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Blog: National Education Standards without National Input

6 August 2009 12,394 No Comment

It seems that the U.S. will soon have national education standards that will be adopted and implemented in most of the nation. This is a very significant political victory for the national standards proponents, who have been working on it for over two decades. The first President Bush and President Clinton tried it but failed. Now President Obama will have it without even having to convince Congress or the nation, as he is trying with health care reform. This is the part that is strange and not right—something that will have significant impact on millions of American children and the future of the nation happens without a proper national debate.

Last month the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) announced the initiative to develop “Common Core State Standards” in English-Language Arts and Mathematics. Forty nine states and territories have already signed on. Also last month, the Obama administration announced criteria for states to receive the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” funds, which require states to “develop and adopt common standards.” Thus, although the phrase “national standards” is not mentioned, it seems inevitable that the U.S. (perhaps except four states) will have common standards for English language arts and mathematics. And as we all can guess, the logical next steps will be national curriculum and national testing for these subjects.

Problem is that these standards arrive without open discussion. In fact, as it stands now, there is no proper channel for such discussion other than what NGA and CCSSO has prescribed. But NGA and CCSSO are non-profit organizations, not government agencies, hence they do not have to be held publicly accountable. As such, they do not even have to accept any feedback on either the process or content of the standards, let alone a discussion about whether we should have national standards. Education Week’s Sean Cavanagh wrote about the lack of transparency in the process of making the Common Standards by NGA and CCSSO. Although it seems that the project plans to invite public input, whether such input will be taken seriously is completely up to the project team.

And the Obama administration has already got the money from Congress, as part of the stimulus package for education (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)). So it does not need to go back to Congress. Plus, technically the Administration is not making the standards. Thus, no discussion is required, nor approval from Congress.

This looks like a great piece of political work. But good politics may not result in good policy. Given the significance of such standards, the American people, whose children and future will be living their consequences, deserve to have some serious input. And the millions of educators, who will be held accountable for implementing these standards, should have a chance to provide feedback as well.

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