Second, perhaps the single greatest lever for raising expectations and achievement for all children in America would be the creation of national learning standards and assessments. With KIPP schools operating in 19 states, we have seen how the maze of state standards and tests keeps great teachers from sharing ideas, inhibits innovation, and prevents meaningful comparison of student, teacher and school performance. Rather than there being 50 different standards, Obama could unify the country around a common vision for the kind of teaching and learning we need to prepare our children for the future.
Education is a local issue, but there is a body of knowledge about what children should know and be able to do that should guide decisions about curriculum and testing. I propose that a broad-based group -- made up of educators, elected officials, community leaders, and experts in pedagogy and particular content -- come together to take the best academic standards and make them available as a national model. Teachers then would need the professional development, and the teaching and learning conditions, to make the standards more than mere words.
I'm not so naive as to think that it would be easy to reach consensus on national standards, but I believe that most people would agree that there is academic content that all students in America's public schools should be taught, and be taught to high standards. And I would expect near-consensus on the fact that, today, we are failing in that important mission. A national agreement about certain aspects of what every well-educated child in every American public school should learn won't be easy to arrive at, but that is no reason to give up before we even try.
What could possibly go wrong? Everyone, from the center-right to the center is totally on board for whatever, blah-blah, oh snap don't call them "national standards" next time!
Meanwhile, I cautioned:
Yes, good luck selling Alabama, Utah, Texas, Kansas, Alaska, etc. on the idea that they should take the advice of the head of the teachers' union and model their curriculum on Massachusetts and Minnesota. That's going to go over really well. The reality of our current political situation is that we have a socially conservative, obstructionist Southern regional party and everyone else. I don't see how we're going to get to national standards in that climate. The problem is, however, a good distraction though for people who might otherwise find more effective ways to screw up public education.