If the Obama administration has its way, change could be afoot for your local K–12 curriculum.
Through its “Race to the Top” program, the administration is using federal grant money to coax states into adopting the “common core” standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. In addition, while President Obama probably won’t be able to push a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind through Congress before this session ends, the administration’s “blueprint” for the law would cut off access to $14.5 billion in federal funding for states that fail to adopt these “common standards.”
Proponents claim that national standards would improve the American education system. They are wrong. Here’s why.
Misconception #1: National standards would make American students more competitive with their international peers. The relationship between standards and academic achievement is unclear. While it’s true that many of the countries that outperform the U.S. on international tests have national standards, so do most of the countries that score lower than the U.S. Even when it comes to state standards, the relationship between academic performance and the quality of those standards is not consistent.
Misconception #2: National standards are necessary so parents can understand how their children compare with other children across the country. The information parents need is already available. State tests let parents know how well their children have mastered the curriculum. The National Assessment of Educational Progress and other standardized tests compare students’ performance nationally, exposing any “dumbing down” of state tests. Policies should require clear reporting of this data to parents, which in too many states is not standard practice. Misconception #3: National standards are necessary because of the variance in the quality of state standards. Some states do have higher standards than others. But the same pressures that drive down state standards would likely plague national standards — and if national standards were defined down, they would undercut states with higher standards, such as Massachusetts. This would let the goal of uniformity trump the pursuit of excellence.