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National PTA Endorses Common Standards

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We at EdWeek have written about various organizations lining up in support of the multi-state effort to create common academic standards, as well as about skeptics of that plan and how it's being carried out. Now backers of the standards can boast that another group has rallied to their cause: parents, or at least parents represented by the National Parent Teacher Association.

The organization, headquartered in Chicago, released a statement on the eve of its annual meeting in support of the "Common Core" effort to create uniform standards in reading and math. The PTA seeks to advocate for the welfare of children, and build ties between parents and schools, according to its official description on its website. Anybody who joins a local or state PTA becomes a member.

"America’s children haven’t been able to compete with students from around the globe for years when it comes to academic achievement," the PTA says in a statement. "That’s why the [the organization] is calling for the creation of a voluntary, internationally benchmarked common core of state standards in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12."

I haven't seen an official estimate of the PTA's membership, but the group says it "comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders." The organization will become an "endorsing partner" of the Common Core effort, which is being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“No longer should states have different expectations for what students should know," said Charles J. “Chuck” Saylors, the national PTA’s incoming president. “No longer should states have different expectations for what students should know. We should all be on the same page." Parents, he added, "need to be able to articulate to [their] children what they need to know and be able to do to be successful in college and in their career.”

In addition to making the oft-cited argument about the connection between common standards and foreign academic and economic competition, the PTA contends that the effort can help bring greater equity to the nation's schools, and increase academic expectations.

How powerful an ally is the PTA for Common Core? It's possible that having an organization that can reach parents in communities of all sizes across the country could help build support on the ground for the multi-state effort, as other factions weigh their options. What role might the PTA play in the months ahead?

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When I clicked on the skeptics link in this article, it sent me to a previous Ed Week column describing the fact that professional organizations wanted to play a role in writing the standards. These are not skeptics. These are supporters of standards who want a seat at the table. If you want to see what the real skeptics, or rather critics are saying, read what Alfie Kohn, Gerald Bracey and Susan Ohanian are saying. Start with susanohanian.org.

It is hard for me to believe that the PTA really thinks that precise and narrow national standards (which means national tests and most likely a rigid national curriculum) is a good idea. Do they really agree with Arne Duncan's assembly line view that all children should know where they are "on every step of their educational trajectory" in all subjects. Do PTA members have an idea how children learn?

It is sad to read that the PTA accepts the argument that our students are doing poorly compared to those in other countries.

Comparisons with other countries ignore the poverty variable. Richard Rothstein has documented that children of poverty have inferior health care, an inferior diet, and fewer educational opportunities outside of school, such as travel and trips to museums. They are also less likely to have their own study area, get less help with homework, and have far less access to books in the home and in their communities. These factors have a profound influence on academic achievement.

Gerald Bracey has pointed out that American schools with low poverty rates score higher than even the highest scoring countries on standardized tests; only American schools with high levels of poverty (75% or more) fall below the international average.

The PTA needs to do its homework. Here is the first reading assignment:

Gerald Bracey, Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions about Public Education in the U.S. Heinemann, 2004.

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