Saturday, April 17, 2021

Sci. & Soc. Stud. standards get a hearing in Mich.


The Michigan Department of Education is conducting hearings this week to allow members of the public, including educators and parents, to comment on proposed learning standards in science and social studies, Michigan Public Radio reports.

Science in Motion exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum (Joe Ross / Flickr Creative Commons)

The information sessions have been ongoing throughout the state since the end of August.

“We want to make ourselves available to the public to offer comment on what will be Michigan’s updates standards for social studies and science,” State Superintendent Brian Whiston said when the series was announced in mid-August. “We’re inviting educators, parents, students, and other members of the public to share their thoughts with us.”

The proposed updates to the state standards have been developed and reviewed by science and social studies education experts from Michigan and around the nation, including K-12 teachers, and college and university professors. MDE is using the public comment sessions to help finalize the proposed standards before they are adopted and integrated into local classrooms, with professional learning supports for local educators.

“These are the overall statewide content standards in science and social studies,” Whiston said. “How they are taught in the classroom curriculum in each school is a decision made by each local school district across the state.”

The sessions feature a presentation on the proposed science and social studies standards, along with comments from local educators, school and community business leaders, and other organizations. Following that, there are breakout sessions for the public to understand each set of standards in more detail.

“We’ve gotten tremendous conversation and tremendous help from the public and from educators around the state on ways that we can improve what we have now,” MDE spokesperson Martin Ackley was quoted as saying.

“A big part of the confusion is that people in the public think that these are actual curricula. And they are not. These are basic standards, and the curricula are developed at the local school district levels.”

And the reason people are confused is …

Mr Ackley is correct that most people think learning standards are the same thing as a curriculum, and the biggest reason is that educators have never explained to people what the difference is. They use these word like jargon and expect people to understand or try to impress people with their deep understanding of the difference between a set of learning standards and the curriculum used by a school.

Not that anybody actually cares about understanding the difference, but let me explain one more time.

Learning standards are something like a list, a document. It says things like, “At the end of fourth grade, students will be able to add fractions.”

An example from the Common Core can be found in fourth grade: “Understand addition and subtraction of fractions as joining and separating parts referring to the same whole” (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.NF.B.3.A).

A curriculum contains the actual materials that teachers will present to students. It’s a more complete package and may include videos, textbooks, quizzes and tests, field trips, or any number of other teaching tools that teachers use.

For example, a part of the curriculum for fourth graders offered by Time4Learning includes materials, which can be purchased, that “Teach relationships between numbers and the various ways of representing fractions and decimals. Lessons include adding and subtracting fractions and decimals.”

A document entitled “Teaching Fractions According to the Common Core Standards” by Professor Hung-Hsi Wu at the University of California, Berkeley, offers lesson plans that “give an expanded view of how the Common Core Standards on fractions in grades 3-7 may be taught.” This is another example of a “curriculum” and a school district or individual teacher may decide to use this curriculum and the ideas presented by Professor Wu, the one built by Time4Learning, or another set of lessons and instructions about how to teach this subject.

The point is: Both of these curricula teach kids how to add fractions. Professor Wu’s curriculum is free and Time4Learning’s would cost a teacher or school district money. But both can be used for teaching fourth graders how to add and subtract fractions, which is what the learning standard says they should be able to do by the end of third grade.

Like I said, nobody really cares. But that’s what the difference is between a curriculum and a set of learning standards.

The proposed science standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards, already adopted in both Maryland and Illinois, as well as a handful of other states. The proposed social studies standards are based on the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards, which stands for “College, Career, and Civic Life.”

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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