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New York Times Pitches National Standards


A New York Times editorial on the stimulus bill this week makes a pitch for national academic standards amid recommendations, like this one among some think tanks and policy groups.

Education Secretary Arne "Duncan’s main goal should be to replace a wildly uneven patchwork of standards with a coherent system of national standards and tests that would allow parents to know, at last, how their schools compare with schools elsewhere in the country," the Times writes.

Of course even if everyone agreed to creating national standards in core subjects, it would take years of debate to figure out what content and skills to include (or not), and how to compel states and districts to follow them.


Perhaps the answer to how to compel states and districts to follow national standards is...don't. If we have one set of standards, and a single test, then the most productive role for the federal government might be to administer the test and publish the results. Period. No sanctions, just sunshine. If politicians and parents in states and cities that are badly trailing national averages can't rouse themselves to fix their schools under such a scenario, we have much bigger problems.

There is always the question: who creates the standard? If New Jersey is any example, I am not confident in education traditionalists embracing rigor in the standards process. Or embracing cross-state transparency for that matter. NJ gives diplomas to nearly 15,000 students annually who fail its exit exam as many as three times. The passing cut score is basically a 50%, and the test, according to the commissioner of education, is essentially an eighth grade skills battery. The PR downside is too great for the bureaucracy to truly embrace anything challenging.

I saw Harold Ford, Jr. once assert that he felt the Federal government's role in education moving forward should be one as an honest broker. I think some of those principles were set out in NCLB, and I think we know how much pushback even those loose guidelines on standards and progress received at the state and local levels.

National standards: sounds good. National rigor: that's another question.

Does anyone share my feeling that pushing for national education standards (presumably covering curriculum content) is moving in exactly the wrong direction, separating students and their parents even farther from decision makers, now removed to DC rather than just the state capitol.

If national standards were facilitative, encouraging educational options and profound alternatives, rather than directive, that would be a whole other story.

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