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Big cracks in the national standards consensus

Posted by Jim Stergios  May 10, 2011 07:30 AM

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Back in the fall, I mentioned that I thought that after the election we were going to see a lot of cracks in the façade of unity on national standards, and perhaps a separate group coalescing around Texas, as the point in opposing national standards.

Last month, I was in Texas as the Lone Star state’s commissioner of education Robert Scott advanced with State Representative Daniel Huberty a bill that would prohibit Texas from adopting the national standards or national assessments. That same day, they rolled out the most ambitious set of math standards in the country—standards that surpassed even the quality of the once-nation-leading Massachusetts and California math standards. Now Texas has the best academic K-12 standards in the country for math and English. Impressive stuff and proof that the Governor is taking the issue of international competitiveness seriously.

Then Catherine Gewertz, who writes, for EdWeek the Curriculum Matters blog catches up on some news close to our neck of the woods. She noted last week that

New Hampshire's legislature is trying to unravel the state's adoption of the common standards. A group of Republicans in the state's House of Representatives sponsored the bill, HB164, and got it through the House. It's currently before the state Senate's education committee….

One day later Catherine was back on the same theme, this time noting that Minnesota and South Carolina were looking to pull out of the so-called Common Core national standards project.

A bill under consideration in Minnesota would ensure that the state doesn't adopt the common core standards in math, and complicate any bid to retain the common English/language arts standards it did adopt.

South Carolina is considering a bill that forbids common core adoption and implementation. It seems that the bill's authors were aware of the fact that the state has, um, already adopted the standards, so it goes on to specify that any steps taken to adopt or implement them would be nullified by passage of the bill.

Minnesota had good standards and is looking to protect them. South Carolina should follow Texas' lead and develop standards that are best for them and surely better than the math and English standards now part of Common Core. Massachusetts, well, we had the nation’s best set of standards once, but we continue to stick with a poorly made, crackpot, crazed decision. (That may be pushing the picture metaphor a bit hard...)

Most importantly for the national debate is the release yesterday K-12 Innovation manifesto opposing the US Department of Education's national curriculum initiative.

It argues that current U.S. Department of Education efforts to nationalize curriculum will stifle innovation and freeze into place an unacceptable status quo; end local and state control of schooling; lack a legitimate legal basis; and impose a one-size-fits-all model on America's students.

The K-12 Innovation manifesto recognizes the importance of the moment and the decisions surrounding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by Congress, which could be used to codify the "voluntary," "state-driven" efforts to create national standards and assessments. It is a direct response to the Albert Shanker Institute's Call for Common Content, which made a full-throated if sometimes hard-to-understand call for a single curriculum for the United States.

The blog Eduflack has it right that this is the starting flag for a very interesting ESEA reauthorization fight:

After all, it has everything we need. Ideology. Dollars. For-profits. Big brother. Local control. Good data. Squishy data. And a soapbox that virtually anyone can stand on. I smell a series of DC-based education blob forums in our future...

Currently, there are 150 signers. And, yes, I signed the K-12 Innovation manifesto, though not for ideology, dollars, for-profits, or on behalf of Big Brother. I did it because of the data on Massachusetts' student performance (we've made great progress across all student populations) and the mediocre quality of the national standards (not nearly as good as what we had). There is another reason, though, and that is the state of Massachusetts may be doing well compared to other states and even other countries; but we had real improvements we needed to make in the standards, assessments and curriculum and I don't think having to work with a committee of 40-plus jurisdictions, plus the feds, plus the for-profits with significant interests in this space (Gates-related and Pearson) puts the Bay State in a strong negotiating position for our students.

And those DC-based ed blob forums? They're boring, and with few exceptions the participants have no track record of success. Psst, that's why they're in DC...

Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute. Before joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where More »

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