State Standards are Low; Do We Need National Standards?

In the report on state proficiency standards Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón and I released today, we show that state proficiency standards are not about to rise rapidly to world-class levels.  It is true that the standards in reading rose noticeably between 2007 and 2009, but in math they slipped. Overall, the change in standards, for better or worse, does not amount to much.  For every state like Arizona that raised its standards, there is another, like South Carolina, which lowered them.

Does this mean that we should establish national standards?  For some, a positive answer is obvious.  But one worries that any national proficiency standard, to become politically acceptable, will hover not much above the level of the one picked by the “C” states in our analysis.

It is a matter of fact that states vary enormously in their history, demography, tradition of educational excellence, and willingness to reform their schools. Perhaps the best that can be done is to document the diversity of state expectations for student proficiency.   Armed with that information, action will hopefully take place, gradually, state by state. But when it does happen, it will be grounded in local political reality, not subject to the constantly changing political winds that blow through the nation’s capital.

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