Are American standards the same thing as No Child Left Behind?
No. No Child Left Behind is a federal law governing a large number of programs. As part of that law, states were required to test students in grades 3-8 based on their own state standards. What we want is for states to adopt high standards regardless of whether they do it for their own state accountability systems or the one required by No Child Left Behind. We are calling for rigorous American education standards so that all students, no matter where they live, receive a quality education that prepares them for college, for work, and for life. Whether they live in New Hampshire or Nevada, Maine or Mississippi, all students need strong basic skills in subjects like math and English.
Are you advocating a national curriculum?
No. Some people use the terms “standards” and “curriculum” interchangeably, but in reality there is a big difference between them. Standards describe that knowledge and skills that all students should learn by the end of each grade. Curriculum provides detailed instructions for how to teach those things in the classroom, such as lesson plans and materials.
Do you want the federal government to tell my local schools what they should teach? What about local control?
No. States and local communities are responsible for educating students, and that must be respected. The aim is not to “nationalize” the curriculum in each grade by having Washington officials dictate a lesson plan for every school in the country. We are simply saying that it should be an American priority to give all students the opportunity to learn what they need to meet the real-life challenges they will face after high school. There are many ways that national and state leaders can work together to accomplish that.
Does that mean national standards mandated by the federal government?
No. There are many possible ways to arrive at agreement on American education standards, and that is part of the debate we hope to encourage. To provide just one example, some have proposed that national leaders offer support to states that agree to raise their standards to match real-world demands students will face after high school, or states that volunteer to work together to arrive at more consistent standards for students across the nation.
What about students who do not learn as fast as others?
All children can learn. Some just might need extra help or more time to learn, which is why one of our priorities is providing students with extra support and time for learning. The standards should set a common minimum expectation for all students, but we might need to give some students more time and more individual help to achieve them.
What about teacher creativity?
Standards help teachers keep all students on track to graduate with the skills they need. But they do notdictatehow to teach. Standards might say that fourth graders should learn how to multiply and divide fractions, but there are many creative approaches teachers can use to teach that skill. Flexible teaching techniques and approaches that are effective have never been more important. If we get to greater agreement on American standards, teachers will be able to share their creative strategies with colleagues in more places around the country.
What are standards?
Standards are a description what should be learned, grade by grade, to prepare a student for life after high school, including college and good-paying jobs. For example, fourth grade math standards provide a description of the math skills that should be taught and learned in fourth grade. Standards should be rigorous enough to prepare all students to be successful adults, but they are a floor rather than a ceiling. Schools can teach students more knowledge and skills than the standards call for or inspire students to achieve at a higher level than the standards demand.
What do you mean by “American standards”?
We have 50 states, but we are one nation. All American students should learn basic skills that prepare them for college, for the workplace, and for life—no matter where they live and who their parents are. However, state standards are uneven. Some are very rigorous and some are very weak. To keep America competitive, standards should be benchmarked to the best in the world so that we are raising standards, not lowering them. The problem is not that we expect too much from our students or schools, it is that we settle for too little. That’s what we mean when we talk about American education standards—expectations worthy of us and our children, standards that are the foundation for a better future and that prepare our young people to succeed in life.