National standards: Has the time finally come?

A topic that leads to great speechifying and chest beating in state legislatures is “national standards.”  Georgia lawmakers practically sneer when they say the words. They don’t them them.

Why? Most Western European countries follow national curricula in their schools and chart their students’ progress through national testing. And those countries typically outscore the United States on achievement measures.

Yet we remain wary of  national standards and tests, insisting that American parents can gauge their children’s skills through the hodgepodge of   local standards and tests.  Without national benchmarks, Georgia parents can’t compare their children’s performance with students in New York or Maryland. Yet their children will be competing with those kids for college slots and jobs.

The issue is now on the forefront since National Governors Association Center for Best Practices  and the Council of Chief State School Officers released a public draft of the college- and career-readiness standards in English-language arts and mathematics for k-12

“This draft represents a significant, but early, step on the road toward the promise of common standards for our nation. ..Over time, assessments and instructional materials aligned to the new standards will need to be developed to yield real and meaningful improvement in the classroom experience,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia

The PTA also endorses the plan. “Geographic or socio-economic factors should not dictate the level of education that all students are entitled to receive. The great benefit of the standards is that they will ensure a level playing field among states, school districts and schools that will give all students the opportunity to be ready for their college and career,”  said Charles J. “Chuck” Saylors, National PTA president.

Are we finally ready for national standards?

29 comments Add your comment


September 22nd, 2009
10:52 am

Consider this another plug for the ITBS. We do need some type of national standard as our children are competing not just with students in other parts of the country but the world. Anything that can be done to show a competitive advantage can help with recruiting businesses to this area.


September 22nd, 2009
11:33 am

Standards, eh? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’ll fix our problems in education. I can hardly wait to find out how our students compare to the students in North Dakota…just think of all the data we could have at our finger tips! (end sarcasm)

So, Bob Wise says, “…over time, assessments and instructional materials aligned to the new standards will need to be developed to yield real and meaningful improvement in the classroom experience”.

How “assessments and instructional materials” are going to lead to “real and meaningful improvement in the classroom experience” is beyond me.

Now if Mr. Wise had said “ridding the classroom of chronically disruptive students, who have no desire for an education, will yield real and meaningful improvement in the classroom experience”, I would be thinking Mr. Wise is indeed wise. But he didn’t, and I don’t.

Fifteen years ago I was fully supportive of public education, and I was 100% anti-voucher. Now, after 8 years of teaching, and 13 years of following my three kids through Georgia public schools, I’m resigned to the belief that nothing meaningful can be done to “reform” public education. Education is a gargantuan bureaucracy, managed by administrative dead weight, and dispensed largely by organized labor groups, which makes it virtually impervious to change. All that can be done is to tweek a little here and tweek a little there, and every few years let’s change or invent some new terminology (edu-speak) so that it at least sounds as if they’re being innovative, but NOTHING EVER CHANGES! Public education, as it exists today, cannot be reformed or fixed. And unfortunately, it can’t be killed either (the monster is too big). For better (not likely) or worse (very likely), it’s here to stay.

I’m sorry…it seems I’ve provided nothing useful here in my little rant. But at least I feel a little better. Hopefully someone else will come along with something a little more constructive.



September 22nd, 2009
12:18 pm

Fifty plus years ago, the federal government wrested control away from the locals in the ill advised Brown vs. Board decision. Has federal intervention in the education system improved it?

I think not.

Why should we expect any improvements with even more federal intervention?

“Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” comes to mind…

jim d

September 22nd, 2009
12:19 pm

Drew, don’t despair,

The monster can be devoured by yet a larger monster. (National Standards)


September 22nd, 2009
12:54 pm

We probably will not want to compare GA kids to N. or S.Dakoka, Iowa, Wisconson or many of the states in that area. They have been known or good schools and low expendatures of money, along with lack of diversity.

Dr. John Trotter

September 22nd, 2009
12:59 pm

The pig doesn’t weigh enough. Therefore, let’s keep weighing the pig. Yes, we need new scales. [I am too busy today. I will weigh in (no pun intended) later on why these "national standards" will NOT improve public education.]


