Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Standard Time

Did you all see the news about how quickly states are adopting the new national educational standards: This could be quite significant for those of us who write, edit, and review nonfiction — but in a variety of ways. The shift away from state to national standards is good for us in that if gives us national benchmarks, rather than a patchwork of local  rules. It is also good in that it aims at a generally raising the bar and holding it there, rather than having states craft tests and standards to create the appearance of compliance with NCLB yearly progress mandates. So both in opening up how we can write and in an attitude towards education, this is good. But only so good.

For one, the standards discussed in this article are only for math and English, not Social Studies. Now the English standards do include reading, evaluating, and writing non-fiction research papers — which is very good. English teachers properly need to feature thinking, researching, organizing information, and writing pursuasively in their lessons — which may well mean they will look for books, chapters, article which model these processes. Second — national standards must, I assume, be good for textbook publishers. Surely they have eager and active staff going over the national rules and are already crafting tools (textbooks are tools, they are not books) designed to help teachers and students hit those marks. The more large textbook houses dominate school purchasing — especially in times of slashed school budgets — the harder it may be to sell trade books and other supplementary materials to schools.

My last thought is that the standards mean change — in a decade or so we have from whatever we had, to NCLB, to National Standards — we are creating change on a massive level — on the fly, while we educate our students. This is surely needed, but it is also very hard, a huge social experiment. There may well be opportunity for innovation in a period of change — thats what such periods make possible. But we should also step back and realize how radically education policy keeps shifting and the whiplash that may well cause among teachers and administrators, not to speak of students. All in all, this seems like a moment of wary hope, of cautious optimism — mixed with sympathy for those caught in the waves.


  1. Yes! Equal access to similar education–isn’t that the dream anyway?

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    that is the ideal, but with 50 different state standards it has not be the reality — this could be an important step in the right directions