National standards gaining traction?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 at 1:42 pm by

The idea of national education standards is gaining traction once again. It emerged during the administration of the first President Bush and was pushed by President Clinton. But these efforts bumped against the nation’s tradition of state leadership in education policy and never amounted to much.

Writing for his old magazine, former TIME managing editor Walter Isaacson offers a concise summary of why this interest is gaining steam at this time and how national standards might be implemented now.

Isaacson explains that leaders across the political spectrum, beginning with President Obama, have begun to call for higher standards, benchmarked to those of economically competitive other nations.

He also explains the process that might result in what are being referred to as “common” standards, or “state-developed national standards”:

…there is already a process under way that could, if properly nurtured, take charge of writing common national standards. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers [the association of state education commissioners] have been working with a nonprofit called Achieve Inc. In 2001, Achieve helped launch the American Diploma Project, which establishes curriculum standards that align with what a graduate will need to succeed in college, the military or a career.”

Isaacson wrote before an April 17 NGA-CCSO meeting expected to draw representatives from 25 states. Instead 41 states were represented, including New York, by Commissioner Mills and new Regents Chancellor (i.e., chair) Merryl Tisch.

He also explains that the federal stimulus bill created a $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” fund that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will allocate to support school innovation and performance improvement initiatives, including standards reform.

He quotes Secretary Duncan,

“If we accomplish one thing in the coming years, it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America. I know that talking about standards can make people nervous, but the notion that we have 50 different goalposts is absolutely ridiculous.”

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