National standards for education

Walter Isaacson, former editor of TIME, argues that we need them:

It required each state to ensure that its students achieve “universal proficiency” in reading and math — but allowed each to define what that meant. The result was that many states made their job easier by setting their bar lower. This race to the bottom resulted in a Lake Wobegon world where every state declared that its kids were better than average. Take the amazing case of Mississippi. According to the standards it set for itself, 89% of its fourth-graders were proficient or better in reading, making them the best in the nation. Yet according to the random sampling done every few years by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, a mere 18% of the state’s fourth-graders were proficient, making them the worst in the nation. Even in Lake Wobegon that doesn’t happen. Only in America. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, led by reformer Chester Finn Jr., has been analyzing state standards for more than a decade and concludes, “Two-thirds of U.S. children attend schools in states with mediocre standards or worse.”

More after the jump.

The best example of this is that a fourth-grader who is “proficient” in Mississippi would be failing in Massachusetts (where, I, for one, didn’t find the test to be that hard).  Tackling the issue is a priority for Arne Duncan.

Duncan’s position on common standards is clear: “If we accomplish one thing in the coming years, it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America,” he says. “I know that talking about standards can make people nervous, but the notion that we have 50 different goalposts is absolutely ridiculous.”

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