Jesse Sternberg is a Content Developer at Knewton.
Perhaps the biggest recent news in the world of education has been the move by 34 states plus Washington D.C. to adopt a common set of educational standards for their K-12 public schools, known as the Common Core State Standards.
The adoption of these core standards has evoked all sorts of panic and rumors: that the standards will cede control of schools to federal bureaucrats (aside from offering financial incentives for states to adopt them the federal government has absolutely no role in the creation or implementation of the standards), that standards will be a step down for states with high existing standards such as Massachusetts (the standards are both quite rigorous and quite broad, and states are free to replace up to 15% of it with their own standards), and that they include standards that are hopelessly out of touch, such as recommending The Grapes of Wrath for second graders (this is a completely made up, but surprisingly common idea in the right-wing blogosphere).
Of most concern to me, however, as a content developer at Knewton, is the notion that companies such as our own might use Common Core Standards to create “cookie-cutter” curricula and programs to foist on school children nationwide, increasing our profits at the expense of students’ individual learning needs. Yes, a common set of goals will make it easier to implement and assess educational programs—but that doesn’t mean that quality of education will suffer in an attempt to increase profit. In fact, the opposite is true. A common set of goals agreed upon by all, or nearly all, states will make it easier to implement and assess educational programs. Furthermore, while the standards say much about what students should learn, they say almost nothing about how that material should be taught. There’s no reason why the core standards should add up to a program that treats all students as if they learn the same way.
At Knewton, we understand that there are an infinite number of ways in which different people can learn the same set of skills. In fact, our adaptive learning program – which is all about tailoring itself to students’ individual learning needs – works best when students are all working under the same set of goals. Knewton’s platform would assess each student’s progress toward a core standard – and then determine the best way for that individual to work toward his or her goal.
Under the current system, feedback about students’ individual needs with regard to passing their state proficiency exams comes from paper pre-tests that are graded by hand at great public expense, take months to give feedback, and present very raw data that teachers must spend hours poring over, interpreting, and planning around. An adaptive learning platform like Knewton could provide instantaneous feedback on individual students’ performances and generate questions and content tailored to their specific needs, allowing teachers time to do what they do best—teach.
Somewhat ironically, perhaps, I believe we will find that agreeing on a few common standards actually makes it easier to address students as individuals by removing the complex web of differing state standards—and I have no doubt that a multitude of top educational thinkers from all over the country will rise to this challenge.