What to Do When You Disagree with State Education Standards


As teachers, it's not unusual to disagree with a standard you are expected to teach. While it may be tempting to find ways to avoid teaching the standard altogether, doing so could have disastrous results for your career.

Teaching to State Standards Isn't Always Easy

As teachers, it happens as we go through our years sometimes moving between grade levels, schools, and even states that we come across standards we are expected to teach, but just don't agree with. Sometimes you disagree with state standards because it conflicts with your own religious beliefs, such as the teaching of evolution. Other times you may feel the standards are developmentally inappropriate for the students in your classroom. Whatever the basis for your grievance, it's better to find ways to communicate it than simply doing what you want in your classroom.

Talk to Your Administrators

It's tempting sometimes when you happen across standards you disagree with to simply skip over and not teach them. If you chose to do so, you would be rolling the dice to see whether you will get caught and if there will be professional consequences. In my professional career, I have known my fair share of teachers who have tried it and inevitably they get caught. When you disagree with a standard, it is far better for you to be honest and get it out in the open. The consequences can be disastrous for you professionally and personally if you chose to defy the standards and elected not to teach one.

The best place to begin is by having a conversation with your administrator. In many schools, there is a teacher or administrator who manages curriculum for the school. They would be the first person you need to talk to when you realize you disagree with a standard you are expected to teach. Explain the standard you have an issue with and be prepared to justify your reasoning. For example, if you disagree with a standard because you feel it is academically inappropriate for your students, you will want to come prepared with test scores, writing samples, and anything other documentation you can come with.

In situations like this, odds are your administrator will be understanding if you come clean to them. If you have classes of students who test below grade level in math, then it may be unreasonable for them to learn some of the current standards. Odds are, you are not the first teacher who felt that way and nor will you be the last. For example, there are many teachers who feel the Common Core standards are beyond the average student. Other times, it may be a middle school science teacher who feels a standard in chemistry is far beyond the ability of students in her classroom. So, if you feel this way, talk about it because odds are you are not alone. Your administrator may give you permission to modify or skip a standard you disagree with if you get ahead of the issue and ask first.

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Talk to Your State Department of Education

If you feel like you are getting nowhere with your administrators in regard to standards you disagree with, the next logical step is to speak to your state's department of education. Every state periodically reviews and revises its state educational standards. Typically, the state begins the process of revising content standards with a survey of educators to get feedback. The department of education will then convene a committee made up of content experts and teachers who look at the survey results and come up with a proposal for new standards or revisions to be made to existing standards.

Once the committee has a proposal, there is typically a lengthy review process where teachers, schools, and sometimes even parents are given an opportunity to weigh in revisions before they are formally adopted by the state. So if you have disagreements with a standard, you want to make sure you express your concerns. While you can wait around for a survey, there is nothing wrong with writing a letter articulately expressing your issues with the standards you are expected to teach. Those comments will be collected and handed to a committee of experts the next time your content standards undergo revision.

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Be Prepared to Teach Them Anyway

Sometimes you can talk to administrators and get out of teaching certain standards. However, be prepared for the reality that you may be stuck teaching it anyway. Take for example evolutionary theory. In terms of standards teachers disagree with, biology standards related to evolution seem to be ones that make the news the most often. Depending on your own religious beliefs, you may strongly disagree with the idea and not want to teach it in your classroom. However, the reality of your situation is that you probably don't have a choice in whether you teach the standard or not.

You have to accept that when you sign on to be a teacher because of the unique nature of the job. While we retain our right to freedom of speech outside of the classroom in our private lives, the freedom in our classrooms is not the same. Courts have consistently upheld schools and school districts right to control the content being taught in the classroom from the standards themselves to reading lists. For example, you may have whatever religious beliefs you wish outside of the classroom. Within the school walls, however, you are legally obligated to teach whatever content you are told. So, for a teacher, if you strongly disagree with teaching a standard you may find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between teaching a standard or keeping your job.

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When You Disagree with a Standard

There will times when you disagree with a standard in your teaching career. Sometimes you encounter standards that conflict with your own beliefs, while other times you may disagree with a standard because you feel it is developmentally inappropriate for the students in your classroom. However, as teachers, we have to live with the reality that in our jobs we don't typically have flexibility with the content we teach. So, while you can have conversations with your administrators and even the state department of education on standards you disagree with, prepare yourself because odds are you will have to teach it anyway.

By Rachel Tustin
February 2018
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