A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Building the Best Education System: The Need for Nationwide Standards

The United States is justifiably proud that it was the first modern nation to guarantee all its citizens access to education. The responsibility for education was assumed by the states, not the federal government. States often declared in their constitutions that all of their future citizens should have a "free and appropriate education."

Over time the states developed ways of defining "appropriate education." At first, they relied heavily on "input" measures such as the hours spent studying subjects and course credits. Later, some rough measures of "output" or performance were frequently added: minimum competency examinations, national standardized tests, and other indicators, such as scores on SATs and other college admissions tests. However, none of these measures really tell the public what children and young people have learned. In fact, we have no way of telling whether our current "standards" for learning are as high as they should be, because we have not clearly defined the results we seek from our system. The situation is like a runner beginning a race without knowing where the finish line is.

Without high standards, we will not be able to rebuild America's education system--they are absolutely pivotal if we are to thrive and prosper. Textbooks and test scores have been used as substitutes for standards, but these actually require little of learners. Under our present system, few students face intellectual challenges, are asked to exercise reasoning skills, or are empowered to be problem solvers.

It is even more shameful that we do not provide a level playing field for all students--expectations differ from state to state, between the poor and the more affluent, those who are minorities, those headed for college, and those entering the workforce immediately. Missing from our education system is the expectation that all young people should learn challenging material and demonstrate that they all have the tools for responsible citizenship and a productive future. Our system was simply not designed for that.

In response to this fundamental problem, the National Education Goals Panel is working to develop voluntary nationwide standards that challenge all learners and indicate levels of accomplishment in major academic subject areas. The standards are intended to provide reliable, practical benchmarks for your communities and schools. The Goals Panel and a soon-to-be- created National Education Standards and Improvement Council will provide a "seal of approval" and a form of checks and balances to assure all Americans that the standards are, indeed, top-notch. But the Panel needs your help.

Everyone interested in providing students with the best education has a stake in implementing the Goals and standards in their communities. To succeed as a nation, all of us--parents, educators, and other citizens--must use the standards as guides for improving their local schools.

The United States can and must have standards as good as, or better than, those of any other nation. But we will use these standards in a uniquely American way--as a blueprint, not a national curriculum--that inspires "education architects" in each community to design better systems of teaching and learning.

A Wake-Up Call Table of Contents What Can Parents and Citizens Do To Help Meet the National Education Goals?


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