NEW DIRECTIONS Educators Support State Education Standards

Columnist : Lincoln Institute

Harrisburg, PA — A recent survey of professional educators from throughout the Commonwealth has found strong support for the adoption of educational standards for Pennsylvania’s elementary and secondary public schools.
“Education standards are important because they describe what we as a society expect of our youth,” explained Dr. Charles E. Greenawalt, II, a Professor of Political Science at Millersville University who authored the survey for the Lincoln Institute. “They are also important because if standards are set, they will be met.”
“Academic standards for elementary and secondary schooling can revitalize education in the same way that standards have galvanized higher education, businesses, medicine, law, sports, entertainment, and other vocational and professional sectors. What we set our sights on we attain,” Greenawalt continued.
The survey showed that all segments of the state’s educational community support state academic standards. In response to the question of whether the state should develop and implement a set of academic standards, 78% of the respondents replied in the affirmative.
This belief in the establishment and utilization of standards became even stronger when respondents were asked about their implementation in local school districts. A large majority of 83% percent of the respondents thought that their local school district should possess and use academic standards.
Second, even though the survey revealed strong support for academic standards within the state’s educational community, all segments of this community — teachers, principals, curriculum coordinators, superintendents, and school board members — admitted that they were not “very knowledgeable” about academic standards. Less than one-third, or only 30%, of the state’s education establishment considered themselves to be very knowledgeable on this topic.
This lack of a strong knowledge base about academic standards could be seen in the respondents’ answers to the query of whether they understood the difference between “standards” and “outcomes based education (OBE).” Essentially, a quarter, or 24%, of the Commonwealth’s education establishment admitted they did not understand the difference between these two approaches to education.
In fact, the creation of voluntary statewide academic standards by the Ridge Administration is probably welcomed by the Commonwealth’s education establishment based on a comparison of the responses to two questions. While 78% of the respondents supported the development and implementation of academic standards, only 53% endorsed the concept of outcomes based education (OBE). Therefore, 25% of the respondents, a quarter of the survey sample, favor the use of “standards” over “outcomes.”
In order to successfully employ standards, assessment and accountability mechanisms are also necessary. This is a realization that is held by the Institute’s survey sample. Sixty-six percent of the respondents supported not just assessment and accountability measures, but the institution of a statewide examination that students would be required to pass before they were awarded their diplomas and allowed to graduate from high school. Teachers held this belief even more strongly than the other segments of the state’s educational community. Seventy-eight percent of the teachers desired just such a statewide test.

Finally, Pennsylvania’s educators do not believe that they alone should control the development of statewide academic standards. In fact, 72 % of the survey sample believes that members of the general public should have input into the development of academic standards and 83% of the sample believes that the business community and its leaders should assist in the development of statewide academic standards.
“Obviously, the Ridge Administration has begun to move along what appeared to be the appropriate pathway for educational renewal and reform — pathways that are in fact approved by the state’s educational community,” Greenawalt concluded.
Results of the Educational Issues Survey appear in the Summer 1997 edition of Lincoln Journal which is published quarterly by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc., a Harrisburg-based non-profit, educational foundation. The survey was mailed to 4,000 Pennsylvania educators on May 23, 1997. As of the response deadline of June 16, 1997, 343 responses were received by the Lincoln Institute.