One of the laments frequently echoed from the halls of higher education is that students are too often academically unprepared upon entering college. Students who have successfully completed their high school curricula and exit exams frequently find themselves mired in semesters of remedial college preparatory work upon enrolling in college. Both parties, university professors and college freshmen, tacitly assign the blame to poor educational standards. Currently, as part of the public outcry for educational reform, and the Obama administration educational initiative “Race to the Top” many states are considering sweeping changes that would amount to the development and implementation of national educational standards.
Presently, states have core standards in place to assure uniformity in the performance criteria of their high school graduates. In the past ten years, these standards have been reviewed and adjusted to comply with the criteria of the former Bush administrations’ “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB ) initiative. The NCLB program was heavily flawed, however one of its direct benefits was the exposure of the achievement gap . Consequently, states and local schools became more responsive to the educational needs of at-risk student populations.
The Race to the Top design also aims to address the achievement gap using a significantly different approach. States would volunteer to participate in the implementation of standardized national educational requirements http://www.corestandards.org in a bid for federal money. The presumed removal of local/state control of educational criteria has set off a firestorm of criticisms and controversy of Race to the Top. Why are so many of the stakeholders in education resistant to the concept of nationalized standards?
Much of the contempt for the notion of nationalized standards stems from the idea that its goal is not to create the “philosopher-king” student model, but rather that of the employable drone. A concern that this kind of educational reform will result in an educational system that places too much emphasis on preparing for global competitiveness. That a day will arrive when one looks into the face of young students across the country, and merely sees the future workforce, not individual students.
Some fear that it will mean the abolishment of terrific educational programs sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, and eliminate programs in the sciences and vocational education. I assert that all of these concerns are essentially baseless, as presently most states have core standards that are inclusive of these items; reason dictates that any national educational model would be inclusive also. There is no evidence to suggest that the adoption of national standards would obliterate curricula that is in place. Indeed, the idea that states could work together to create a national model from their best practices is an exciting proposition to many educators.
Nearly every developed country in the world has a form of national educational standards. It is to our advantage that students prepared in U.S. schools share a common educational experience. That may actually be accomplished with a set of uniform grade-level expectations from state to state. As long as they reflect the best-practice thinking within the core subject areas, the standards will help us be sure that what we think our students are learning will not vary wildly based on where they live. This is precisely what is meant by “closing the achievement gap” in the educational system.
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