State governors and education officials proposed new national standards for K-12 education today, a step President Obama believes is key to improving the quality of the nation's schools. The voluntary guidelines, dubbed the "Common Core State Standards," call on states to teach specific topics in each grade level, replacing present guidelines which vary wildly from state to state.
"What's different about these standards is that we've taken time to look at the evidence that's out there about college and career readiness and align the expectations for all students," said Chris Minnich, director of standards for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) that developed the guidelines with the National Governors Association (NGA).
The core standards lay out detailed, high-achieving goals for math, language, and history at every grade level. In seventh grade, for instance, the draft standards call for students to be able to "use ideas about distance and angles, how they behave under dilations, translations, rotations and reflections."
In reading, seventh-grade students are expected to be able to "analyze how particular lines of dialogue or specific incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character or provoke a discussion."
The standards also include a suggested reading list heavy on the classics, though its authors stress it is meant as a guideline for appropriate "text complexity" for different grades, not as a required list.
The CCSSO and the NGA have posted over one hundred pages of draft standards to a Web site, www.corestandards.org, where they are inviting educators, students, and members of the public to give feedback before they issue a final document, which they expect to publish in the spring of this year.
President Obama has long called for improved national education standards. In a March 2009 speech, the president included such standards as one of his five pillars for education reform.
"Let's challenge our states to adopt world-class standards that will bring our curriculums to the 21st century," Obama said. "Today's system of 50 different sets of benchmarks for academic success means fourth grade readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming -- and they're getting the same grade. ...That's why I'm calling on states that are setting their standards far below where they ought to be to stop low-balling expectations for our kids. The solution to low test scores is not lowering standards -- it's tougher, clearer standards."
While the No Child Left Behind law introduced under President George W. Bush calls for testing and progress toward proficiency, it left it up to the states to determine specific classroom standards and test criteria. Critics say that some states have artificially lowered their standards to make their students appear to be higher-performing on standardized tests.
Obama isn't the first president to call for national education standards -- it's been a goal going back several administrations. President George H.W. Bush called for similar guidelines in his America 2000 plan, but the standards were eventually rebuffed by states who accused the federal government of meddling in state responsibilities.