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July 23 2010

Why Pass National Standards that Flunk?

Vicki E. Alger

Taking over America's doctors' offices wasn't enough, now the feds are marching to a schoolhouse near you.  Never mind that federal government is forbidden from establishing a national curriculum. And never mind that experts warn the feds' standards could further dumb down an already academically-challenged public-schooling system. DC bureaucrats aren't letting any of that stand between them and American schoolchildren.  

The final draft of the proposed national English language arts (ELA) standards would result in a significant weakening of academic standards in two of the states with some of the highest academic content standards, Massachusetts and California, according to a review published jointly by the Pacific Research Institute and the Pioneer Institute. The review, National Standards Still Don't Make the Grade, is the fourth installment of a five-part series that analyzes evolving drafts of proposed national standards coming out of DC-home, incidentally, to one of the country's worst-performing public school districts.

This latest installment finds that the proposed national ELA standards score 2.7 on a 4-point scale, compared to Massachusetts' current score of 3.9 and California's score of 3.4. "The findings of this analysis should give pause to those in California and in other high-standard states who want to rush to adopt the Common Core national standards," said PRI's Lance Izumi.

Thus far 25 states have adopted the national standards, but California has two weeks to decide whether to swap or save its current academic content standards, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Massachusetts decided earlier this week to dump its standards for the DC-light version. "They reduce literary content markedly," said the Pioneer Institute's Jim Stergios, adding that the feds' standards are weaker on vocabulary and writing requirements. Stergios added it is a "huge weakness" that students will now have to wait longer to take Algebra I, which Massachusetts students now take in 8th grade.

Last year, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers agreed to sponsor the Common Core State Standards Initiative, with encouragement from the United States Department of Education (ED) and support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Adoption of the standards was supposed to be voluntary, but ED later made adoption of the standards a criterion for states vying for federal "Race to the Top" education grant funding.

Ironically, adopting the feds' standards would have an expensive ripple effect across hundreds of districts and thousands of schools because student assessments, textbooks, and professional development for teachers would all have to be re-aligned.

Citizens in California and other states still weighing whether or not to trade down their standards in hopes of getting more cash back from the feds should ask the following questions:

•   Since when do federal standards mean better standards?

•   Where was the Congressional vote authorizing the Obama administration to impose national standards on local schools?

•   Can cash-strapped states and the feds really afford to throw out current standards, text books, curricula, and training materials for an unproven-at best-new set of standards?

•   Wouldn't it make more sense (and cents) for states simply to emulate other states with the highest standards on the books now?

The fact that the feds want to replace states' standards rather than reward them for adopting the best standards already out there suggests volumes about the feds' real intentions.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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