Governors, state school superintendents propose common academic standards

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Maryland and several other states are pushing rapidly toward adoption of new academic standards proposed Wednesday for English and math, adding momentum to the campaign to establish common expectations for public school students across the country.

The District also is on track to adopt the common standards drafted by experts in a project led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. However, it is possible that Virginia will not join the apparent surge toward approval.

Widespread adoption of common standards would mark a watershed for schools, triggering consequences for curricula, textbooks, testing and teaching. Some critics say common standards amount to a thinly disguised ruse to establish national standards under federal control -- an allegation that state and federal officials deny.

In most places, power to adopt standards rests with state boards of education.

Ohio officials said their board plans to vote June 8. Maryland officials are pondering a possible spring vote. Florida's board is pushing toward action in the summer.

"I think you'll get half of the states by the end of the year [to adopt the proposal], based on what they've said to us," said Brenda Welburn, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Kentucky last month became the first to adopt the proposal, acting on a late-stage draft before the public release.

In Maine, the legislature holds power of approval. Maine Commissioner of Education Susan A. Gendron said she expects a vote next week that would allow the state to adopt the standards when they are finalized in the spring.

"What is different about mathematics in Maine from California?" Gendron said. "I don't believe there is a difference. You will see far more states adopt the standards than not."

Alaska and Texas are the only two states that declined to join the common standards project when it began last year.

Virginia is part of the project, but state officials have been cautious about changing standards. Asked whether Virginia would consider approving the proposed standards, state Education Department spokesman Charles Pyle said the Board of Education has not discussed doing so.

"Virginia has a successful standards-based reform program -- the Standards of Learning," Pyle said. "Abandoning those standards would be very disruptive to our school divisions, our teachers and our students. We've made all of this progress in the last 15 years under the SOL program. It's not something we're just going to walk away from."

Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, states are free to set standards and testing systems to rate schools. As a result, benchmarks vary widely in rigor and quality. Experts say many states eased academic requirements to enable schools to meet the law's accountability targets.

To address that issue, and enable academic performance to be judged consistently across the country, the governors and school chiefs are seeking common standards that would have all students ready for college or career after high school. President Obama has encouraged the initiative, but his administration played no role in drafting the blueprint.

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