Duncan Bangs the Drum for National Standards

by Robert Pondiscio
February 12th, 2009

“If we accomplish one thing in the coming years,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week, “it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America.”  Speaking at the American Council on Education’s annual meeting , Duncan said.

I know that talking about standards can make people nervous—but the notion that we have fifty different goalposts is absolutely ridiculous. A high school diploma needs to mean something—no matter where it’s from. We need standards that are college-ready and career-ready, and benchmarked against challenging international standards. We also need to break the culture of blame in which colleges blame high schools and high schools blame grade schools and grade schools blame parents for our failures.

Duncan was specifically speaking of ”high school standards” in his remarks, but EdWeek’s David Hof notes his comments suggest ”he’ll be pushing the issue in any reauthorization [of NCLB] that happens under his watch.”  Duncan also talked up national standards in an interview with EdWeek’s Alyson Klein last week.


  1. I think national standards are probably a good idea, but I’m not sure where the necessary coalition is. How many groups think both that the federal government should be more involved in traditionally local affairs AND that teachers/schools should be held more accountable for meeting more content standards?

    Comment by Paul — February 12, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  2. Too many states are currently administering “feel good” tests relative to the federal tests administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly referred to as the “nation’s report card.”

    In 2005 Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math and found eighty-seven percent of students performed at or above proficient while the NAEP test indicated only 21 percent of Tennessee’s eighth graders proficient in math. In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficient on the state reading test, while only 18 percent demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. In Alabama 83 percent of fourth-grade students scored at or above proficient on the state’s reading test while only 22 percent were proficient on the NAEP test. In Georgia, 83 percent of eighth graders scored at or above proficient on the state reading test, compared with just 24 percent on the federal test.

    Oklahoma, North Carolina, West Virginia, Nebraska, Colorado, Idaho, Virginia, and Texas were also found guilty in their determinations of proficient when compared to the federal NAEP test.

    No Child Left Behind will never be able to realize its potential as long as entire states are left behind due to the duplicitous efforts of their respective officials. It’s simply an issue of equity.

    Paul Hoss
    Letter to the Editor
    New York Times
    November 26, 2007


    National standards; it’s about time.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — February 12, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  3. If there’s a coalition to be built, I think it would come through Diane Ravitch’s trade-off — a greater Federal role in standards, but a reduction of the NCLB micro-management.

    The AFT generally seems pretty open to stronger content standards; I’m not sure about the NEA. In someways the coalition needed would be a very Obama-esque one — pulling the centrists from both “sides” together and away from both the right wing that doesn’t like standards because the might involve evolution and the left wing that doesn’t like standards because they might involve test-prep.

    Comment by Rachel — February 12, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

While the Core Knowledge Foundation wants to hear from readers of this blog, it reserves the right to not post comments online and to edit them for content and appropriateness.