Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Washington DC Superintendants In Favor Of National Standards?

That seems to be the message behind some of the statement in this Jay Mathews Column.
But by supporting national testing and learning standards, a position that Congress has rejected in previous years, some Washington educators are giving new life to a movement whose most outspoken supporters have been academics and pundits, not school administrators.

"I've never figured out why in the world we wouldn't have a national education standard," said Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. "We have standards for toys and everything else."

Congress might vote on whether to revise No Child Left Behind this year. With criticism of the law ratcheting up, changes are likely.

Jack D. Dale, superintendent of Fairfax County schools, called the current system "incoherent, contradictory and inconsistent." Arlington's School Board, using an argument advanced by Superintendent Robert G. Smith, said No Child Left Behind "provides neither high consistent standards nor consistent measures for accountability."
While I like and really embrace the idea of national standards from a consolidated education policy standpoint, I must admit to a conflict of the idea from the federalist side of me.

Education has traditionally been a state function and responsibility. At the same time, however, merely because a practice is prevelant may be the poorest reason for continuing it. A national standard, backed up by a nationally produced test actually would save a great deal of money. Instead of having multiple tests, set to multiple standards for the various states, coupled with teh attendant equivalence problems, i.e. what is the relative stingency of say Maryland's standards as compared to Virginia or Iowa or Alaska, a single standard across the nation is clear, either the state or school or teacher meets the standard or they don't. It is as simple as that.

While there is a certain amount of reluctance to take this next step, it appears to be gaining favor at least among some supers. The Washington Area supers are talking about turning NCLB on its head, aruging that a national test and a national standard with sanctions and remediations coming from the states and localities might be more practical. In this respect they could very well be right.

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that local application of the law is necessary in order to provide necessary flexibility for different circumstances. Tocqueville did not argue that a national law was inherently bad, but that local administration would ensure that the spirit of the law, as well as its letter, were better enforced locally.

Lets assume that the national govenrment imposed a specific test and specific standard. Each school would know where it ranked, both locally, state-wide and nationally. There would be no doubts as to the efficacy of comparison. However, if the states are left with the duty to sanction and/or remediate the schools that are lagging, the states and the local education authorites could then address the specific needs of each school, tailoring a remediation plan that fits teh schools needs, rather than a solution handed down from the feds without any consideration of the school's particular circumstances.

The remediation could be in multiple steps. For example, the LEAs could have responsiblity for schools that fail to meet standards for one or two years. If the pattern persists, perhaps then teh state could get invovled. If the pattern persists for more than say four years, then the feds could step in.

The idea is worthy of consideration.

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