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By All Measures: 'Building on What Works'

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As I participate in the many discussions and debates surrounding the issue of national standards, I have several concerns that are too often omitted from the agenda.

First, in developing standards we need to proceed on the principle of "what works.'' Abstract ideas only become good policies if they foster the desired outcome. We need to plan evaluations and assessments of any system that we decide to design. This component is lacking in most of the discussions of national standards I participate in.

Second, we need to demonstrate a commitment to assuring that equity of learning opportunity and the different learning styles of all students are being served. If this principle is not built into the operation of the system being proposed--and evaluations of this concern planned--then no system we build will be meaningful.

Third, we need to understand how reforms in the states and local communities are evolving and build this experience and wisdom into any model we create. A national system must allow for state and local adaptation.

This leads to my final concern: the role of the federal government. The federal role should not be designed to enforce compliance, but to facilitate and disseminate the best findings on "what works.'' Scarce federal dollars should not be spent on comparisons of state and local actions--unless such comparisons can show us how to directly improve student achievement.

Any system proposed will be expensive to be meaningful. In an era of scarce dollars we must afford to be bold, but at the same time such actions cannot take place unless we build equity and an evaluation component into the system proposed.

Keith Geiger is president of the National Education Association

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