer?

I avoid the left wing/right wing political parties because I could hurt myself from laughing too hard. This is just another example. The left wing trying to improve schools by cutting off funding for low-income students. Are they trying to put The Onion out of business?

You will lower your standards, so that you are just like all of the other states. Otherwise we will deprive you of your share of education funding for low income students. We will cut your budget until you lower your standards. Of course, this is completely voluntary.

The administration also says states that embrace the standards will have a better chance of receiving potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in its “Race to the Top’’ competition, which rewards education innovation. Massachusetts has applied for $250 million from that program.[1]

A quarter of a billion dollars of bribery incentive. This does not even include the grants for low-income students being threatened redistributed to more worthy causes. Causes more worthy than keeping the poorest children from growing up too ignorant for anything more than jobs as political appointees.

Of course, it would be ignorant, vulgar, and completely unfair to label these tactics as anything other than helpful.

One member — Sandra Stotsky, a former associate education commissioner who oversaw the development of the state’s standards — ridiculed the national benchmarks, saying they rely too heavily on broad “empty skills’’ and lack rich academic content at each grade level.[1]

Empty skills. As in skills testing devoid of any context? It is as if she is referring to the National Registry of EMTs examination. If uniformity were the quintessence of education, NR would produce excellent beginner medics, since NR places uniformity above all else.

It is unclear whether states would have to adopt the national standards word for word or whether they could augment them with existing ones so long as the state standards were higher. Adopting new standards is unappealing in lean economic times because it can require the wholesale replacement of textbooks and additional training for teachers.[1]

Don’t worry. These will always be flexible standards. We would never change a policy after everyone is committed to using this standard.

Trust us.

We’re from the government.

We’re here to help.

Trust us.

Then there are the educators, the ones supposed to be familiar with reading comprehension. Such a person is Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. Maybe not an educator, but a spokesperson for administrators of educators?

“The rest of the nation will finally march to the same beat as Massachusetts,’’ Koocher said.[1]

Inflexible standards will force everyone to march to the same beat, but it is unlikely to be the same beat that Massachusetts is currently marching to. All A is B may not be the same as All B is A.

If the standards are completely inflexible, it is not clear that Massachusetts will agree to the offer to voluntarily use the national standards. That offer is beneficent, and clearly without the possibility of any ulterior motive. Depending on how much Massachusetts has come to rely on these federal grants might profit from the generosity of those redirecting low-income education funds, Massachusetts may feel compelled to cooperate with these voluntary tactics.

Glenn Koocher may not be rejoicing once Massachusetts is marching to the same beat as the rest of the nation. Glenn Koocher may even develop a better understanding of syllogism, although I wouldn’t count on it.

Metaphor-wise,Huh? Harrison Bergeron[2] is essential to any discussion of standards that are potential ceilings.


^ 1 State firm on school quality. Will reject US standards if they don’t measure up.
By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / March 15, 2010
The Boston Globe
Page 1
Page 2

^ 2 Harrison Bergeron
Harrison Bergeron is a short and excellent story in the collection Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut. It has been turned into a film, but the story is much better in print. This is one story that should be mandatory reading in all schools. Kurt Vonnegut has created perhaps the most horrifying, most banal dystopia.

^ Huh? The Apartment
I blame Billy Wilder (and/or I. A. L. Diamond) for this not-so-new neologism method.
1, 2, 3 and 4, 5, 6 and 7 and 8.



  1. […] Vaccines Thu, 18 Mar 2010 00:01:35 +0000 By Rogue Medic Leave a Comment Monday I wrote about the problems that can result from national standards. We do need to raise our education standards. An excellent example can be seen in the faulty logic […]