Attention local-control advocates: Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings isn’t planning on pushing for national standards in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, scheduled for this year.
Writing on The Washington Post’s op-ed page June 9, Ms. Spellings said that states’ standards might vary significantly, especially when compared against the National Assessment of Educational Progress. She cited a report released by the Department of Education this month finding such variation. (“State Tests, NAEP Often a Mismatch,” June 13, 2007.)
But she said she doesn’t think national tests are the answer.
A national exam “goes against more than two centuries of American educational tradition,” Ms. Spellings wrote. “Neighborhood schools deserve neighborhood leadership, not dictates from bureaucrats thousands of miles away.”
The commentary could have been aimed squarely at Republicans in Congress who are wary of renewing the law, in part because of fears that the measure treads on states’ rights to determine what students should learn, some observers said.
“President Bush is going to have considerable trouble getting Republicans lined up behind reauthorization. National standards are not an idea that’s very popular with the Republican base,” said Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization. He served as an aide to Democrats on the House education committee from 1967 to 1994.
“I really think she’s playing to the Republican base,” Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said of the secretary. Mr. Petrilli, who served in the Education Department during President Bush’s first term, said her message was, essentially, “you may not like NCLB, but at least we’re not calling for a national test, like some.”
Mr. Petrilli favors national standards, but said they could be devised by states working together, rather than drafted by the federal government.
So far, there hasn’t been much to signal that Congress would ask the secretary to develop a set of national standards, although Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, introduced a bill in January that would encourage states to benchmark their standards and tests to NAEP.
“I don’t detect great enthusiasm on the part of Democrats [in Congress] for national standards,” Mr. Jennings said.
A version of this article appeared in the June 20, 2007 edition of Education Week