Standards and sausage

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have agreed to work on common K-12 standards. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have taken the lead.

When students get their high school diplomas, the coalition says, they should be ready to tackle college or a job. The benchmarks would be “internationally competitive.”

Once the organizers of the effort agree to a proposal, each state would decide individually whether to adopt it.

I’m with Flypaper, which compared states’ signing on to standards to people joining a health club in January. We don’t know yet who’s committed and who’s not.

Creating national standards is like making sausage, writes Jay Greene. Only harder to do well.

. . . when everyone gets into the sausage-making that characterizes policy formulation, it generally becomes clear that no one is going to get what they want out of national standards. What’s worse is that the resulting mess would be imposed on everyone. There’d be no more laboratory of the states, just uniform banality.

Of course, some people always hope that they’ll somehow manage to sneak their preferred vision into place without having to go through the meat grinder. That’s what is happening now with the National Governor’s Association effort at “voluntary” national standards. In a process completely lacking in transparency and open-debate, some are rushing to announce a national standards fait accompli.

He quotes Sandra Stotsky, who worries that the standards development process is not transparent, and Sandy Kress, who warns in an Eduwonk comment that states will get a lot less enthusiastic about standards when they realize how incredibly hard it is to agree on something decent.

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  1. I wonder if it would be possible to do with national standards what teachers in our math department do with “common assessments”–that is, we come up with a set of, say, 15 questions in a chapter taht we all will give to students, and then we individually add whatever else we want to.

    In other words, the “common” part is a core, upon which each teacher builds a test.

  2. In a word, no.

    Over at Jay Greene’s blog I quoted Mark Twain about the law and sausage:

    Those that respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made

    Since any national standards will emerge from the political process what those standards look like will bear a strong resemblance to those most influential in its creation but even with that unpromising birthright it’ll still be a political compromise which bodes to make the results even less appealing.

    That does play into the hands of the defenders of the educational status quo since they’re inherently opposed to any measures of accountability. A terrible, politically-driven standard that measures nothing worthwhile and draws the ire of everyone who does value education could easily poison the idea of standards as far as the public’s concerned.