July 13, 2010 6:43PM

Ever So Quietly, National Standards Spread

Today’s advocates of national education standards certainly learned from the standards debacle of the 1990s, in which detailed standards were widely released — and widely hated. Be upfront and vocal with the public about what you are doing, they learned, and national standards will never exist. That’s why advocates have kept their efforts awfully hush‐​hush — no DC unveiling of final standards; a rushed, federally‐​coerced time line for adoption; and almost no willingness to discuss the research on standards. It also hasn’t hurt that just bigger issues — economic stagnation, wars, oil spills — have eaten all the reporting space. Unfortunately, the result is that with “little…fanfare” (registration required) 23 states have already adopted the Common Core State Standards, and several more are expected to do so before August 2 — the day they have to adopt them to stay competitive for federal Race to the Top funds.

And the slope keeps getting more slippery. Would‐​be national standardizers have been even more quiet about needing national tests to make their standards useful than they’ve been about the standards themselves. But those tests — federally backed, of course — are coming. In addition, the Common Core folks started with language arts and mathematics because those subjects — as long as you don’t pinpoint much reading material — are relatively uncontroversial. But guess what? The National Research Council just released preliminary material for national science standards, an effort purposely timed to coincide with Common Core.

So national standards keep slowly constricting. But there is resistance. A new assessment of the Common Core math standards suggests that, well, the standards might not really be as good as those of leading nations. (Too bad so many states gave analysts no more than a nanosecond to assess the standards before adopting them. But, then, they were just following the the feds’ adopt‐​now‐​for‐​big‐​bucks lead.) Even more hopeful — because ultimately the problem isn’t the quality of the standards, but the ruinous centralization they will bring — is that there are many candidates running for federal office who, according to Education Week, actually acknowledge the Constitution, care about good education, and are calling for the feds to get out of the nation’s classrooms. Now, they almost certainly don’t represent a mass revolt against the U.S. Department of Education, but their presence offers at least some hope that the nation is coming to realize that as it fixated on health care, Afghanistan, and bailouts, the feds were stealthily setting the groundwork to take over their schools.

Such a realization can’t come a moment too soon.