The case for national standards is so self-evidently powerful that I am always surprised that it has to be made. Indeed, for years I have expected national standards to emerge spontaneously, with state after state seeing the wisdom of pooling resources rather than re-inventing standards 50 times over. After all, America is rich and powerful because we are a democratic, continental common market with a shared language and civic and popular culture. With these traits aligned could national standards be far behind?
Oddly enough, the answer is “yes,” they have been and continue to be far behind. But perhaps not forever. The Council of the Great City Schools – an association of 66 of the nation’s urban districts – has endorsed the idea as have selected think tanks like the Fordham Foundation. Equally important, some of the nation’s premier superintendents are calling for national standards (see Ed Week, vol. 26, no. 26, March 7, 2007, The Case for National Standards in American Education, Rudy Crew, Paul Vallas and Michael Casserly). Times they are a changin’.
The principle reason – and the principled reason — opponents have rejected the idea of national standards is to preserve local control. Such a slender reed on which to lean, reminding me of nothing so much as Janis Joplin’s Saturday Night Swindle: “freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose…”