Should All States Meet the Same Education Standards?

The debate over national standards in education has returned to Capitol Hill.

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A coalition of education leaders, advocacy groups, and teachers unions is pushing for the development of nationalized common academic standards, an oft-debated tool of education that has yet to be truly implemented. This new groundswell of support for common standards—which would create a single framework of material and skills for students to master in all 50 states and the District of Columbia—is signaling that national standards might be moving closer to reality.

Witnesses testifying recently before the House Committee on Education and Labor said that common standards would better prepare all students to compete in a global economy. In his opening statement, the committee's chairman, George Miller, said the country's current policy—in which academic standards vary from state to state—leads to schools covering too many topics in each grade. In countries with higher-performing education systems, he said, standards require schools to cover fewer topics but to do so in greater depth. American schools, Miller said, end up with a curriculum that is "a mile wide and an inch deep."

Dave Levin, cofounder of the Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools, said in his testimony that without common core standards, "there really is no way to share what is working and what is not working from one state to the next."

All of the witnesses appearing before the committee seemed to agree about the need for fewer, clearer, and higher standards nationwide to help impart the knowledge and skills that students must have to thrive in an international economy.

"U.S. students and teachers don't have a clear understanding of what they need to know and be able to do," said James Hunt Jr., a former governor of North Carolina and foundation chair of the James Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy. "The standards are all over the place. They are vague. There are too many."

But what are the true forces at play when other countries' schools are cited as performing better than ones in the United States? Are better standards the cause of other nations' success or the effect? How much do such factors as the country's culture, the length of the school year, crime rates, and poverty, affect student achievement relative to the academic standards?

If all goes to plan, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, by the end of this summer, states could see a common set of standards for math and English/language arts in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Click here to see Chairman Miller's opening statement, witness testimony, and a full video of the hearing.

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