The Wheels Are Coming Off the National Standards Train

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.

3 Responses to The Wheels Are Coming Off the National Standards Train

  1. Enthusiasm for “standards” proceeds from magical thinking, as though to utter the word promotes improved outcomes. I have never heard anyone explain what “rigorous standards” will accomplish.

    The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of “education”. The current definition amounts to “attendance at any school operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel or any other school which looks sufficiently like one of the cartel’s schools to satisfy an accreditation committee”. Left unsaid is what reason such schools give to their slaves (students) to do what their overseers order.

    A standard is a unit of measurement. Platinum measuring rods will not make children taller. Academic standards will not make schools more effective.

    The only way that academic standards can enhance student performance is by enhancing student motivation. Students will work for freedom. If “academic standards” means “credit-by-exam, and we’ll release you from your 12-year sentence when you accumulate sufficient credits, at any age”, they might work. Otherwise, “standards” is just another con.

  2. rse says:

    When we implement a bad idea at the federal level, it is much more difficult to change.

    This is a time of finite public dollars. We cannot keep borrowing from the Chinese or running the printing press to try to get the states and local districts to adopt DC’s currently in vogue “best practices”.

    Parents, taxpayers, and concerned citizens need to be holding administrators and decision makers at the state and local levels to an efficacy standard for instructional practices.

    We know what works. We have the research. The fact that Common Core seems determined to ignore or disregard it tells us the actual implementation will be another hugely expensive mistake.

    Lucky states that weren’t selected as finalists. Your citizens still have a chance to make sure they’re funding what has been shown to be effective.

  3. […] The wheels are coming off the national standards train, counters Jay Greene. […]

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