National Standards Are a Step In The Right Direction

The United States is no longer a leading force in education. We aren’t teaching our kids very well compared to other industrialized nations. At a lousy 14th overall, we need to do better, especially in math and science. One way to help bridge this gap would be the adoption of new nationalized standards similar to the Massachusetts system.

President Barack Obama rightly asserted that those nations which out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. As the locus of economic might shifts away from the U.S. and the West, it is important that the United States revamp its education system to be as competitive as possible, so as to guarantee the best quality of life for its citizens as they compete in a global marketplace with students from places like Singapore. The adoption of federal educational standards would help guarantee that all students across the nation are being taught skills vital to their future livelihoods by introducing accountability into the system.

Granted, this is not an educational panacea. There are many other things needed, including depowering teachers unions, lowering district administrational costs, adding new incentives to lure new talented teachers into the profession, and exploring vouchers as a way to offer students choice (keyword: exploring). All these options are controversial, but nothing seems to evoke a primal antagonized screech from the far right more than creating a national set of standards a la National Core Curriculum Initiative.

The NCCI is a great start in the direction of unifying expectations across the U.S. This is a goals-based program that seeks to break expectations down to their base components and give students common standards. The genius of this particular idea is that it keeps its hands off the question of how. Nobody is going to tell a teacher how to teach, which dismantles a popular riposte used to discredit the idea of federal involvement in curricula.

There you go, libertarians. Districts can do whatever they’d like! The only catch is that if the daily prayer sessions or transcendental rebirthings don’t end up teaching kids calculus, evaluations will – ideally, of course – show it and action can be taken.

What is action? Action is probably going to entail denial of federal funds, including Race To The Top competitive funds which have been linked to the adoption of core standards as outlined by The Common Core State Standard Initiative. This is commonly used as evidence of a ‘federal takeover.’ I disagree.

A federal takeover would be an unconstitutional mandate that either states adopted core standards or found their schools shut down or administered federally. Offering funds for meeting federal standards is an enticement. There will be no Federal High School #1984 coming to a Springfield near you.  

The concerns of individual districts should not go unheard, though. The Albert Shanker Institute, in a manifesto supporting common core curricula, articulated the proposition that a core curriculum should only occupy 50-60% of a school’s academic time. This is a good blueprint for a system that allows for standard unification while also allowing local districts and parents to maintain control over their children’s educations.

We have a long way to go in improving the country’s educational competitiveness, but the adoption of national core standards is a step in the right direction.

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