In the previous blog I strongly suggested that New Jersey's Core Curriculum Content Standards are too onerous and unduly broad and deep, requiring teachers to cover so much content that it is a fool's folly to expect students to actually learn the subject matter. If the purpose is simply to introduce students to a wide variety of information, what's the point? Invariably, students will tend to forget what they have learned as soon as the test is over; possibly they will retain it throughout the school year, but by the time they graduate the information will be almost completely lost unless it in some way connects to work they will do in college or career.
According to Bloom's Taxonomy, there are 6 levels of understanding or learning, from basic knowledge through to evaluation. It follows that the higher the level of understanding, the more time will be required in class to reinforce, assess, and evaluate. A look at the CCCS indicates that the State is expecting students to often be taught at the higher end of the taxonomy. Of course, since the HSPA is limited to just language arts/English and mathematics, there is no mandated mechanism for determining what has been learned. Similarly, there is no mechanism for holding teachers accountable for that learning. And thank G-d for that, because there is little chance that most students will be proficient.
In social studies, five of the six standards are content based. Within these standards are 168 "cumulative progress indicators" - specific items that teachers are expected to teach. If we break down the actual content of these CPI there area well over 500 elements of social studies that teachers are expected to discuss, analyze, evaluate, identify, engage, debate, explore, compare and investigate at the high school level. They are cumulative, so, get this, "teachers should NOT reteach concepts and skills in previous grade levels."
The purpose of social studies should, generally speaking, be to develop a passion for learning and a thirst for knowledge so that teenagers will become "lifelong learners," willing and able as adults to pursue information they want or need to know.
I am begging our political leaders and the DOE to reconsider the whole idea of what should be required content for high school students, and narrow the requirements to those things that a student MUST know prior to graduation. Those should not be those things that students may need for college; count on the students, with help from parents and guidance counselors, to know that you should take biology if you are planning on a career in medicine, to take physics if you plann to be an engineer, and so on.
Preparation for college should NOT be the lense through which we develop the CCCS, it should be preparation for life. In my opinion, graduation requirements (and the HSPA) should include financial literacy and economics, health and nutrition, practical law such as reading a contract, practical math such as determining compound interest, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, physics, how the political process REALLY works, psychology and sociology, and maybe some aspect of our cultural history. Even that general list may be too broad.
In my experiences as a student, teacher, and writer, I've learned that it is much harder to condense writing than to expand it. The same is undoubtedly true with rewriting our content standards, but it must be done.
Only then can we give teachers the freedom to design their own innovative and challenging courses based on their own passions and knowledge. In the same way it is hard to condense writing, it is going to be hard for our State leaders to relinquish power to the local level, letting schools manage their own culture, respective of the community stakeholders, parents, and teachers. Hard, but necessary, because the State's effort to bring more equity to educational achievement has been a horrible failure.