September 22nd, 2009
1:50 pm

I’m not a fan of nationalization of education. NCLB has pretty nearly screwed up education to the point of no return.

That being said, the CRCT (a product of NCLB) is a mess! Any criterion referenced testing that measures the number of kids that can meet bare minimum standards is a joke . It only encourages mediocrity and reduction of standards to the lowest possible level so that a state can say, “Wow, look how many of our children are meeting standards! Look how few schools we have to bother to reform!!”

In Decatur we have instituted this thing called a MAP test. It’s a nationally norm referenced test produced by NWEA that our kids take three times a year. It occurs more often in the year than the CRCT but is administered in a way that takes relatively little time out of the instructional day. It tells our teachers/admins/parents, etc. several very useful things: 1) How are our kids doing in comparison to all other kids nationwide who take the MAP test, both individually and as a group? 2) How is each individual kid doing in comparison to other kids in the district? 3) Individually and as a group, on what specific skills do our children seem to know what they are doing and where are they weak academically? 4) How much have our individual children and our children as a group grown during the year – how much did they learn? 5) How does their growth compare with others in the district and others nationwide?

We can answer these questions about any individual student or about any group of students, whether that is a racial group, a grade level group, special ed, gifted students or even a classroom group (I’d like to see it used to deal with teachers whose students show relatively little or no growth year after year).

IMO, MAP has its issues, and, from what I have observed, it seems that with some types of children (right brained children in particular) it might give less than consistent results. However, if the kinks can be worked through, and its limitations are respected, it is a far more accurate and informative tool than the CRCT. Plus, MAP encourages raising standards and constantly improving/differentiating instruction rather than lowering standards, triaging students and teaching to the bottom of the class.

So, in a nutshell, if national standards met that all of our schools would go to something like MAP testing, and if we could get rid of most of the high stakes, punitive provisions of NCLB, then I would be supportive of national standards. Our kids (hopefully) are not just going to be competing with GA kids for college spots and jobs so we need to understand what they know in comparison to kids nationwide (and worldwide for that matter).

I don’t think that we need any sort of specific national standards. I think that if we just compare kids to each other as a nation on a norm referenced test and focus on rewarding excellence rather than punishing failure, then all standards will rise.

We do need to continue to disaggregate data though, but gifted kids should also be broken out to determine their growth and achievement. We are not doing our country any good to hide and devalue those kids who have the most potential to innovate.

V for Vendetta

September 22nd, 2009
1:56 pm


I completely agree with your post. However, I do think public education can be killed off. It might not happen overnight, but it would/could be possible over the course of several years. A few things would be needed:

A return of tax monies extorted from the people by federal, state, and local authorities.

An end to the current bottom-up approach to education

The banishment of all religion from the educational system

The . . .

Hrm. Nevermind. It will never happen.


September 22nd, 2009
4:17 pm

The purpose of the development of so-called national standards is so we can institute a national test. Testing does not improve student achievement. Testing will not solve the problems that cause schools to have low achievement. Testing will not make kids smarter.

Some have referenced “a level playing field.” Do you know how a field is leveled? Dirt is moved from higher areas to lower areas. That is exactly what will happen with student achievement. The areas that see higher achievement will see decreases and the areas with low achievement may see increases. In other words, this will be the ultimate assault that will dumb down education.

No to national standards.

Maureen Downey

September 22nd, 2009
8:43 pm

Tony, Why hasn’t this been the case with other countries with national standards?


September 22nd, 2009
8:59 pm

national standards= socialism
I agree with Lee and Drew.
Every program the federal government touches goes down the drain. Stay out of education and allow state and local officials to make decisions.

V for Vendetta

September 22nd, 2009
9:23 pm

Rosie and decaturparent,

Education already IS nationalized/socialized because it’s government-run. The only way to get education back on track is to get the government OUT of the education business. But people seem bound and determined to forget the principle’s of small government on which this country was founded. The Conservatives down here in the South–and elsewhere across America–like to pretend they’re for small government, but they’re not. They’re too busy trying to out Jesus each other.

