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Top Duncan Adviser ‘Somewhat Skeptical’ of Common Standards

By Michele McNeil — March 16, 2009 1 min read

Mike Smith, a top adviser to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, made some eyebrow-raising statements about common standards today at an event at the Library of Congress, which my colleague Mary Ann Zehr writes about here.

First, he says he’s “somewhat skeptical” of the value of common standards—which have been a cornerstone of the education proposals and policies of the Obama administration and Duncan.

And then, Smith counts among the “weak” arguments in favor of common standards the idea that the nation needs them because, as matters stand now, all 50 states set different proficiency levels. The argument is weak, he said, because the proficiency levels can be standardized, according to Zehr’s blog item.

However, Obama said in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: “Let’s challenge our states to adopt world-class standards that will bring our curriculums into the 21st century. Today’s system of fifty different sets of benchmarks for academic success means 4th grade readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming – and getting the same grade.”

And Duncan said in a C-SPAN interview: “We’re looking for states that will commit to common, very high, common standard...in too many states, we have 50 different bars, 50 different goalposts.”

It’s worth nothing that Smith also said he could envision clusters of states that go in together to develop a common academic standard -- which is similar to what Duncan has said.

Smith added that there are some strong arguments for setting common standards, one of them being that they would foster a national curriculum. Now that’s something that many people—including some of those who support common standards—are especially wary of.

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