Uniform Standards Would Make Education Research More Difficult
The countries that have left the United States behind in math and science education have one thing in common: They offer the same high education standards — often the same curriculum — from one end of the nation to the other. The United States relies on a generally mediocre patchwork of standards that vary, not just from state to state, but often from district to district. A child’s education depends primarily on ZIP code.
That could eventually change if the states adopt the new rigorous standards proposed last week by the National Governors Association and a group representing state school superintendents.
The editorial’s optimism is unwarranted. It’s true that the countries that score above us on international tests have national education standards. But we can’t conclude that standards contributed to their success, because almost all of the countries that score below us have national standards, too. Maybe standards would make us more like those high-scoring countries, or it could be that they would bring us down to the level of the lower-scoring countries. Data from international tests can’t tell us what effect national standards would have on U.S. education.
Uniformity is a hindrance when you’re trying to research the effects of national standards. It’s also a problem for researchers who study curriculum and teaching methods. All the research behind the proposed national standards was possible because lots of schools did different things. If every school took the same course of action — for example, by following national standards — less research would be possible. The standards’ authors defend their proposal as “research-based,” all the while advocating for a policy that would impede research if states agreed to it.