Root and STEM

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From the National Science Board Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (say that three times fast!) comes a determined call for national standards in math and science--not only standards for students, but for future teachers as well. The group recently issued a draft report for public comment, with plans to finalize its recommendations late this spring.

The Commission, charged with making policy recommendations to the National Science Foundation, thinks states could be persuaded to adopt national standards through major financial incentives, a la the Federal highway system. The task of crafting these standards would be handed over to the National Academies, disciplinary societies (mathematicians, chemists, and the like), and teaching societies (the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, etc.) The last set of groups on that list is known for having a rather wobbly track record, but any national standards scheme that would attempt to sidestep them seems impossible--call it the "Peyser Problem."

The Commission's recommendation to require teacher preparation programs to teach to these standards is sensible enough, but only if they manage to put some teeth into the process. They'd have to overcome the current tendency of everybody just pretending they are paying any attention to the latest set of standards ("but of course we're fully aligned!") Who is kidding whom? The field is already littered with standards, largely inferior and mostly untestable: there are state student learning standards, professional teaching standards, state program approval standards, INTASC standards, NCATE standards, and a whole host of standards from the professional teaching societies mentioned above. And what has really changed? Without a good licensing test that holds future teachers accountable for meeting its standards, the Commission might as well just stand in line with the rest.