Having worked with post-secondary students for the past two years, after working with urban special needs high school students for eight years, this initiative is long overdue. Students lack the general skill sets necessary to be successful at the community college level. And if it’s this bad in NJ, I can only assume that students graduate even less prepared in other parts of the United States. The majority of students should not test into developmental/remedial/basic skills English/Math courses… yet this is the norm. Education should be free, but the 80% of students testing into these classes are 99% paid by taxpayers. And unlike my student loans, disadvantaged students rarely have to pay their funds back. Is this insane, or is just me? I believe students should graduate high school with the skills necessary to be successful in post-secondary vocational or community college programs.
A version of this article appeared in print on July 21, 2010, on page A1 of the New York edition.
By TAMAR LEWIN
Less than two months after the nation’s governors and state school chiefs released their final recommendations for national education standards, 27 states have adopted them and about a dozen more are expected to do so in the next two weeks.
Their support has surprised many in education circles, given states’ long tradition of insisting on retaining local control over curriculum.
The quick adoption of common standards for what students should learn in English and math each year from kindergarten through high school is attributable in part to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition. States that adopt the standards by Aug. 2 win points in the competition for a share of the $3.4 billion to be awarded in September.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education. “This has been the third rail of education, and the fact that you’re now seeing half the nation decide that it’s the right thing to do is a game-changer.”
Even Massachusetts, which many regard as having the nation’s best education system — and where the proposed standards have been a subject of bitter debate — is expected to adopt the standards on Wednesday morning. New York signed up on Monday, joining Connecticut, New Jersey and other states that have adopted the standards, though the timetable for actual implementation is uncertain.
Some supporters of the standards, like Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, worry that the rush of states to sign up — what Ms. Weingarten calls the “Race to Adopt” — could backfire if states do not have the money to put the standards in effect.
“I’m already watching the ravages of the recession cutting the muscle out of efforts to implement standards,” she said. “If states adopt these thoughtful new standards and don’t implement them, teachers won’t know how to meet them, yet they will be the basis on which kids are judged.”
The effort has been helped by financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to most of the organizations involved in drafting, evaluating and winning support for the standards. The common core standards, two years in the making and first released in draft form in March, are an effort to replace the current hodgepodge of state policies.
They lay out detailed expectations of skills that students should have at each grade level. Second graders, for example, should be able to read two-syllable words with long vowels, while fifth graders should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators.
Adoption of the standards does not bring immediate change in the classroom. Implementation will be a long-term process, as states rethink their teacher training, textbooks and testing.
Those states that are not winners in the Race to the Top competition may also have less incentive to follow through in carrying out the standards.
“The heavy lifting is still ahead, and the cynic in me says that when 20 states don’t get Race to the Top money, we’ll see how sincere they are,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of an education research group in Washington, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a longtime advocate of national standards. “They could just sit on their hands, chill out and say, ‘Well, we don’t really have the money right now to retrain our teachers.’ ”
Yet even promises of support for national standards are a noteworthy shift. Many previous efforts to set national standards have made little headway. In 1995, for example, the Senate rejected proposed history standards by a vote of 99 to 1.
The problem of wide variations in state standards has become more serious in recent years, as some states weakened their standards to avoid being penalized under the federal No Child Left Behind law. This time, the standards were developed by the states themselves, not the federal government. Last year, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers convened English and math experts to put together benchmarks for each grade.
Texas and Alaska said they did not want to participate in developing the standards. And Virginia has made it known that it does not plan to adopt the standards.
Increasingly, national standards are seen as a way to ensure that children in all states will have access to a similar education — and that financially strapped state governments do not have to spend limited resources on developing their own standards and tests.
“We’ll have states working together for the first time on curriculum, textbooks, assessment,” said Mr. Duncan. “This will save the country billions of dollars.”
An analysis by Mr. Finn’s institute, to be released Wednesday, determined that the new common core standards are stronger than the English standards in 37 states and the math standards in 39 states.
In most others, the report found that the existing standards are similar enough to the proposed common core standards that it was impossible to say which were better.
States that adopt the standards are allowed to have additional standards, as long as the common core represents at least 85 percent of their English and mathematics standards.
In closely watched Massachusetts, even those who see the common core standards as a comedown for a state whose students score highly on national assessment tests say they have lost the battle.
“They’re definitely going to be adopted,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization.
Mr. Stergios’ group found the common standards less rigorous than Massachusetts’ existing ones.
“Vocabulary-building in the common core is slower,” he said, citing one example. “And on the math side, they don’t prepare eighth-grade students for algebra one, which is the gateway to higher math.”
Others analyzing the two sets of standards disagreed.
Achieve Inc., a Washington-based education reform group, found the common core standards “more rigorous and coherent.” WestEd, a research group that evaluated the standards for the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, found them comparable. And Mr. Finn’s group said the Massachusetts standards and the common core standards were “too close to call.”
But Mr. Stergios pointed out that the other groups had either funding from the Gates Foundation or connections to those who developed the standards.
“We’re really the only ones who had no dog in this fight,” he said.