Not surprisingly, the left is somewhat more grounded. More than 10 years of the No Child Left Behind high-stakes testing regimen have left many rightly concerned about schools teaching to the test, giving students educations based more on rote memorization than real learning. It's a legitimate concern, but it raises a pair of responses. First, the fact is that even if the current testing regime (or regimes, since each state develops its own) is suboptimal, we still need to be able to keep track of how we're doing. The key is developing better tests – and figuring out how to better use them. And that's part of what's driving the development of the Common Core tests, which are scheduled to go online in the 2014-15 school year. The notion behind them is to gauge things like problem-solving, research, writing and other such deep skills.
The standards are tough, as New York and Kentucky, for example, have already discovered, with surprising proportions of their students not meeting them. But what's the point of having standards if they're not demanding? Nevertheless, their experience raises questions about the extent to which states will stand by them in the face of early poor results.
The other pressing issue involves the tea party fringe, which calls the standards "Obamacore." It's a major policy overhaul with bipartisan roots supported by President Obama. Sound familiar? With the tests debuting during the next school year, there's even a date against which activists can rally – during an election year. Get ready for the next big fight.