Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Alternatively, this sucks 

M keeps peppering my comment boxes urging me to read the alternative social science standards that we discussed earlier. I think these are all simply stall tactics so that teachers can continue to rely on their ability to buffalo local school boards into letting them teach whatever they want. But, let me look only at the economics portions of these, since they are the area I know best.

Alternative 1, coming in at a svelte 78 pages (which I guess isn't too many) contains these three "age-appropriate" standards for grades K-3.
  1. Students will understand the difference between needs and wants.
  2. Students will understand the difference between production and consumption.
  3. Students will be able to identify U.S. currency and understand that markets and prices are related.
The benchmarks for the first indicate your average third grader should be able to tell where their wants and needs come from. If you could get my college freshman to do this, it would be a marked change in his behavior. A benchmark for the second says students will "Identify the goods and services their school provides and the people
who provide them." That's so sensitive to homeschooling, don't you think? Why have a benchmark that glorifies a government school? Perhaps to glorify government? Well, for the third standard there is the weird benchmark, "Describe a good or service provided by the local government and the method of payment." Now, this is for a third-grader. How are they to look at the material taught for this benchmark and not conclude that government is good? Another benchmarks for the third is backwards: price doesn't cause supply and demand -- supply and demand cause price (benchmark 4). And benchmark 7 of that standard is the usual multiculti crap: "Choose a developing country and compare a child's economic experience in that country with their life using the economic knowledge they have learned." What they will have learned is there are lots of needs, governments provide them, and developing countries don't have them so they're going to starve.

What kinds of politics are promoted by these types of standards? Here, try this one from the grade 4-6 standard:
Standard #3 Student will understand the government?s role in producing goods and services.

Benchmarks: (Students will)

1. Know why some goods and services are provided by the government.
2. Be able to explain what local, state and federal governments do in our economy.
3. Use a local example to assess the effectiveness of a governmental action which addresses an economic need.
I have a fifth-grader. As bright as she is -- and I won't brag here -- I have a real hard time imagining her understanding these points. There is broad disagreement over what goods are to be provided by government -- health care is one; education is increasingly another. And my fifth-grader is to assess the effectiveness of government action which addresses an economic need. Well. First, define need. Do we need clean air? How clean? At what cost? All wants and needs are conditioned by alternatives. My fifth-grader tells me she "needs" the new Pokemon game for her GameBoy, but when I tell her I'll share the cost of it with her she doesn't need it any more because she likes having a fat piggy bank. (My kind of girl.) How are teachers going to meet that benchmark? How long will it take? Remember, these are exactly the questions they are asking about the citizen-written standards that have already passed the House. There are 21 benchmarks for grades 4-6 in this alternative versus ten in the House version.

The difficulties continue through the rest, but I have other things to do. Let's just say that this limited example permeates the remainder of the document, and for the Senate to think this is a real alternative is disingenuous. The standards are nice fodder for the DFL in Minnesota because they and the Yecke confirmation fight are a means to keep campaign dollars flowing ($55,000 in soft money to DFL last election cycle from Education Minne$ota). We'll be watching Follow The Money to see how much more money comes in this election cycle.