AFT head Randi Weingarten goes all Al Shanker in the WaPo calling for national standards. She makes a lot of good points and a few cautions that are too infrequently laid out. So just a few quibbles here.
Weingarten notes that there is little outrage about the patchwork of standards among the states. I disagree. There is loads of outrage about it, from people on all sides of the national standards issue. There is just a lot of disagreement about how to solve the problem.* She also points out that countries outperforming the U.S. on national assessments have more uniform curriculum and standards. True enough. But so do some countries that do worse. And countries above and below us do lots of different things in the education and broader social policy space as well. The point: On a variety of issues from standards and assessment to choice and teacher quality, international comparisons have become one of the great correlation – causation fallacies in education debates today.
Finally, I’m hardly against national standards per se, in core subjects they make sense and can help provide some much needed curricular coherence. But, my concern about much of the national standards push more generally is that it seems a distraction from the core problem the country faces today: A system of public education that dramatically and dangerously under-serves low-income students and students of color. And it doesn’t under-serve them by a matter of degree but substantially. That’s much more a political problem than a substantive one and while better standards and more fine-grained measurement are important, their absence is not why we are where we are today and we should not lose sight of that.
Also, from Crooked Timber, here’s a related take on all this that’s worth checking out.
Update: Panic weighs-in here. Two quick reax. First, the above post was not intended to damn with faint praise. On the contrary I liked the piece but just saying I liked it wouldn’t be a very interesting blog post and there were things worth discussing. Second, to his argument, I agree that a lack of curriculum is part of the achievement problem, but there are ways to solve that short of national standards.