During the past few months, some amazing things have been happening in education policy. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have agreed to adopt a single set of education standards in the English Language Arts and Mathematics. Arne Duncan ALSO pledged $350 million towards a new set of tests of those standards. Now that sounds like a national curriculum to me… and national tests to boot—though nobody is using those terms right now.
Of course, development efforts like these take years, so those who are philosophically offended by the idea of a national curriculum won’t have to worry, right? Not in this case. The design of standards is moving like a freight train. Not just any freight, but one of those supercharged, superfast trains. Even though the process seems like it just got started, it has made terrific progress so far, and they intend to have graduation standards by December.
I’m on one of the panels reviewing the standards documents as they move through the process,and can’t say much about the effort at this point (I promised). The two sets of potential standards that I’ve reviewed so far had lots of strengths and some weaknesses, too (the revised set had fewer weaknesses than the first, so things are going in the right direction). Once the graduation standards are in place, then benchmarks will be developed for the earlier years.
So who are the winners and losers as this enterprise moves forward?
Anyone who is against the nationalization of education, such as those who have opposed any role for the federal government, have to be pretty upset since “local control” is getting a pretty good whacking. Some state departments of education aren’t going to like it either, as they will no longer be able to lower standards and then pretend that they raised achievement because more kids got over the bar.
Many of the critics of No Child Left Behind who thought the last presidential election was going to signal a lessening of accountability, testing (spelled AYP), and standardization aren’t going to be very happy either; if you think there was a lot of attention to tests when there were so many of them, imagine what’s going to happen when everyone is watching the same test.
And the winners?
One of the big winners is the National Governors Association (NGA) for its continued effort over the past twenty years to push for standards-based education. NGA’s Achieve standards paved the way towards this accomplishment by guiding states to reduce their goal differences. Another winner is the Chief State School Officers as their organization is playing a big and important role in the development effort.
Publishers have to be happy, because they won’t have to design so many “state versions” of their textbooks (though it should be noted that Texas is one of the states that hasn’t signed on to this standards effort). And, the test publishers should like the testing development contracts sure to come their way.
However, the biggest winner will ultimately be the kids. It won’t matter what state they live in, their schools will be expected to accomplish particular instructional outcomes in reading and writing. When everyone is taking the same test of the same curricular standards, it will be a lot easier to target improvements to make sure that kids really do keep up.
Hard to believe that this is the same country that howled when Bill Clinton called for a national test, or that screamed bloody murder when George W. Bush championed No Child Left Behind. We’ve come a long way, baby.
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