And therein lies the rub: In order to save this country, people who hold classically liberal values–i.e., Libertarians and Objectivists–must hold power. But Liberals won’t vote for them because of their fiscal conservatism and small-government values, and Conservatives won’t vote for them because of their socially liberal morality and humanistic (i.e., anti-religion) ideology.

As long as the United States remains a primarily two-party country, we can expect more of the same: big spending, big lies, and BIG GOVERNMENT.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

September 22nd, 2009
10:05 pm

Ernest, the ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) doesn’t need any plugs.


September 22nd, 2009
10:10 pm

Re “Why hasn’t this been the case with other countries with national standards?”

1. Other countries are the geographic and population equivalent of one or two of our states.
2. Other countries have a relatively homogeneous student population.

Don’t worry though, other countries, most notably Britain and France, have forsaken their national sovereignty by allowing a mass influx of third world immigration – much like the US. We’ll see how they fare in another twenty years or so.

Dr. Pohl

September 22nd, 2009
11:13 pm

A national test would save us enormous amounts of money. It costs mega-millions for each state to develop its own 5th grade math or 11th grade grammar questions. WHY do we need 50 versions? Can’t we all agree on what a 5th or 11th grader should know in the core subjects? Of course, we already HAVE good national tests (e.g., ITBS or MAP, but especially the excellent NAEP tests). Let’s use them, but smartly, remembering their limitations.

What’s more, since the major text books are sold nationally, we already have an implicit national curriculum, and thus implicit national standards. Unfortunately the textbook contents are determined by a very few narrow-minded state boards of education (not educators) of the publishers’ biggest customers, i.e., Texas and California. I, for one, would prefer a thoughtful, diverse group of folks from across the nation determining curriculum and standards for our nation’s children, rather than the way it’s determined now.

Having local control of education strikes me as absurd in a country where people are frequently moving from state to state. Is geometry or chemistry or US history really different across state lines? Would it not make sense for families who move around to have their kids ease into the transition from school to school by facing a similar curriculum? And as many commentators here have already pointed out, what Georgia employers expect as job-related skills is surely no different from what Massachusetts employers look for.

Local control once made sense when folks stayed pretty close to home. It doesn’t make sense in the 21st Century.


September 23rd, 2009
7:55 am

I think most parents understand that the way school wo rks now is, well not working. I’m not sure how many of you have taken the the time to read the national standards draft. I’m still working on the math but the LA standards are so vague that I really see them as useless. You should also remember that they(writers) have stressed, standards are not curriculum.

The achievment gap will continue to widen as more and more parents make sacrifices to pull children from public schools.

Once again Maureen, do some real reporting and let’s get these issues where more parents will see them. It’s the same handful that blog and it’s not enough to change anything.

My children have quite the spread in age. My older child received a significantly different, more challenging education than my youngest – same schools, same teachers, different curriculum. at least I’m aware and can make changes at home. What about the thousands of parents who think the schools are doing their jobs?


September 23rd, 2009
8:13 am

Dr. Pohl – Could you please take over the school district? I totally agree. We are wasting tax dollars on trying to reinvent the wheel. Yes, history, english and yes even MATH is the same in every state. But no here in Georgia we have to spend millions on developing NEW MATH instead of just teaching basic math skills well. I think the BOE would be afraid to put our Georgia educated children up against the nation. How would they ever pass a basic math skills test?

Reality 2

September 23rd, 2009
8:28 am

I’m totally surprised to see such a non-sense coming from Tony who is usually very reasonable.

Parent – GA math isn’t any new math. Have you actually read the standards? The contents are the same. They are just packaged differently – more like what many Asian and European countries do. It would be to your benefit to first find out about the things you want to criticize. You just look so ignorant.

I find the argument that a national standard means socialism. I don’t really have a negative view on socialism, so my view may be biased in the opposite direction. But, we have national standards in so many different areas, why not in math, or science, or history, etc.???

