American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten had a thought-provoking piece in the Washington Post recently on "The Case for National Standards."
As Weingarten points out, she lives in Washington, DC. She can hop on the metro and get to Virginia and Maryland easily. Yet these states have quite different standards, as do the other 48 states in the union plus DC. Some states have high standards -- like Massachusetts and Minnesota, whose students rank near the top of the world in international comparisons. Others? It's more of a mixed bag. But for purposes of recognizing which states and schools are making adequate yearly progress for No Child Left Behind, the federal government treats these standards as equally valid -- as if (she suggests) the Pittsburgh Steelers had to move 10 yards to get a first down, and the Arizona Cardinals only had to move 7.
This is a point that has been made before, but what's interesting is that Weingarten, the head of a teachers union, is throwing her support behind it. More importantly, she says that the creation of national standards will not lead to teachers becoming robots, simply going through a prescribed curriculum. "Just as different pianists can look at the same music and bring to it unique interpretations and flourishes, various teachers working from a common standard should be able to do the same," she writes.
I have two thoughts about this. First, I recognize that what gifted students often need most in schools is flexibility. I would of course be concerned that national standards -- tied to accountability -- would lead to even more focus on lower achievers at the expense of higher achievers. A recent Fordham report found that NCLB had led to this very result, so NCLB with more teeth could do that even more.
BUT... I would never say that raising standards (if that's what national standards would do) would be a bad thing. Gifted kids, like all kids, need better schools -- ones that demand lots of their students and view themselves as places where kids should be challenged. On the whole, I'm sympathetic to Weingarten's ideas, and am curious what readers here think.