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K-12: Do We Need National Standards?

by Scott Bittle

Friday, March 12th, 2010

What should American students learn? And should they all be learning the same things, from Maine to California?

This is an old argument, but it's been given new and relevant life by the "common core" standards released for comment this week. A joint project of the nation's governors and chief state school officers, the core standards initiative is supposed to set out benchmarks for English and math in K-12 classrooms, and could have a huge impact nationwide. All but two states have been involved in the process to develop the standards. Each state would still have to decide whether or not to adopt the final product, however.

There are both pros and cons to the idea of national standards, but two observations stand out for us. Firstly, Public Agenda's research has consistently found that the public supports the idea of standards, broadly speaking (although we haven't asked about national vs state or local standards recently). The last time we looked at this, we found most parents and other stakeholders say standards are "necessary, but not sufficient" to make progress. Social problems and funding were also major concerns.

The second observation comes from our work in Nebraska, where Public Agenda ran Choicework public engagement forums helping state officials and citizens work through the process of setting statewide school standards. We found most Nebraskans in the forums seemed to think setting standards for basic skills like English and math was a common sense idea - it was in other areas, like history, that this proved to be more controversial.

If you want to weigh in, the Core Standards Initiative is seeking public comment through April 2.


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