If, and only if, we have a national standards, a nationally normed tests like ITBS will be somewhat meaningful to assess how well our schools are performing. Using ITBS currently to assess how well schools are doing is like testing baseball players skills by having them play basketball.


September 23rd, 2009
8:46 am

Reality 2 – I think name calling is ignorant. I am involved in the NEW MATH – in my opinion it is a waste. We are not Asians or Europeans, we are Americans. So what did Georgia spend so much money on a new package for the same old math, if the contents are the same – that’s a waste of money.


September 23rd, 2009
8:52 am

One more point, I challange Georgia to give these NEW MATH STUDENTS basic tests in Geometry, Algebra, and Trig and see how they do. Why didn’t the Freshman high school math 1 students last year take the Algebra 1, and Geometry EOCTs, if Algebra 1 and Geometry were incorporated into Math 1?


September 23rd, 2009
11:23 am

I have to agree with Parent, Reality 2 are you Kathy Cox? New Math/REform math used in GA is vastly different than what was taught 5 years ago. Nothing must be in rote memory, math facts are considered mastered if the student can perform them using maniupulaties, i.e. counters. This is throughout ES. If the student never masters the basic skills then working memory is not freed up to process more complex problems. Multiplication is taught using arrays and estimation. Focus is not on the correct answer but the process. I still have the paper where my daughter got the problem correct using traditional methods but lost full credit because the teacher said only array methods. My daughter’s friend received partial credit for using array method but getting the answer incorrect. The list goes on and on. Look at the studies from Andover, MI where this new method was tried and compared to a traditional method. Over 60% of the students in the new math had to take remedial math at the college level, did not feel they ever truly learned math, many could not balance their checkbooks the list goes on and on.

Reality 2

September 23rd, 2009
11:38 am


“Know the single-digit addition facts to 18 and corresponding subtraction facts with understanding and fluency.”
“Correctly add and subtract two whole numbers up to three digits each with regrouping.”
“Know the multiplication facts with understanding and fluency to 10 x 10.”

These are some of the statements directly out of the GPS. The last one about multiplication is from Grade 3. In Grade 2, they say, “Use repeated addition, arrays, and counting by multiples (skip counting) to correctly multiply 1-digit numbers and construct the multiplication table.” So, their expectations develop across grades. Of course, teachers should make appropriate adjustments based on what students do understand.

I think it will be perfectly fine if a student can use “traditional” method to calculate. But there are plenty of adults who have no idea why those methods work. We want students who are not only proficient with “traditional” methods, but understand them in such a way that they can adjust their approaches when appropriate.


September 23rd, 2009
12:26 pm

Fulton County Schools 2010 Spring Test Schedule

March 15-19, 2010 Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT)* Grade 11
April 26-30, 2010 Georgia End-of-Course Tests (EOCT) Grades 9-12
May 3-14, 2010 Advanced Placement (AP) Exams AP students

If I were still a junior in high school spring semester 2010, I would have told my teachers and administration to go to H3LL. There is entirely too much testing in public education.

In some cases, such as Fulton County Schools the EOCT is given almost a full month before that last day of class. With the GHSGT testing before the EOCT, as juniors, the students will have 4 to 5 full weeks of total teaching time not available to them before they take the EOCT. If the student is also taking an AP Class, the AP Exams are the week after the EOCT. This situation diminishes the time available for the students study and become prepared for those particular exams.

Testing is used as over kill in Georgia. Moreover, I agree with the response of Parent @ 8:52am. Let’s stop renaming the classes to make it look like we are achieving something in education.

As a current college student, when I go to tutor middle and high school students I am finding that some of these students have issues with fractions and decimals. FRACTIONS & DECIMALS! How can a student have problems with these elementary concepts still be expected to pass the more complicated studies such as Trig and Algebra?

How to reform public education:

Switch to a year round school schedule consisting of 3 semesters with each semester consisting of 13 weeks on instruction and last week of testing leaving 3 weeks of play between each semester, including major holidays. This will allow a student to take 15 a year if 5 classes are taken per semester. For those subjects that may require a longer teaching time than 14 weeks, create a part 1 and a part 2 for that subject.


