Governors Endorse ‘Common Core’ of Standards, Leave Debate for Later

February 24, 2009 2 min read
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At the National Governors Association’s winter meeting this weekend, most news organizations focused on some governors’ reluctance to take portions of the stimulus money. (For examples of the coverage, see here and here.)

But the NGA took one significant vote that went unnoticed elsewhere. Its members approved a policy statement that could lead to a set of national standards.

The statement hasn’t been released to the public yet. But governors told me that it advocates putting state leaders in charge of a national effort to establish a “common core” of standards defining what students should know.

The statement dovetails with the report released in December by the NGA, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve Inc., a group of governors and business leaders. That report called for a process of benchmarking the standards of high-achieving countries to determine what content they consider most important.

“We want states to improve their standards, and one way to look at that is through international benchmarking,” Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, told me.

But he insisted that the process shouldn’t “federalize education.”

The setting of standards has “got to be done by the state and local governments,” he said.

While the NGA statement is no surprise, given the organization’s work with the CCSSO and Achieve. But it is noteworthy because:

1.) It adds momentum to the move toward national standards. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been saying national standards will be a priority for the Obama administration. “What I want to do is be the catalyst,” Duncan said on C-SPAN this weekend on an interview show with my colleague Michele McNeil and Libby Quaid of the Associated Press. “I want to take all of the hard work and make it happen.” Also last week, AFT President Randi Weingarten endorsed national standards in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

2.) The policy sailed through the NGA without any controversy or significant debate. Thirteen years ago at a summit of governors and business leaders, the biggest debate was whether states should volunteer to set their own standards. (See the Ed Week story on the meeting.) Now, all governors are willing to endorse a project that could lead to national standards.

After the NGA adjourned, I walked over to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for a panel featuring former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David Driscoll, historian and commentator Diane Ravitch, and Bruno Manno of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. They were convened to comment on Fordham’s recent report documenting variability in states’ expectations under NCLB’s accountability rules. The panelists disagreed on exactly how to fix the accountability system. But they all agreed that our country should have national standards.

But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the consensus, Fordham President Checker Finn told me afterword. If you scratch “a millimeter below the surface” on national standards, significant differences emerge on who should set the standards, what should be in them, and other hot-button issues.

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.


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