Bringing International Standards to America’s Heartland

Almost a year ago, Eduflack’s New Year’s Resolutions included greater advocacy for national education standards.  Yes, I’m well aware of what the critics think of national standards.  I’m also quite sure of how difficult a task it is to push the standards rock up the status quo hill, particularly in a day and age when we are wary of testing in general and many are waiting to see what will become of the accountability standards in NCLB as wishes move to reauthorization, multiple measures, and a new look on federal education policy.

On Friday, though, the National Governors Association — along with CCSSO and Achieve — released an exciting new study, called the Common State Standards Initiative.  Michelle McNeil has the full story over at Education Week — www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/12/18/16nga.h28.html?r=581273233.  The report can be found over at NGA — <a href="http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0812BENCHMARKING.PDF.
What”>www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0812BENCHMARKING.PDF.
What do NGA, CCSSO, and Achieve call for?  Put simply, they want NAEP to be enhanced so we can see how students stack up both state to state and state to international standards.  Imagine that.  A common measure to see how U.S. students compare (both internally and externally) when it comes to reading, math, and science.  It’s like Christmas come early.
Those in Washington education policy circles recognize that such reports, though, are a dollar a dozen.  We seem to have weekly releases of studies, findings, and the like that we are certain will change public thinking, change public policy, and improve the world.  The majority of them — actually, virtually all of them — fail to live up to their promise.  They end up gathering dust on bookshelves or get filed electronically on a website, never to be read or heard from again.  Promise unfulfilled.
NGA and company have put forward a terrific idea, an idea worthy of discussion and a plan worthy of real action.  Recent TIMSS data, combined with relatively flat NAEP scores and report after report of states lowering their individual standards in order to show progress, all speak to the need for a core set of national standards our states and our nation can be held to.  NGA offers the blueprint to get us there, through the Common States Standards Initiative.  The challenge now is what is done with this report.
Often, common thinking is the work is done when the report is issued, the press conference is conducted, and the EdWeeks of the world release their coverage of the announcement.  In reality, the work for NGA and its cohort is now just beginning.  The challenge is taking this report and moving it to action.  Friday’s announcement is step one, the beginning of the information phase.  Now we move into the harder phases, the more interesting communications and advocacy work ahead.
Assuming key stakeholders and influencers were listening on Friday and are taking the time to peruse the benchmarking study, NGA must now move from the informing stage (which has really just begun, with Friday’s release) to building commitment for the solutions its laid out.  That construction has already begun, with CCSSO and Achieve flanking NGA on this issue.  Now NGA must enlist the endorsement of their governors.  Key superintendents must sign on as well.  And the incoming Administration must lend their voice to the idea of a common academic standard.
From there, NGA must move to mobilization.  If we seek to strengthen the NAEP, how do we do it?  What standards do we set?  How do we hold states accountable?  Who leads the changes to the exam?  What action steps to we take to ensure we measure up?  How do we ensure improvements to the standards, and not more “common denominator” approaches?  These are all questions we must ask.  The answers then drive us to action.  They show us the specific steps that the federal government, governors, superintendents, teachers, and national education policy organizations can take to trigger real change and real improvement.  They show us how to mobilize the stakeholders necessary to take action.  They offer us the blueprint to make real change and real improvement.  They move us from merely informing key parties on the need for international benchmarks to defined actions and activities to get us to our goals.
NGA has planted the flag in the ground.  It now falls to them, CCSSO, Achieve, and others to do what is necessary to move this report into action.  Information is a good thing, but action is necessary.  Let’s use the benchmarking report as a launching pad for the very real work necessary to improving academic standards and ensuring U.S. students measure up against their peers and against their international competitors.

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