September 23rd, 2009
12:41 pm

Since I’ve been in the classroom for 32 years, I have a few observations about elementary school math. The third graders I taught in previous years were expected to master multiplication facts through the 9’s tables before they left the third grade in May. We also worked on adding and subtracting with 3-digit numbers until they were able to competently solve said problems. By the end of the year, we moved to 4-digits. We learned telling time to the minute, standard measurement, introduction to metric measurement, and some beginning geometry. The problem now is there is so much to “cover” that students don’t have time to totally master anything. We spend a week or so and move on because there are 8 new things to learn the first 9 weeks. Last year I taught a group of 4th graders and had to start back at square one with multiplication facts because they had never mastered them. You don’t have time to use manipulatives or draw an array if you’re trying to solve a 2-digit times 3-digit problem, which is where 4th grade math started. The elementary years need to be devoted to a solid base in mathematical properties and operations, and basic problem solving.


September 23rd, 2009
12:55 pm

How to reform public education:

Switch to a year round school schedule consisting of 3 semesters with each semester consisting of 13 weeks on instruction and last week of testing leaving 3 weeks of play between each semester, including major holidays. This will allow a student to take 15 a year if 5 classes are taken per semester. For those subjects that may require a longer teaching time than 14 weeks, create a part 1 and a part 2 for that subject.

Starting with middle school, eliminate all exams except for the EOCT, but make the EOCTs the national standard per subject. If there are 12 concepts that should be mastered for Algebra then students should be tested on those 12 concepts. If a student fails the exam, he or she can be placed into the class again to hopefully learn the missed concepts. However, if majority of a class taught by a specific teacher continues to fail the exam after 3 semesters of 3 different classes, place the teacher on 1 year probation, if it continues the next year, at the end of the year replace the teacher.

Discipline: Get back to common sense punishments. Stop overreacting on the small issues and under reacting on the huge issues.

Student is chewing gum, but gum chewing is not allowed – detention.

If violence (fighting) is involved between students – suspension for all individuals involved

Student hit teacher (Excluding self defense) – Expulsion with recommendation for alternative schooling

Teacher hit student (Excluding self defense) – fired, contract canceled, and license to teach in state revoked for a time to be judged by a panel.

**Removing problem children. – If a child is aggressive / violent / disruptive with regards to the students, teachers and administration move that child to an Alternative school. The alternative school should not only have police, but counselors /child psychologist to help determine why the child is acting out. Then provide appropriate assistance.

Allow teachers to be able to instruct on the traditional ways and new creative ways.


September 23rd, 2009
1:36 pm

LongtimeEducator – I wish you taught my children math.

Reality 2

September 23rd, 2009
2:23 pm

Longtime Educator,

Fascinating post – are you claiming that the old standards (QCC, I believe) had less contents than the new GPS? Let’s see, is this the second or third year of the GPS implementation at Grades 3-5? Are you saying that there are that much more materials compared to only 3 years ago? Isn’t your difficulty more to do with the mastery expectations that we didn’t seem to have previously – if you don’t understand, don’t worry because you will see it again next year (and next, and next …)?


September 23rd, 2009
4:42 pm

Reality 2 – LongtimeEducator still has my vote. Looks like his goals are to teach basic math skills. Reality 2 you certainly know all the educational buzz words.

Dick Schutz

September 23rd, 2009
6:04 pm

Has anyone looked at the “standards” being proposed?

These matters can be tested. (No surprise, since they were drafted by the College Board and American College Testing Program), But teaching them to all students is a whole nother story. The “standards” are purportedly prerequisite to “college and career.” In these times it’s questionable that “career” has much meaning. But these matters are certainly not required for the entry-level jobs currently available for high school graduates.
A BA or graduate level degree is the entry requirement for professional jobs. These standards might be required by admissions’ offices of highly selective colleges and universities, but Advanced Placement Course complete is a much more relevant consideration than the “standards.”

It’s easy to formulate an academic wish list and to call it “Standards.” This is essentially what each state has done. But to repeat the process on a national level and to expect any different results will be foolhardy.