Do states need common education standards?

Lately, there’s been a big push to put all 50 states on the same page with regard to what’s taught — and tested — in schools.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee holds a hearing on the subject. The hearing is described, in a press advisory, as an opportunity to “examine how states can better prepare their students to compete in a global economy by using internationally benchmarked common standards.”

What do you make of this movement? What potential advantages do you see, and what pitfalls?

The witnesses for next week’s hearing, listed below, include the co-founder of KIPP and the AFT President:

The Honorable James B. Hunt, Jr.
James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy
Durham, North Carolina

Ken James
Commissioner of Education
Arkansas Department of Education
Little Rock, Arkansas

Greg Jones
California Business for Excellence in Education (CBEE)
Sacramento, California

Dave Levin
KIPP: Knowledge Is Power Program
New York, New York

Randi Weingarten
American Federation of Teachers
New York, New York

above image from Marxchivist’s photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Jonathon

    There is no reason that Algebra (and other math for that matter) should not be the same in California and Massachusetts. Now should the federal government be in charge of setting these standards? Certainly not. It should be a combination of experience teachers, education organizations, etc. across the country that develop a national framework for subjects such as math and reading.

  • harlemmoon

    Well, Jonathon, that would involve the self-serving unions. Which means nothing gets done.
    The Feds must be involved on some level.

  • Catherine

    If nationwide standards are in place, it just may save OUSD. Charter schools are growing by leaps and bounds because they promise parents their children will learn.

    It nationwide standards are in place AND OUSD is willing to do what they must do to educate every student to the standard, they will succeed in keeping their school district. If OUSD cannot succeed in doing so, they will become the district of charter schools and prisions beyond elementary school.

  • Nextset

    Sorry all, the very reason we have the States is to prevent centralization of power and decision making. The Feds power is limited by the US Constitution – I know it’s ignored but it’s still law. The states are free to make education policy as they please, not as we Californians think they should.

    Think of it this way. The Uniform Building Code – or the Uniform Commercial Code – exists nationwide. But the states and municipalities only adopt certain sections as they see fit. Calif has the California Commercial Code which includes those provisions of the National Code our state legislature want. It’s where you find the rules about banking law (checking accounts, etc) and contract creation and rules of commerce. Likewise the Building Code.

    A National Model code is fine (as a suggestion). We have many of them. But the decision of which provisions to adopt is a State Power, beyond dispute. The states are not one big happy family and have different ways. It’s their right to do so.

    For example, requiring Algebra 2.

    States with large minority populations are going to have a few things to say about that, states that don’t may not see an issue. LA isn’t MN, MA isn’t FL.

  • Katy Murphy

    Here’s a news advisory I received this morning from the American Federation of Teachers:

    AFT President Randi Weingarten to Testify on Academic Standards

    Expresses Support for Rigorous, Common State Standards

    WASHINGTON—AFT President Randi Weingarten is scheduled to appear before the House Education and Labor Committee to discuss the importance of developing a comprehensive education system based on rigorous, common state standards on April 29.

    “We live in a highly mobile, instantly connected world in which knowledge travels on highways we can’t even see. Our students need to be able to navigate through that world—to study, work and live in states other than the one in which they were educated, if they so choose or if circumstances demand it. Their ability to do that, and to do it well, will be limited if we don’t change our current patchwork of varying state standards,” Weingarten said.

    Weingarten, who will make the case for standards-based education, is one of five witnesses scheduled to testify at the committee’s hearing, titled “Strengthening America’s Competitiveness through Common Academic Standards.”

  • http://www.misterwriter.com MisterWriter

    A uniformity in content standards is not a bad thing. It will, however, fail in the same way as state standards have in California by becoming test obsessive in the accounting of performance. California is like a drug addict with an unlimited supply of drugs. Everything is tested. The end result is that the data is very positive even though the dropout rate remains high and the number of students failing the high school exit exam remains high. Testing and knowledge are not the same thing. So while I agree that a nation learning the same set of skills to encourage a global competitiveness is a good thing, I am wary of the political arm of education shoving more testing down our throats.

    It is time America dumps the education model that is failing – the political model – and brings about decent education reform that pushes our youth to achieve by holding them (and their parents) accountable for conduct in school and the learning process as a whole. The days of free day care (school) should end. Education may be a right, but it is a badly exercised one at this time. Students do not have the right to thwart the education system and their parents should not have the right to let them. This country has too much at stake.

