Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Another Way to Foil Texas

Here is an interesting possibility:

An effort is gaining momentum to establish common academic standards for the nation's elementary, middle, junior high and high schools.

If events occur as planned by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices, the states could see by the end of this summer a common set of standards for math and English/language arts in kindergarten through 12th grades.

Standards for other core academic subjects would follow.

"This is on the fast track," Arkansas Education Commissioner Ken James said last week, fresh from testifying about the benefits of state-led common standards before the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Education and Labor.

There is, it appears, impressive support for the effort:

... President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, education policymakers, governors from more than 40 states, and national teacher-union leaders, as well as Arkansas school district superintendents, have signaled support for the effort in recent weeks.

The supporters of the idea know that there will be problems and plan:

... to start with standards for math and English/language arts, saying the subjects are fairly straightforward and aren't subject to as much interpretation and disagreement as there might be with social studies and the teaching of history, or with science and dealing with words such as "evolution" and "intelligent design."

The national standards would have advantages beyond standardizing education in the US and reducing costs to individual states:

"I think the special interest groups in a sense would be diluted," [William McComas, Parks Family professor of Science and Technology Education at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville] said. "I don't think there would be as much pressure. It's a heck of a lot easier to get to a small group working in the capital of a small state and a lot harder to get to a blue-ribbon panel operating at a national level."

In addition, even if national standards are not adopted, if blocks of states agreed to share standards, their combined markets would counterbalance Texas' influence over textbook publishers ... whether to good or ill, though, would have to await which states were involved and the quality of the standards that could be mutually agreed on.

I suspect this will just raise the interest groups' interests to the federal level. This is probably a good idea, assuming it doesn't end up as a process dominated by those interest groups.
If it is truly at the Federal level, I think the supporters are right and it will make it harder for the Don McLeroys of the world to have such a big effect on education. If it breaks down into regional groups of states, it might not have as good an effect, depending on how the people to represent each state are chosen. If they are education professionals, rather than the two-bit politicians so often on boards of education, it could still be quite good.
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