Goal #1: School Choice | Goal #3: Reliable Assessments
Vermonters for Better Education
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Goal #2: Academic Rigor
through state standards & guidelines, not mandates

A 1997 Public Agenda survey of education professors found some surprising and disturbing ideas:

This survey summarizes the struggle that goes on in education today — between so-called progressive education techniques that stress process over content, and traditionalist approaches that focus on basic skills and facts.

Traditionalist approaches received a boost recently when two national organizations — the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Reading Panel — released recommendations stressing a return to basics, including less reliance on calculators in the classroom and more reliance on teaching phonics.

Why is this important?  Progressive education techniques, says Nancy Ichinaga, principal of the high-poverty, high-performing Bennett-Kew Elementary school in Ingelwood, California, hurt low-income children.  While other students might come to school with some context for what they will learn, low-income children have to rely heavily, if not solely, on the teacher to give them information.

“A person learns new things by associating them with things already known,” says E. D. Hirsch, Jr., professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of  The Schools We Need and other books.  This common-sense observation is the strongest argument for fact-based, traditionalist education approaches.  But there is even more evidence.  The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development reports that nearly two million students who are currently placed in special education programs nationwide could be returned to their regular classrooms if they were taught to read.  Why are they not being taught to read now?

What is the solution?  Many states, including Vermont, have mandated statewide academic standards and assessments. The problem with these standards is twofold: first, they can often be weak and politically influenced; and, second, they can hamstring genuine efforts for innovation and reform at the local level.

For example, Vermont’s standards related to “Conflicts and Conflict Resolution” contain this goal for students: “Identify and evaluate the role of technology, multi-national organizations, and nongovernment organizations in contributing to and/or resolving global conflicts (e.g., Greenpeace, Amnesty International, United Nations, League of Nations, European Union).”

A more content-driven approach to a discussion of conflict resolution might include the study of actual conflicts, including wars, the dates they occurred, the context in which they took place, the events of the day, and then the organizations or countries which shaped them.  In other words, standards which contain specific knowledge that students must master are preferable to those which merely include vague discussions of ideas.

Vermonters for Better Education supports academically rigorous standards but we recommend they be used as guidelines and not mandates. This allows local schools and teachers to decide how best to structure the curriculum while at the same time it gives parents a model to which they can compare their school’s curriculum.

Where we are - Snapshot of Academic Rigor in Vermont

Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities must be used in 
all public schools in the state. It is available by calling the Department of Education or visiting their web site at: http://www.state.vt.us/educ/

Vermont’s Standards: 

  • Education Week’s “Quality Counts” report gave Vermont a “C minus” for “standards and accountability” and a D for “improving teacher quality.” 

  • The American Federation of Teachers (the NEA’s sister union) had this to say about our standards: 
    • English:“vague reading writing conventions” 
      Math:  “vague geometry” 
      Science:  “vague content” 
      Social Studies:  “vague U.S. and world history” 
  • Vermont distinguished itself by being the ONLY STATE in the country that failed to meet AFT standards in every single subject and on every grade level. 

  • The Fordham Foundation, a nonpartisan educational reform think tank,  has given Vermont a D+ for our standards. 
Goal #1: School Choice | Goal #3: Reliable Assessments

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