  • Catherine

    We are having the “holding parents and students accountable” discussion at our school. We have about 25 – 30 parents of about 45 – 50 children arriving to school late with their children by anywhere from 10 -25 minutes. I am not sure if it is an Oakland standard or a state standard that defines tardiness as 31 minutes or more.

    The outcome for the classroom students is disruption when the students walk in late, are not sure what tasks have been assigned or sometimes even where the class is meeting.

    We have also had issues with students meeting deadlines for homework and projects. Teachers, pressed by a group of parents back down so that all dates imposed are “sliding” dates. Parents do not feel the need for their children to be held responsible and most parents site that the deadlines are not developmentally appropriate.

    The same is true with taking them home early if they are tired or slip into the bathroom to call parents on a cell phone to pick them up.

    This is all at the upper elementary level – grades 3-5. The tardiness however is ongoing from kindergarten forward.

  • Nextset

    Catherine: The tardy problem you speak of is a product of the school training the parents and students to behave this way.

    When I was a sub in 1980 – maybe not relevant here but it was my experience – I worked for a school district where the tardies had gotten out of control. I was at a middle school at the time and even that may not be relevant here. Anyway, the school decided they would end the tardy problem. The new policy was that there would be students assigned to the door of each classroom and when the late bell rang the door to every classroom would be closed and locked. No student admitted without administration escort. Students caught out of the classrooms at this point would be escorted to a central point by staff and suspended.

    When I heard this I thought that somebody was going overboard and it’ll never work.

    Guess what, all the tardies stopped. There was a short break in period where students and parents tested the school to see if we really meant it. We did. Students were sent home and suspended (after a few break-in days where tardies were forced to sit in an outdoor area for a lecture). Very few people got suspended and not repeatedly. It was almost like they knew their classmates were waiting to slam the door in their faces just as they reached the classroom – people got their behinds into the classroom at the warning bell.

    Changes were made, adjustments were done. The tardies all stopped. It was a miracle.

    Draconian Policies can work.

    If your school wants the tardies to stop – which they may not.. look at the schools actions, not their words.. all the school has to do is to stop entertaining the tardies. Tell Mommy and Daddy to take Jr home if they reach the school late – Jr can’t come to school that day. Watch what happens. Make it clear to the players that classrooms are not to be interrupted and if you are late you just missed the train completely. They will understand the locked door.

    But if the school intends to continue the current scheme just keep bleating to the parents as before and see if they ever change.

  • http://www.spunkyhomeschool.blogspot.com Spunky

    “Sorry all, the very reason we have the States is to prevent centralization of power and decision making. The Feds power is limited by the US Constitution – I know it’s ignored but it’s still law. The states are free to make education policy as they please, not as we Californians think they should.”

    And the Federal Department of Ed. all but admits this on its website,

    “”Please note that in the U.S., the federal role in education is limited. Because of the Tenth Amendment, most education policy is decided at the state and local levels.”

    Notice how they slip in a “most” when the Tenth Amendment allows none. But when you take the king’s shilling you do the king’s bidding. The states want money and they are willing to give the Feds increasing control in return.

    “It is time America dumps the education model that is failing – the political model – and brings about decent education reform that pushes our youth to achieve by holding them (and their parents) accountable for conduct in school and the learning process as a whole. The days of free day care (school) should end. Education may be a right, but it is a badly exercised one at this time. Students do not have the right to thwart the education system and their parents should not have the right to let them. This country has too much at stake.”

    This is backwards, the schools are not the equipped to hold parents accountable because the work FOR the parents. Parents are responsible for holding their local schools accountable because technically they employ the teachers to instruct their children in their place. But because the state removed direct payment from parent to teacher, the schools now believe they work for the state and must hold parents accountable. Until the payer system is restored there is no mechanism for accountability that will work effectively.

    And the teachers better get used to reporting to a national school board and national standards benchmarked internationally. All not good for local control and parental involvement.

  • Nextset

    Spunky: Local control and parental involvement is a big probloem when the locality is lower class. I can argue that lower class should have very litle control of anything. State power over education is intended to avoid national rot from the center (Washington). State COntrol doesn’t mean letting idiot parents program their kids to follow them in life.

    I don’t believe public school teachers work for the parents, no more than private school teachers do. The teachers are teaching to a standard (which should include flunking nonperformers). That standard is what the employers are hiring for and what the families are sending the kids to meet. The failure and disgrace of the urban public schools is that they either have no standards or the wrong standards. For example not teaching standard english and not teaching deportment and citizenship which together render their working class products unemployable.

