Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Do high standards really help kids?

Ohanian Comment: I point out once again that the Governor's Association's Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers led the Common Core standards initiative because they were paid over $35 million by the Gates Foundation to do so. Bill Gates is the man behind the curtain.

"The Gates Foundation's agenda is very much aligned with the Obama Administration agenda. We partner with them on a whole host of things."

—Peter Cunningham, Arne's spokesman
Bloomberg Business Week, 7/15/10

Kudos to Valerie Strauss for giving somebody besides the usual suspects some ink on this.

by Valerie Strauss

Today we learn from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that the proposed national math and English-language standards are "clearly superior" to those standards in most of the states. Well, so what? Are national standards an effective education reform?

A second report, coincidentally (?) released on the same day as the Fordham assessment of state standards, gives this answer: Not really.

Its author, William J. Mathis, managing director of the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, looked at the available research and concludes that there is very little evidence to prove that establishing national academic standards for K-12 schools will improve the quality of American public education.

“It is almost irrelevant,” Mathis said.

Let’s take it from the top:

The Fordham report, as my colleague Nick Anderson reported in this article, compared the Common Core Standards for math and English language arts with those in the 50 states and Washington D.C. It concludes that the voluntary national standards -- which have been adopted by 27 states with perhaps a dozen expected to follow soon -- are "clearly superior" to the math standards in 39 states and to the English-language arts standards in 37 states, including Maryland.

The institute’s president, Chester E. Finn Jr., does say that “good standards are not a cure-all,” a painfully obvious observation.

The institute’s report notes, Anderson reports, that the current D.C. standards in English are superior to the common core standards, even though D.C. public schools have long been among the weakest in the country.

This is where Mathis comes in.

He looked at existing research and in his report, jointly published by EPIC and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University, concludes that standards aren’t necessarily a bad thing but won’t by themselves improve student achievement and may take the focus on other reforms that do.

He says that high standards are all well and good, and nobody would argue against setting them. But without support for teachers to implement them and a linked curriculum, and without addressing out-of-school factors that influence student achievement, the standards have no real meaning.

“With almost two decades of experience with standards-based accountability systems, we have no clear evidence that they are particularly effective,” it says. “Beneficial effects on average test scores are minimal and some troubling evidence suggests negative effects on the achievement gap and the drop-out rate.”

Mathis takes issue with standards advocates, who argue that common standards are necessary for keeping the nation competitive in a global economy. He says there are no studies to support a true causal relationship between national standards and economic competitiveness; instead, research shows that national economic competitiveness is influenced far more by economic decisions than by test scores.

This matters because national standards have become a big deal in the Obama era. The Common Core Standards movement is led by the Governor’s Association’s Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers and its leaders say that the standards are voluntary.

But the Obama administration clearly wants states to adopt common standards. States that apply for funds from the administration’s main education initiative, the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program, can win 70 out of a total of 500 points for development and adopting common standards and aligned assessments.

Any state wanting Race money would be silly not to join the initiative, and so most of them are -- whether they have any impact or not.

But what’s new in education reform?

— Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Answer Sheet


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.