One thing I learned soon after starting this project is that our country is less the UNITED States of America than it is the United STATES of America. Having rallied against the British and its centralized government more than 200 years ago, our founding fathers made sure our Constitution gave limited powers to the federal government and put considerable control into the hands of state government. This includes our education standards.
While one might think that the Department of Education helps ensure that our children receive at least some basic level of education throughout our nation, such is not the case. In fact, the Department of Education:
- Establishes policies related to federal education funding, administers distribution of funds and monitors their use.
- Collects data and oversees research on America’s schools.
- Identifies major issues in education and focuses national attention on them.
- Enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in programs that receive federal funds.
You’ll notice that setting standards for what our children learn in schools is not within its scope—it’s up to the individual states to decide what children learn in what ways and even what constitutes a passing grade. (I don’t mean to imply here that the states are out to shortchange their children but they could if they so desired.)
While each state is able to set its own education standards, there has been progress toward the implementation of common, basic standards to finally provide some consistency in what’s covered within school classrooms across the country. The organizations behind this effort are the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt. The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit bearing entry courses in two or four year college programs or enter the workforce.
According to the website: “Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards.” Those that have “not yet adopted” (the site’s wording) the standards are Alaska, Texas, Minnesota, Virginia, Nebraska and Puerto Rico. Work is still taking place for the standards and a visit to the Council of Chief State School Officers website shows that the publication Common Core State Standards: Implementation Tools and Resources is dated as recently as May 2013.
I’m happy to say that metric system is included in these standards.
Here’s what I found on the Common Core site for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5 under the sections called “measurement and data”:
Grade 2: “Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes and Estimate lengths using units of inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.”
Grade 3: “Measure and estimate liquid volumes and masses of objects using standard units of grams (g), kilograms (kg), and liters (l).”
Grade 4: “Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.”
Grade 5: “Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems.”
From grade 6 and beyond, the “measurement and data” subheading no longer appears and other math concepts (such as probability) are listed.
So, at least the standards do include the metric system although it appears to be taught somewhat side by side with our U.S. customary units in at least grades 2 and 4. I suppose I could try to write something into the fact that for grade 3 the language says “standard units of grams, etc.” without mentioning U.S. customary units but I don’t think that buys much of anything. On the other hand, I could write into the fact that for grade 4 the wording “one system of units” could also mean that it could be interpreted to mean either U.S. customary or metric units could be used.
I’m writing about this subject for two reasons:
1. To raise awareness of the attempts to get some consistency within our country so we can best prepare our children for their (and our) future so that you can help support these standards—including when it comes time to press for elimination of U.S. customary units in favor of the metric system within the Core Standards, and
2) To make sure you know that while many powers were delegated to state control, Congress does have within its scope the ability to mandate our weights and measures. It states in the Constitution in Article 1, Section 8 that it is within the power of Congress:
“To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.
The bottom line: I hope there will come a time in the future when this information becomes important.
P.S. I would like to thank any of my readers who helped back the Kickstarter campaign for the documentary on the kilogram. Amy met her goal and, as a result, has had the funds released to her to carry on her project. I wish her much luck and success with her efforts.
The need for a national curriculum standard has been discussed for at least many decades. Unfortunately the horror of the default use of centimeters and lack of a mention of millimeters shows how isolated we are from actual metric users. The other disturbing usage was l for liter rather than L which allows for much less confusion. It appears that the suggested curriculum may also be “More Than a Mile Behind” from where it should be.
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We tried this in the 70′ s and it didn’t work. All of our signs and recipes and such are in standard measure. So our kids are learning how to be illiterate in the real world here in America.
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