Less than two weeks ago Andy Rotherham was declaring victory for a national standards consensus:
If the only person WaPo’s Nick Anderson can find to critique the push for common standards on the record is Susan Ohanian, does that mean it’s close to a done deal? That pierced my skepticism more than anything else in this process so far!
But not everyone jumped onto the national standards train. In fact, the wheels seem to be coming off. Strong resistance to adopting these national standards has developed in Minnesota, Virginia, Massachusetts, and California — joining Texas and Alaska who already declared their opposition.
Now the Wall Street Journal has joined the rising chorus of nat stand skeptics. Here’s the meat of their argument:
The biggest challenge may be reaching agreement on what a national curriculum should include. In the 1990s, the Bush and Clinton Administrations advocated national history standards. But the process became dominated by educators with a multicultural agenda preoccupied with political correctness and America’s failings. The Senate censured the history standards by a vote of 99 to 1. The recent brawl over the Texas social sciences curriculum suggests that what works in Nacogdoches isn’t going to fly in Marin County, and vice versa.
Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, states are free to set their own standards, and it’s certainly true that some have dumbed-down their exams to meet the law’s requirements. The latest national standards effort is intended to correct this practice and ensure high-quality standards across all 50 states.
However, national standards won’t tell us anything we don’t already know about underperforming states. The U.S. already has a mandatory federal test in place—the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam (NAEP)—to expose states with weak standards. Mississippi may claim that 89% of its fourth graders are proficient in reading, according to the state test. But when NAEP scores show this is true of only 18% of fourth graders, Mississippi education officials aren’t fooling anyone.
It’s true that some countries with uniform standards (Singapore, Japan) outperform the U.S., though other countries with such standards (Sweden, Israel) do worse. On the 2007 eighth-grade TIMSS test, an international math exam, all eight countries that scored higher than the U.S. had national standards. But so did 33 of the 39 countries that scored lower. The U.S. is also commonly regarded as having the best higher education system in the world, though we lack national standards for colleges and universities.
National standards won’t magically boost learning in the U.S., and if this debate distracts attention from more effective reforms, then public education will be worse off. State and local educators don’t need more top-down control from Washington. They need the freedom and authority to close bad schools, recruit better teachers and pay them based on effectiveness rather than tenure.
Most important, families need more educational choices. Some 2,000 high schools are responsible for half of all drop-outs in America, and forcing those schools to compete for students and shape up or shut down is the main chance. Higher standards will be the fruit of such reforms, not the driver.