Federal

Standards To Receive Fresh Push

By Michele McNeil — April 21, 2009 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After years of debating the idea of national content standards, representatives from 37 states were set to convene in Chicago last week in what organizers hoped would be a first, concrete step toward common guidelines in mathematics and English language arts.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers—the Washington-based groups that co-sponsored the meeting—want to build a prototype of high school graduation standards by summer, and grade-by-grade academic standards in math and language arts by the end of the year.

The effort would start with rigorous math and language arts standards that are aligned with college- and career-ready expectations and made available for states to adopt voluntarily.

Following the April 17 meeting—which was to occur after press time—states ready to support common standards were to be asked to put their commitment in writing within weeks.

“I’ve been in education for more than 35 years, and we’ve had major meetings that have called for progress before, but I see [this] meeting as the first step to really taking aggressive action,” Eric J. Smith, Florida’s education commissioner, said in an interview before the meeting.

It remains to be seen how significant a milestone the meeting will prove. The long path to national standards is often dated to 1983, with the release of A Nation at Risk, a report that warned the American education system was slipping into mediocrity and losing ground against international competitors. (“International Exams Yield Less-Than-Clear Lessons,” this issue.)

Over the past quarter century, the push has advanced in fits and starts. For example, an advisory panel on education under then-President George H.W. Bush recommended national standards and national tests. That fizzled. In 1997, President Bill Clinton proposed creating national tests in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math. Congress stopped that move in its tracks.

More recently, at the state level, the Washington-based Achieve has been working to improve and align standards in 34 states that are part of its American Diploma Project.

And within the past few months, momentum on the issue has seemed to escalate.

In December, the NGA, the CCSSO, and Achieve released a report urging states to start pursuing an agenda of common standards. (“Common Academic Standards Get Influential Push,” Jan. 7, 2009.)

Then in March, the governors at their annual winter meeting adopted a policy endorsing common standards. (“National Standards Gain Steam,” March 4, 2009.)

At the federal level, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he wants to use part of the $5 billion in “Race to the Top” incentive funds included in the economic-stimulus package to help fuel the drive for common standards. (“To Duncan, Incentives a Priority,” Feb. 4, 2009).

A representative of the Education Department was slated to attend the Chicago meeting.

“I think this is really a milestone; we have never seen the states come together to commit to doing national standards,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the vice president for national programs and policy at the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has been a vocal supporter for improving standards.

Commitment Varies

The states that planned to take part in last week’s meeting—organizers declined to name them in advance—were to be represented by their schools chiefs, their governors’ education advisers or other policy aides, or all such parties.

Not all 37 states were ready to fully embrace common standards, said Gene Wilhoit, the executive director of the CCSSO. But some—including Arkansas and Florida—are prepared to take the lead, and with their governors’ support.

Mr. Smith said he has the support of Florida’s Republican governor, Charlie Crist, to actively pursue common standards.

T. Kenneth James, the Arkansas education commissioner and the president of the CCSSO, said his state is postponing a planned revision of the English language arts standards pending the outcome of the standards effort. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, was to send two of his policy-staff members to the Chicago meeting.

Other states that seem likely to sign on are Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, supports common standards and international benchmarking, and Georgia, where GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue helps lead the NGA’s task force examining those two issues.

“We have 50 different versions of what standards are, ... and that has led to a thick stack of standards that sit on teachers’ desks,” said Dane Linn, the director of the education division of the NGA’s Center for Best Practices. “The goal of this work is to bring states together ... to narrow that list of standards.”

Challenges Ahead

Even with the meeting, it’s clear there is a long way to go—especially in terms of who will actually be writing the standards.

“There are a couple of important questions: Who is going to do the work? And if college readiness is going to mean anything, then the colleges need to be pretty heavily involved,” said Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that advocates on behalf of low-income students. Still, she said she was optimistic about this latest effort to create common standards.

Mr. Wilhoit said the chiefs’ and governors’ staffs will work with groups active in crafting college-ready standards, such as Achieve, the New York City-based College Board, and Iowa City-based ACT.

States would still have to figure out how to get those new, common standards adopted—a process that can vary from state to state. Some may need to work with their legislatures, others through their state boards of education.

Finally, states would have to get those standards down to the district level and then onto teachers’ desks and into lesson plans.

“Having new standards does us exactly no good until we have curriculum and assessments that go with it,” Ms. Haycock said. “The big risk is: So we have standards. Now what?”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the April 22, 2009 edition of Education Week as Standards To Receive Fresh Push

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal The Senate Gun Bill: What It Would Mean for School Safety, Mental Health Efforts
Details of a bipartisan Senate agreement on guns outline additional funding to support student mental health programs.
6 min read
Protesters take to the streets of downtown Detroit June 11 to call for new gun laws. One holds up a sign that says "policy and change."
Protesters call for new gun laws in Detroit's March for Our Lives event earlier this month.
KT Kanazawich for Education Week
Federal What Educators Need to Know About Senators' Bipartisan Deal on Guns, School Safety
In addition to gun restrictions, a tentative compromise would also fund mental health and school safety programs—but it faces hurdles.
4 min read
Protesters hold up a sign that shows the outline of a rifle struck through with a yellow line at a demonstration in support of stronger gun laws.
Protesters gather for the March For Our Lives rally in Detroit, among the demonstrations against gun violence held on the heels of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.
KT Kanazawich for Education Week
Federal Senate Negotiators Announce a Deal on Guns, Breaking Logjam
The agreement offers modest gun curbs and bolstered efforts to improve school safety and mental health programs.
5 min read
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks during a rally near Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 10, 2022, urging Congress to pass gun legislation. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Federal Education Secretary: 'Let's Transform Our Appreciation of Teachers to Action'
Miguel Cardona shared strategies to help recruit, develop, and retain effective teachers.
5 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event in the White House on April 27.
Susan Walsh/AP