Weiser: Parents should review new academic standards

Eileen Weiser

With our children back at school, Michigan citizens have a unique opportunity to help them learn better in the future.

Michigan’s proposed K-12 Social Studies and Science Standards are now posted online with nine scheduled statewide public hearings through Sept. 30. Over the last year, the State Board of Education (SBE) has seen Michigan Department of Education (MDE) presentations on the need for improved standards including overviews of the work; anticipated changes for educator professional learning and classroom practice changes; and planning estimates for multi-year implementation for these standards.

SBE and the public alike are now studying the proposed standards’ potential impact on education. The draft standards draw on national recommendations developed by active classroom educators and post-secondary educators with extensive subject content knowledge. They were reviewed by professionals in national organizations whose members use the specific subject area in their daily work, connecting the dots between what’s taught in school and the adult world our children will enter on graduation.

In my eyes, home-school students have a singular advantage over those in public schools: parents and other teachers are able to weave daily experiences into a child’s education. The child’s ever-expanding world is a launch pad to develop a framework of knowledge for learning to read, write and think deeply about academic disciplines within the context of their day-to-day life.

The classroom

Over time, public schools have created unintended silos of information and analysis that make this kind of organic learning difficult. Children don’t easily see why knowing math well helps them handle their allowance and use science better, or why understanding history will make them better-informed voters tomorrow.

The proposed standards in both subjects demand high academic rigor and fact knowledge while changing classroom practice to integrate related disciplines. They expand instruction to include a larger vision of the relationships between subjects and the real world. They include updated facts and information that reflect current research.

A significant number of Michigan teachers were involved in the development of the national guidelines through their professional educator organizations. MDE and the Michigan educators who helped revised or write our proposed standards used the work developed nationally as guideposts for best practices, tailoring them to our Great Lakes state in science and the specific needs they see in Michigan’s classrooms overall. As always, local school districts will be making the curriculum, textbook and instructional decisions that shape how the standards are taught in their schools.

Michigan teachers are passionate about student learning, and MDE staff are working intensely to create the best education standards possible. Are there mistakes? These are drafts, and through discussions with others I’ve already forwarded some concerns that demand review. Is MDE listening, ready to make changes? Yes; at the Sept. 2 Michigan Science Center hearing, they answered as many questions as time allowed, and repeatedly urged participants to continue giving additional written comment during and after the session. Will SBE members make sure the final standards are appropriate for Michigan children? We come from many different backgrounds — six Democrats and two Republicans. But we all have the best interests of Michigan’s children and their future at the heart of our oath of office.

I fought publicly for this series of transparent statewide hearings because Michigan needs a broad range of citizen reaction and thought on the proposed standards from parents, educators, employers and community members. We hope as many people as possible will use the comment period thoughtfully and well during the remaining three weeks. Even with a three hour public hearing, it’s not possible to answer all audience questions at the time. But all submitted written concerns will be analyzed and reviewed for editing by MDE during the review period.

The hearing and webinar schedules (and how to comment if you can’t attend in person) are at this link: http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,4615,7-140--362784--,00.html. Comments can also be mailed to MDE, attn: Social Studies Standards, or Science Standards; POB 30008, Lansing, MI 48909.

We hope you will help us by analyzing and responding so we can ensure Michigan students will be well prepared for their future. Members of the State Board and the Michigan Department of Education value your responses and thank you for your participation.

Eileen Weiser is a member of the state Board of Education