Education Week - November 29, 2017 - 18
We Made This Too Hard
By Jenny Froehle
was just getting started as a teacher when
the standards-based movement in education began in the 1980s, and it seemed like
the right direction for our profession. By
the late 1990s, it felt like every conference
or workshop I attended had a strand on
design using standards, "unpacking" the
standards, "unwrapping" the standards, identifying the "power" standards.
The state language-arts standards seemed appropriate for my students: Analyze literary texts.
Ensure sentence-verb agreement. Decode vocabulary words. Comprehend informational texts like
the VCR manual (yes, really). Write persuasive
essays. Meanwhile, teammates in other disciplines taught the contributions of famous scientists, history of world civilizations, and parts
of cells. State committees spent hours precisely
wording each standard to get them just right.
And then, it all went wrong.
As we saw an increasing push through No Child
Left Behind in the early 2000s to assess student
performance on every standard, the accountability movement took the standards-based push in a
very ugly direction. In the decades since, the additional pressures of value-added models in teacher
evaluation; school rankings and letter grades; and
the high-stakes of "failing," "turnaround," and
"takeover" schools made a bad situation worse.
The idea that learning should be designed with
a clear goal was, and still is, a good one. No wonder we all liked it. Who wants to be aimless? But
basing lessons on lists of knowledge and skills,
then measuring those skills to death for 13 years
in discrete pieces that never seem to thread back
together into any recognizable meaningful whole?
That idea backfired on us.
And it's time, as educators, that we say so.
As master practitioners in this field, we should
sound the alarm that standards and accountability movements have distracted everyone from a
future coming fast and an education system unready for it.
To uneducators-those who do not know our
work and don't support it (I'm looking at you,
politicians)-the list of discrete, fairly easily
measured pieces of knowledge and skills for each
school subject must feel comforting. Accountability looks easy when the "stuff to know" is clearly
outlined, aligned in neat tables by grade level.
Only those of us who have spent our lives (including every summer) analyzing themes, connections, research, applications, facts, skills,
resources, and nuanced ways to demonstrate
learning can cry foul about the restrictions of the
standards movement. As educators, we know it
is past time for us to free learning from this constraining cocoon of regulatory nonsense.
The world is complex; problems do not come
packaged simply. Only practice with complexity
can provide the experience our children need to
survive in the unpredictable world ahead-a future of artificial intelligence, quantum computing,
global climate change, a growing understanding
of the universe, and shifting geopolitical powers.
As for academic standards, we made this all too
hard. We organized curricula based on content
and skills when we should have focused on what
What Time Out of the Classroom Taught Me About STEM
By Deb Harding
ou can't read the news
without stumbling onto
an article related to the
STEM skills gap.
In many schools around
the country, including my
own in Colorado, educators and students are opting into problem-based learning and STEM
programs to help fill that gap. Yet early
benchmarks indicate this approach is not yet
producing the science, technology, engineering, and math workers we need.
The STEM sector experienced job growth
of 10.5 percent between 2009 and 2015,
compared with a net growth of only 5.2 in
non-STEM occupations, according to the
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, only 26
percent of ACT-tested high school graduates
met a "college ready" benchmark in STEM
in 2016, according to a report from the testing organization.
And then there is the divide between lowincome and affluent school districts. Where
I teach, many of my students qualify for free
or reduced-price lunch and don't have access
to STEM professionals within their daily
lives. They have hard-working role models,
but not necessarily people who are engaged
in the computer science field, the subject I
I had this awareness in the back of my
mind when I decided to apply to a summer teacher internship program at
the Colorado BioScience Institute. The program places
teachers in Fortune 500
companies to gain
experience in the
Before the first
day of my internship at Level 3
(now known as
the telecommunications company I was
assigned to-I made
a mental list of what I
thought I needed to learn: specific activities to engage students, areas
for job opportunities for them, and the dayto-day tasks of real-life computer science
practitioners. I wanted to make sure that
I would be learning skills that could help
prepare my students for the real world, be
that writing code or knowing something as
simple as how to check their email.
Looking back, I learned far more.
I hope other educators and parents embrace some of the core lessons I learned
from my experience in order to
help prepare our students for
a successful future:
* Learning is a social process in today's world. As one
told me, the approach to solving
a problem is to try
1,000 ideas until
you find the one
that works. In the
team I worked with
over the summer, we
knew we'd encounter
mistakes, but we accepted
those mistakes as stepping
stones to a better solution.
* It's important to encourage students to build a smarter toolbox. If
students practice using their "toolbox" in
school, they will be equipped to solve bigger
problems down the road. The focus of today's
Where I teach,
many of my students
qualify for free or reducedprice lunch and don't have
access to STEM professionals
within their daily
18 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 29, 2017 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary
work environment is on the application of
skills-qualities not necessarily measured
by standardized assessments-including
creativity and innovation, communication
and collaboration, critical thinking and willingness to make mistakes while problemsolving.
* We need to shift our thinking about
technology in schools. Teachers are working hard to use new, more effective learning
tools. But the education system needs to embrace the notion of teaching students about
the technology itself, not just allowing them
to be daily tech consumers.
Students need to be challenged as innovative developers of new technology through
their formal education. The need for this at
an institutional level is increasingly important, yet schools do not have sufficient time,
flexibility, or resources to offer these types
of curricula. That's why collaborations with
corporate organizations such as my summer
internship can be valuable for teachers.
Since returning to the classroom after
my summer in the corporate world, I
continue to draw on my real-world experiences to provide my students with
problem-based-learning experiences. For
example, my students have investigated
the issue of cyber threats to design and