Common Goals

National education standards make sense; multiple stakeholders would benefit

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s long as local control of public schools is respected and observed, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining a state public education system. After all, the state constitution mandates “education of all children residing within its borders” as the state’s “paramount duty.”

A logical extension of that theory allows that, as long as our state’s autonomy in education is respected and observed, there’s nothing wrong with embracing national standards. After all, with the United States locked in fierce global economic competition, we should adopt the same teamwork that strengthens other global leaders in manufacturing and exports.

With those caveats established, it’s good that state education leaders are considering the “Common Core State Standards” that have been adopted by almost 30 states. Your chance to get involved is Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Mountain View High School auditorium, 1500 S.E. Blairmont Drive. State and local education officials will lead a discussion on Common Core State Standards and take public feedback on the national benchmark system.

Skeptics might roll their eyes and mutter, “Oh, no, not another layer in the huge public-education bureaucracy.” But the realist will recognize that this is a chance for all states to get their acts together. The lack of a coordinated effort in public education is manifested in many ways. For example, when students transfer from state to state in our increasingly mobile society, it’s often difficult to transfer credits and align the learning process among grades and subjects. Having all states on the same page can reduce that frustration.

Also, national standards make sense on the financial level. Too many students require remedial courses in community colleges and four-year institutions. This is expensive, and taxpayers have to pick up the tab. Aligning education standards can speed up the pipeline into higher education. The national economy would be spurred by a better-coordinated effort to groom the work force. Another bonus could be a more effective system for textbooks; when manufacturers have a clearer picture of what’s needed, and when more states buy the same textbooks, the process is more efficient.

Other skeptics might also be troubled by the potential for meddling by some greater group dedicated to national standards. But as Howard Buck reported in a recent Columbian story, the Common Core State Standards coalition makes no mention of instruction methods. States and school districts remain free to craft their own teaching systems and design their own curricula. Local autonomy remains absolute. The only thing that changes is a sharper definition of the finish line. “They’re much the same kinds of things we’ve been working toward (in Washington state),” said Layne Curtis, director of curriculum and instruction for Vancouver Public Schools. “Like everything else, it’s all in the delivery … I don’t sense a lot of anxiety” about states’ sharing education standards.

More details are available at http://www.corestandards.org. There, you will see common-sense goals such as requiring a full knowledge of all verb tenses and punctuation by the fifth grade, understanding important algebra constructs by the eighth grade, and learning statistics and probability concepts in high school.

Nationwide coordination of education standards will benefit students, teachers, parents and business leaders.