Dear Debbie, I don't agree with your judgment—and the judgment of some (but not all) of our readers—about whether it is feasible to craft useful standards. It is difficult, but not impossible. I'll explain why I think this is so. First, I served on a committee charged with developing history standards for the state of California in the mid-1980s. The committee included historians; knowledgeable teachers and administrators from elementary schools, junior high schools, and high schools; geographers; child-development specialists; and people from various disciplinary organizations. We wrangled, we discussed, we debated. We talked about concepts and details....

Dear Diane, “Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Republican who represents western Michigan's culturally cohesive Dutch Calvinist communities, opposed NCLB from the start because he thought it would 'tear apart the bond between the schools and the local communities'… He thinks accountability belongs at the local level," notes conservative writer George Will in The Washington Post's Dec 9th issue. Peter and George and I agree. That’s the first part of my answer to your query, Diane. I am not in favor of arriving at a single definition of being well-educated. And while we could agree on some minimal competencies, that’s ...

Dear Deb, I don’t understand why you are so certain that any state or national standards are beyond consensus, or that they will be entirely arbitrary. You also think that it would be politically and technically impossible to agree on what students should know. I don’t agree. I don’t think it is at all impossible, politically or technically, to arrive at standards and assessments that avoid partisanship and ideology. Consider that reading, mathematics, and science are already assessed internationally. There is already a consensus among educators representing dozens of nations about what knowledge and skills should be ...

Dear Diane, There's a streak of naivete about you that is both delightful and infuriating! The notion that we have come to a consensus on what constitutes the well-educated 8-, 12- or 18-year-old, on what body of facts and scientific truth we all agree is essential, and finally that we have a way to get at this that will not impact on narrowing or distorting the curriculum—all seem far-fetched. Politically, not to mention technically, this seems beyond our current human capacity. Add to it that such a testing system would demonstrate that huge majorities of the students in some...

Dear Deb, As usual, you raise lots of interesting questions and you sharpen our clear differences. Yes, I do think we should have national testing. This idea that fifty states should each have their own standards and their own tests is nutty. We are not getting higher standards; we may even be getting lower ones. How did we get to this point? President Clinton's Goals 2000 pushed the states to create their own standards and tests (Clinton, to his credit, actually preferred national tests, but he couldn't persuade the Republican Congress to go along with his proposal for such tests). ...

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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