The Next Great “Ed” Reform Idea

NCLB may be now, with reauthorization and merit pay being leading topics of education cocktail parties.  But as Eduflack friend and online marketing guru Geoff Livingston says, now is gone.  Now is what has happened.  We need to focus on what is to happen.  If the last few weeks has been any indication, the future of education reform could center around two key words — national standards.

For decades, almost no one wanted to touch the issue of national standards.  It was almost the third rail of public education.  It was an affront to local control.  It stood against hundreds of years of American educational tradition.  National standards was a dead-end issue before the words ever fully left the lips of the most eager reformer.

But not any more.  In recent days, we’ve heard from a varied chorus led by Diane Ravitch and DC area superintendents calling for some form of national standards.  And now, we get to enjoy a passionate solo from Roy Romer, chairman of Ed in 08.

At Jobs for the Future’s Double the Numbers 2007 Conference Thursday, Romer asked the question — Why are we, as a nation, not focused on what we can to improve public education?  If we truly want to improve our schools, Romer contends, we need to change the national discussion.  We need each and every citizen to declare, “I want my child to be ready for life.  I want them to have the opportunity for a good college and a good career.”

Amen.  For months now, we’ve been waiting on some bold statements to come from Strong American Schools and Ed in 08.  And bold may not even be strong enough for Romer’s call to action.  I might even call it visionary.

For those who missed it, Romer too has issued the call for national standards.  The former “education” governor of Colorado, the former superintendent of LAUSD, even took it a step further.  According to Romer, the time has come for a collection of leading states to come together and write common education standards.  He issued the call to “education” governors to be proactive, and create the measurements by which our nation’s schools should be evaluated.  Those founding states would all adhere to the common standard.  The remainder of states would soon follow.  And national standards are born.


That one standard, then, would benchmark with standards in countries across the world.  Finally, we would truly know how our students compare with learners across the world.  And the feds role in all of this — to pay for the test.  States set a national measurement and hold themselves to it, and the folks back in Washington write the check.  Sounds simple enough to actually work.   

The result — true consumer protection in American public education.  We have our standards.  We know what we’re doing.  And we know where we stand.  Doesn’t matter if a parent or student is in Seattle, Dubuque, Huntsville, or Boston.  Achievement is achievement, regardless of state border or school district boundary.

Some may be uncomfortable with this discussion, but it is just the sort of issue the education community should be talking about.  Worried about high stakes testing?  Make sure the national standard is one that measures true knowledge.  Concerned we need more stringent accountability measures?  Focus on a standard that truly means something, and doesn’t just speak to the common denominator.

If Romer and Ed in 08 want to really leave their mark on the upcoming presidential elections, this may very well be the way to do so.  We shouldn’t just talk about education, we should be talking about how to improve it.  True national school improvement requires more than asking a question on a YouTube debate or getting an oped printed.  It comes from changing the national discussion.  Only then can we really start identifying and adopting the sorts of solutions that can fix the problem … for good.

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