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Våren 2017


Setting Standards

**In the long list of problems that plague American education, one is primary: what should students learn?** For decades, however, this question has baffled people. In an education system run by the 50 states, success is in the eye of the beholder. Mississippi has different expectations for pupils than Massachusetts does. America as a whole has fallen behind. In a ranking of 15-year-olds in 30 industrialised countries in 2006, American teenagers came a dismal 21st in science and 25th in maths. Now there is a new drive to set national standards. The US Secretary of Education has offered more than $4 billion in total of federal money to states that pursue certain reforms – in particular, adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to compete in a global economy. This gives urgency to an effort already under way: the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are in the midst of drafting common standards. President Eisenhower spoke of the need for “national goals” for education as long ago as 1959. But past efforts to set such standards have been squashed quickly. In the early 1990s, President George Bush senior supported national standards. The guidelines for teaching history were derided by conservatives as political correctness, and the Senate threw them out with a 99–1 vote. In 1997 America scored pathetic marks in an international maths and science test. Germany did too, and was so shocked that it brought in national standards and exams. But America floundered. Bill Clinton, when president, proposed a voluntary national test; Congress scrapped the idea. An encouraging step came in 2001, when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) determined that schools should be held accountable for how they performed. But NCLB still lets states set their own bars for success. Now, after years of failure, the push for common standards has new life. NCLB’s reforms were plainly insufficient. A chorus of wonks and professors say that bad schools will undermine America’s competitiveness in future. Most important, the states, in the shape of the governors and chief school officers, are leading the effort. Recently the NGA and the CCSSO published a report calling for reform and now all states except Texas and Alaska have signed on, agreeing to support their plan. The NGA and CCSSO hope to create standards for maths and English that are clear, focused and rigorous. Dane Linn, the NGA’s education director, explains that the drafters have tried to follow the example of high-performing countries such as Singapore and states such as Massachusetts. The first task is to provide standards for what high-school graduates should know to succeed in college or the workforce. The draft guidelines for English include examples of suitable content, such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and a lecture by Toni Morrison. The second task is to create standards for each grade. Mr Linn hopes to present final standards in the near future. There are many difficulties ahead. The standards may turn out to be too lax. Some states may reject them. States that do adopt the standards will need to revise curricula, textbooks and the way they train teachers, explains Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute, a conservative thinktank. New standards demand new tests. The stimulus offered provides $350 million to develop common assessments, but these may not be ready for years. In the end, however, American students will at least know where they stand, and where they should be going.

**How, according to the text, can “No Child Left Behind” best be characterized?**

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