I’m a big supporter of National Standards for K-12 schools. Since the standards movement began in the 70s, New York, where I was a building administrator, was usually reported to be among the states with higher standards of achievement. As requirements to report school results expanded, I noted the number of buildings in New York that were rated as underachieving on state tests. In publications like Education Week’s annual Quality Counts, the differences in test difficulty and state standards has been reported off and on for several years. We could see that if New York’s 200+ ‘failing’ schools were given state tests from several other states, our ‘failing’ numbers would drop precipitously.
This huge difference in state standards and test difficulty has made comparisons of results around the country at least challenging, and more practically stated, impossible. That the Council of Chief State School Officers (www.ccsso.org) would organize and lead the effort to create national curriculum standards is a substantial change in educational policy, and one I believe is long overdue.
Many will argue (correctly, in fact) that the U.S. Constitution states education is the responsibility of the states, so educational curriculum is in the hands of 50 governors and state legislatures. Education by committee, indeed, and a 50 member committee that actually never meets together. Moreover, except for Hawaii, states have decentralized educational decision making to county school boards, or to smaller units in local school boards. New York has 696 school districts with students, and each local school board can decide on major curriculum content issues with minimal state regulation.
In international comparisons, it’s rather hard to decide how to compete with other nations who follow single curricular guidelines for all schools. Because of our patchwork quilt of standards, states with low standards drag down the U.S. results on international comparisons, while our better states do just fine. If Massachusetts, for example, is compared to other nations, they’re doing quite well.
With the Common Core State Standards, and the two testing consortia that have been funded to create national assessments, we will be able to close our own knowledge gap about how states actually rank. If implemented with some fidelity, this will provide a revealing look at where schools are good and where they are dreadful, perhaps even dreadful statewide. I suspect that will be the case for several states. It should lead to better analysis of the performance of subgroups as well, in particular we’ll be able to examine on a national level how poverty, state by state, negatively impacts the success of students.
With this movement coming from state governors, the constitutional questions that prevented the federal government from mandating national standards is eliminated. This is a wonderful opportunity to provide real national achievement data that should open our eyes to where our real problems lie.