The National Conference of State Legislatures today took a hard-line against any form of national academic standards, declaring that any 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 today 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. 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 act, which is up for reauthorization before Congress.
“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,” said New York state Sen. Stephen Saland, a Republican, who co-chaired the group’s task force on the main federal education law. “This would not be the time.”
The policy was contentious enough earlier this week during consideration before the NCSL education committee that it wasn’t approved unanimously. That set the stage for a potential debate before the entire membership, though during today’s larger business meeting, no one spoke against the measure.
On Monday, however, opposition among the more-than-100-member education committee was at times fierce to the proposed policy, which had been under debate by the panel for nearly a year.
The now-enacted policy states, in part, 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, Jose, policy.”
But not all states participating in the committee meeting agreed with such a 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 NCLB accountability 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.”
Oklahoma Rep. Ann Coody, a Republican, voted against the policy because of what she sees as a larger problem with incorporating scores of English-language learners into state assessments.
But others thought it was important for the national organization to have a say as NCLB reauthorization progresses through Congress. “If we’re going to have any voice in this, we need to move forward,” said Maryland Delegate Nancy J. King, a Democrat.