Worcester T&G: Keep nat'l standards voluntary

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Today’s Worcester Telegram & Gazette editorial underscores that adoption of the national standards needs to remain voluntary. The core of the argument is that the federal government should not have “legal power” over the standards.

Washington is pressing to command a greater role in dictating what American children should learn, and how they should be taught. The result could be a useful adjunct to local and state instruction, or a costly blunder into a thicket of bureaucracy that does real harm to taxpayers and students.

A common set of education standards that draws upon the collective wisdom of educators could present underachieving states and school districts with successful models to emulate, such as those in Massachusetts. But such standards must remain voluntary and advisory. Forcing a national standard onto states would be counterproductive.

The release last week of draft standards by the Common Core State Standards Initiative may seem little more than a conversation starter from a coalition expressing concern about academic achievement coast to coast. It may prove to be something more insidious: the opening salvo in an effort to draw education more firmly under federal control, with an expanding bureaucracy that seizes powers and responsibilities long reserved to states and communities.

In short, what has begun as standards linked to a competition for “Race to the Top” federal education dollars could end with Washington calling the shots, telling states what they must teach their students about history, mathematics, English, art and literature.

We see nothing wrong with Uncle Sam whispering some advice in the hallway. But he should be kept outside the classroom itself. State education officials, and the public, should view national standards with a wary eye, and read the fine print.

I may not agree with every last statement in the T&G editorial, but the more I am seeing of the CCSSI effort — with the threat of pulling Title I funds, the lack of transparency, the money players behind the scenes, and the poor quality of the standards — the more I find the T&G’s overall view convincing. It would be so much easier to either set a floor (minimum standards rather than a requirement that the states adopt 85% of the federal standards) or even better provide financial incentives for states to improve on agreed measures (perhaps NAEP and some international benchmarks such as TIMMS or whatever the experts tell us is an appropriate measure).