  • http://www.spunkyhomeschool.blogspot.com Spunky

    I don’t believe public school teachers work for the parents, that ended with compulsory education laws. Teachers are teaching to a standard, but whose standards should they pick. It’s easy to say the standard be what employers are hiring, but is that the ultimate goal of a well-eduated child, employability? I hope not, nor do I think that is what families are sending their kids to meet, although that is part of the goal.

    Most parents send their children to school because that is what they think they are supposed to do, not really even thinking about the reasons. I frequently as people “why do you educate your child?” And the blank stare that is returned tells me the question is rarely thought about. I asked our State Superintendant of Public Instruction what it means to be well-educated and he stammered for a few minutes and said, “No one has ever asked me that before.” He then stammered out a few things like reading great books and going to the Art Institute.

    When the locality is lower class, we are enabling parents to be uninvolved by not requiring anything of them in order for their child to be there. People rarely value what is free but when it costs them something they will take it more seriously. The problem is that as a society we have individually protected our citizens against personal failure that we have caused the whole system to fail. Public instruction was designed to help the poor get educated but after decades of effort we having made any progress. Rather than admit that the original design was flawed from the start, we continue to prop up a dead horse and try and get it to run.

  • Nextset

    Spunky: Yes, the ultimate goal of mass education is employability (and staying out of jail). What else is there? College and higher learning is in no way the mission of the public schools. It’s nice if a section of the student body goes on to high education. But that is optional (a nice option, and not realistic for the majority of public school kids).

    The public school stands between the students and poverty and social immobility and decline. It provides a floor that the kids are not supposed to fall below. In that we are failing. We should not be failing.

    The public schools cannot use the parents as an excuse for anything. That was no excuse during the worst of the depression when the public schools assimilated foreign immigrants (non-english speaking at that) into US Society. It’s no excuse now. Our public school system should do a better job now than in 1925, not a worse one.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Nextset and Spunky:

    There is besides employment as the goal of education Thomas Jefferson and the idea that a democracy needs an educated electorate.

    Jim Mordecai

  • harlemmoon

    Thomas Jefferson, the slave-owning, fornicating, slave baby-making protector of white superiority? THAT Thomas Jefferson?
    Jim, one should choose the source of quotable quotes more selectively.
    His idea of an educated electorate did not include entire swaths of the population – those with dark skin and breasts. Sheesh.

  • Nextset

    Marlemmoon: Get over it. Jefferson was a great man and a giant of his time period. As far as the story of Sally Hemmings – prove it. The genetic testing to date is not definitive – it could have been the other relative and even so – who cares?

    Even if the Puritians and the founding fathers were party animals, they set up a nation that became the biggest engine of industry and progress despite the competiton of the first world nations. You don’t see England, France and Spain having built what the USA has, even if we are throwing it all away on collectivism. The collection of players like Washington, Jefferson, Ben Franklin and the rest did this. They turned this nation from an Indian occupied wasteland into what we have. And I for one like this with all it’s faults better than Europe where some relatives live and certainly better than Sub-Sahara Africa where some in-laws fled. The principles of the founding people of the USA of limited central government with checks and balances, no Kings, No Aristocracy, and widely dispersed voting was novel and it’s too bad much of it is being undone.

    And remember, all of them faced execution by drawing and quartering if their little enterprise had failed. So we think much more of them rather than some of the Johnny-Come-Latelys we might have holidays for.

  • Nextset

    Typo: I meant Harlemmoon, sorry about that!

  • harlemmoon

    Nextset, clearly you haven’t read your history – or your current events.
    What YOUR so-called Founding Fathers did was set the stage for a socio-economic class struggle that would invariably place one group atop another if for no other reason than one was white and had a penis and all the “others” did not. That “engine of industry and progress” you reference was the result of unspeakable violence – first against the folks you refer to as Indians (Tsk, tsk, Nextset, don’t you know that they were so named because the ever-lost Columbus thought he was in India and that was the erroneous word he uttered upon seeing those whom he would later capture, rape and kill) and then Africans. That engine you refer to was also fueled by stolen labor, which even today has regrettable repercussions on the African continent and here in America.
    My friend, you claim to be black. If so, were you aware that your so-called Fathers never considered you a full human being and had every desire to keep you and your ilk in bondage in perpetuity while they demanded their freedom? Bet TJ wouldn’t be so “great a man” if you were one of the ones held in bondage, having the life sucked out of you while your wife and daughters were repeatedly assaulted – all while you stood helpless in the shadows of your Fathers.