The National Conference of State Legislatures has taken a hard line against any form of national academic standards, declaring last week that any national attempt to unite school curricula across states would be unacceptable until perceived flaws in the federal No Child Left Behind Act are fixed.
The strongly worded new policy against national standards—even voluntary ones—prompted virtually no debate and was approved on a voice vote during the Denver-based group’s business meeting at its annual conference here, which drew nearly 9,000 attendees from Aug. 5-9. NCSL policies such as the new one on national standards set the Washington lobbying agenda of the legislative group.
The policy reads, in part: “We need rigorous state standards that are anchored in real world demands. … This can be most readily accomplished through individual state refinement of standards … not through federal action—which flies in the face not only of the role of states since the inception of our system of providing education, but the historical role of states and local school districts in funding education with diminished federal support.”
Much of the group’s opposition to national standards is rooted in its dislike for the NCLB law, which is up for reauthorization before Congress. The NCSL, which has been among the most unified, vocal critics of the federal school accountability law, issued a report in February 2005 calling for more flexibility for states.
“The idea of going to national standards when we’re dealing with a system that has imposed itself on all 50 states—with the emphasis on process—would at best be premature,” New York state Sen. Stephen Saland, a Republican, said at last week’s ncsl meeting. Sen. Saland was a co-chairman of the group’s task force on the federal education law. “This would not be the time.”
The policy on national standards was contentious enough earlier in the group’s meeting, during consideration before the ncsl education committee, that it wasn’t approved unanimously. That set the stage for a potential debate before the full membership, though during the larger business meeting, no one spoke against the measure.
However, opposition among the more-than-100-member education committee to the proposed policy, which had been under debate by the panel for nearly a year, was at times fierce.
The new policy states that NCLB “arbitrarily overidentifies failure … driving states to broaden the definition of proficiency and/or relax standards.”
NCSL education policy official David Shreve, who drafted the national standards proposal on behalf of the committee, dubbed it the “No way, José, policy.” The policy does encourage states, if they wish, to participate in other efforts to make academic standards more uniform and rigorous, such as the Washington-based Achieve Inc.’s American Diploma Project, which is trying to improve U.S. high schools.
But not all states participating in the committee meeting agreed with the policy’s severe stance. Among those that balked were Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas. The committee includes multiple members from each state, and even some state delegations were split.
The legislators’ reasons for supporting or rejecting the policy involved more than just national standards, and often reflected the broader debate over the federal education law.
“I think this is very negative,” Nevada Sen. Barbara K. Cegavske, a Republican, said of the proposed policy. “Not everyone is against No Child Left Behind.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week as Legislators Oppose National Standards