National Standards Nonsense



By 03/11/2010

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The national standards train-wreck is pulling into the station, again.  This time it is a completely voluntary set of national standards in the same way that complying with a 21-year-old drinking age is completely voluntary for states to receive federal highway money.  States had to commit to a rushed and largely secretive national standard setting process as part of the Race to the Top application.

Well, now the draft standards have been released for a hurried public comment period before they try to cram them into place.  In the end they’ll probably fail to get all the states on board for anything meaningful, but it won’t be for lack of arm-twisting.  The Gates Foundation has sprinkled money on just about every education policy organization to ensure their support or at least muted opposition.

Even people and groups that should have no interest in these national standards and even expressed skepticism of them in the recent past are now embracing them.  Barely two weeks ago Checker Finn wrote:

This is enormously risky and, frankly, hubristic, since nobody yet has any idea whether these standards will be solid, whether the tests supposed to be aligned with them will be up to the challenge, or whether the “passing scores” on those tests will be high or low, much less how this entire apparatus will be sustained over the long haul.

But today he is quoted in the New York Times expressing his enthusiastic support:

I’d say this is one of the most important events of the last several years in American education… Now we have the possibility that, for the first time, states could come together around new standards and high school graduation requirements that are ambitious and coherent. This is a big deal.

What gives?  Nothing in the draft standards should have put Checker at ease about their rigor.  And nothing has happened that has addressed his earlier concerns about aligning tests, setting high cut scores, or sustaining rigor over time.

Similarly the folks over at Core Knowledge have decided to drink the Kool-Aid.  Just a few months ago I expressed frustration with national standards advocates:

Every decade or so we have to debate the desirability of adopting national standards for education.  People tend to be in favor of them when they imagine that they are the ones writing the standards.  But when everyone gets into the sausage-making that characterizes policy formulation, it generally becomes clear that no one is going to get what they want out of national standards.  What’s worse is that the resulting mess would be imposed on everyone.  There’d be no more laboratory of the states, just uniform banality.  Of course, some people always hope that they’ll somehow manage to sneak their preferred vision into place without having to go through the meat grinder.

At the time Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio linked to that post and added “I’m inclined to agree.”  But today he is the press contact for a statement from Core Knowledge declaring that the new draft national standards are a “not-to be-missed opportunity for American education.”

What’s even more amazing is that the draft national standards are being guided by the same 21st Century Skills nonsense articulated by Tony Wagner.  Core Knowledge supporters should recoil in horror at this approach unless they fantasize that they will “somehow manage to sneak their preferred vision into place” without the edublob noticing and blocking them.  Good luck.

I’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t end well.  The standards will inevitably be diluted and made even more 21st century skill-like to gain sufficiently broad support.  The standards-based reformers at Fordham and Core Knowledge will end up renouncing the final product, but will continue to believe that if only the right standards were adopted all would be well.  And we’ll start this all over again in about a decade.

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.




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