homethe billthe standardsthe testdiscussiontesting our schools
homethe billthe standardsthe testdiscussion
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the challenge of standards

Most Americans agree that schools should have high academic standards. But who should set the standards for our schools? What are the challenges of getting them right? And what's behind the push for standards and accountability?

Are We There Yet?
From "A Nation at Risk" in 1983 to "No Child Left Behind" in 2002, an overview of the role of business and politics on the long (unfinished) road to national standards.

The 'Business Model'
Some educators are adopting a business-like approach to education, sounding more like corporate executives than teachers and school administrators. Is there a new "business model" for education? What role has the business community played in the push for standards-based reform? Here are excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Amy Wilkins of The Education Trust, Bob Schwartz of Achieve, and Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker.

The Right Stuff
As educators and policy experts are discovering, just having standards isn't enough. It's the quality of the standards that counts. What does it take to get standards right? Here are excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with William Schmidt of Michigan State University, Amy Wilkins of The Education Trust, Bob Schwartz of Achieve, and James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA.

Virginia: Defining History
In a video excerpt from "Testing Our Schools," FRONTLINE goes behind the scenes as educators in Virginia struggle to define the state's curriculum standards in American history.

Iowa: The One That Got Away
Forty-nine states have developed statewide curriculum standards. And then there is Iowa. With President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, does it still make sense for each of Iowa's 371 school districts to set their own curriculum?


"A Nation at Risk"
The 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which said that America's schools were plagued by "a rising tide of mediocrity."

National Education Goals Panel
The National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) was created in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush and the nation's governors to assess and report on state and national progress toward achieving the education goals established after the first National Education Summit in 1989. The panel is no longer active, but the website is still fully operational.

2001 National Education Summit
"Hosted by Achieve Inc., and its co-chairs, IBM Chairman Louis V. Gerstner Jr., and Michigan Governor John Engler, the 2001 National Education Summit [focused] on helping states address two key challenges: building the capacity of teachers and schools to meet higher standards and expanding testing and accountability systems to provide better data and stronger incentives for high student achievement."

Articles & Reports

Education Week: Standards
Education Week offers this overview of the issues surrounding standards-based reform, with an excellent collection of links to related resources on the Web.

"What Should Children Learn?" by Paul Gagnon
"The recent debate over federal guidelines for the teaching of history stirred rancor on both left and right -- and the guidelines were dropped. But standards are badly needed in all subject areas." (The Atlantic Monthly, December 1995)

"The Politics of Education Reform," by Richard Elmore
"What's most interesting is not that standards inevitably provoked partisan and pluralist debate but that despite this debate, professional organizations, states, and localities continue to plod ahead with the development of standards in a tremendously varied way." (Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 1997)

"New Page, Old Lesson: Why Educational Standards Fail the Political Test," by Peter Schrag
"The thoughtful people in the various disciplines argue endlessly, and quite reasonably, that these are not either-or propositions. But sweet reason rarely informs these disputes between true believers in what often seems more like a religious war than a disagreement over academic emphasis." (The American Prospect, March/April 1998)

"Educating a Democracy: Standards and the Future of Public Education"
This installment of the Boston Review's New Democracy Forum features an essay by Deborah Meier, a prominent critic of the standards movement, with responses by Abigail Thernstrom, Bob Chase, Gary B. Nash, Linda Nathan, Richard J. Murnane, William Ayers, and Theodore Sizer. (Boston Review, February/March 2000)

"What Do Kids Need?" by Deborah Meier
This excerpt from Deborah Meier's book, Will Standards Save Public Education? (Beacon Press, 2000), is featured as part of the Eye on Education website on education reform in Massachusetts.

"Rescuing Our Schools from 'Tougher Standards,'" by Alfie Kohn
Kohn, an activist and outspoken critic of standards-based reform, offers this collection of articles and information.

"Creating an Historical Revolution in Teaching"
"Americans do not have a good understanding of their historical roots. Now one history professor and cognitive psychologist is arguing that the way in which history is taught in elementary and high schools is contributing to a generation of Americans with little real knowledge of the events of the past." On Point, a Boston-based public radio program, hosted this discussion of history standards in American schools, and the difficulties in fashioning a consensus. (March 18, 2002)


Achieve Inc.
Achieve Inc. is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization whose mission is to help states raise academic standards, measure performance against those standards, establish clear accountability for results, and strengthen public confidence in the American education system. With Achieve's standards database, visitors can compare states' standards in subjects such as language arts, math, science, and social sciences.

Education Commission of the States
Created in 1965, the Education Commission of the States coordinates education research and policy efforts amongst the states. The site categorizes ECS's publications, many of which deal with accountability and standards, as well as assessments.

Mid-continent Research for Education & Learning (McREL)
McREL is a private, nonprofit organization that researches education issues. On its website, the "hot topics" section organizes research and other resources by the top-line issues in education reform. This report (in PDF format), titled "What Americans Believe Students Should Know," summarizes a survey of attitudes about curriculum standards and other issues.

The National Dialogue on Standards-Based Education
A relatively new organization dedicated to standards-based reform, National Dialogue sponsored its first major event in April 2001. Its resources section has several background articles, including this overview of the standards movement.

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)
The CCSSO is a nationwide nonprofit that works on behalf of the state education agencies. The council has many projects, including separate ones on accountability and standards-based reform efforts.

Education Excellence Partnership: Publications
The Education Excellence Partnership, a coalition of business, government, and teacher interests, has several publications on its site, some of which are geared to parents who are interested in learning more about the standards movement.

National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST)
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and based at UCLA, CRESST researches testing and standards issues for K-12 students. Its website's reports section lists the center's publications (in PDF format), many of which are written to parents, while others are addressed to the educational research community.

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