National Standards in American Education

What do high scoring foreign nations have in common?  High scoring nations like Finland and Singapore, which score very well on the TIMMS and PISA, have national curricula and high national standards.  While this is not the only factor it beats the patchwork of state standards that the United States has.

Twenty-seven states have adopted the newly issued national education standards and more are expected to do so in the next few weeks.  This is a radical change as states have traditionally accepted state control over the development and deployment of curriculum.

The common core standards took two years to develop and were first released in draft form in March, are an effort to replace the current jumble of state policies.  They lay out detailed expectations of skills that students should have at each grade level.  Adoption of the standards does not bring immediate change in the classroom. Implementation will be a long-term process, as states rethink their teacher training, textbooks and testing. The common standards spell out what students should learn in English and math each year from kindergarten through high school. States that adopt the standards by Aug. 2 win points in the National Race for the Top competition for a share of the $3.4 billion to be awarded in September.  Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and a number of other states have adopted the standards.  The question is whether states will have the necessary funds to put the standards in effect.

Texas and Alaska said they did not want to participate in developing the standards. And Virginia has made it known that it does not plan to adopt the standards.

Increasingly, national standards are seen as a way to ensure that children in all states will have access to a similar education — and that financially strapped state governments do not have to spend limited resources on developing their own standards and tests.

The new common core standards are stronger than the English standards in 37 states and the math standards in 39 states.

“Vocabulary-building in the common core is slower,” he said, citing one example. “And on the math side, they don’t prepare eighth-grade students for algebra one, which is the gateway to higher math.”