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

October 1994

High Standards for All Students

Why do our children need high standards?

When you get on an airplane, you want a pilot who has been held to the highest standards of flight training. When you need an operation, you want a surgeon who has been held to the highest standards of medical education. And when you root for American athletes in the Olympics, you know they won't win the gold unless they have trained to meet the highest standards of international competition.

In many areas of our life, we expect-and demand-high standards. We know their great value. They help bring out the best in us.

When we do not hold all students to high academic standards, the result can be low achievement and the tragedy of children leaving school without ever having been challenged to fulfill their potential.

But a historic change is now taking place in American education: the development of model standards that will clearly identify what all students should know and be able to do to live and work in the 21st century. These standards will be designed to be internationally competitive.

The movement to develop standards has already begun. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has prepared mathematics standards, and the U.S. Department of Education is funding the creation of model standards in the arts, civics and government, economics, English, foreign languages, geography, history, and science.

What are these standards?

Content standards define what all students should know and be able to do. They describe the knowledge, skills, and understanding that students should have in order to attain high levels of competency in challenging subject matter.

Performance standards identify the levels of achievement in the subject matter set out in the content standards. They state how well students demonstrate their competency in a subject.

The standards will be voluntary, not mandatory. They will stand or fall depending on whether they are accepted by teachers, administrators, parents, and the public. No federal mandate will impose the new standards. States may use these standards as models in developing their own content and performance standards.

How will high standards make education better?

Establishing high standards lets everyone in the education system know what to aim for. They allow every student, every parent, and every teacher to share in common expectations of what students should know and be able to accomplish. Students will learn more when more is expected of them, in school and at home. And standards will help create coherence in educational practices by aligning teacher education, instructional materials, and assessment practices.

Why does American education need standards?

American education has never had national standards. When no one agrees on what students should learn, each part of the education system pursues different, and sometimes contradictory, aims.

The new improvement of American education begins with an agreement about what students should learn-a set of benchmarks that states may use as guidance in developing their own content and performance standards. But this will NOT be a national curriculum.

Meaningful model standards will help state officials, local educators, teachers, parents, and others to establish challenging standards for students to ensure that the education system will focus on providing the opportunity for all students to learn to high levels. This can lead to:

How did the movement for national standards begin?

In 1989, President Bush and the nation's governors, with leadership from then-Governor Bill Clinton, met in Charlottesville, Virginia. They agreed that the nation must set ambitious education goals. These bipartisan National Education Goals are the basis of the recently passed Goals 2000: Educate America Act, President Clinton's landmark education initiative.

The Goals included a pledge that by the year 2000, all American students would demonstrate competency in challenging subject matter. To provide direction, the Congressionally established, bipartisan National Council on Education Standards and Testing recommended the development of voluntary education standards that would provide the needed focus for state and local efforts.

How are standards being developed?

The U.S. Department of Education, other federal agencies, and foundations have made grants to major professional and scholarly organizations to develop model standards in different subjects. Each standards-setting project includes a broad range of people in the process. Thousands of teachers, scholars, administrators, parents, and other members of the public are participating in shaping the model standards. These standards will undergo extensive review to affirm their national status, including certification by the National Education Standards and Improvement Council established in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Certification will indicate that the standards are challenging, consistent with the best knowledge about teaching and learning, and have been developed with broad input from educators and others.

What is the role of the states?

A number of states have begun to develop or are revising their own state content standards (sometimes known as state curriculum frameworks). Using the expertise of classroom teachers, parents, scholars, public and private school administrators, elected officials, businesses, and the community at large in advisory groups, the states are defining content standards to meet their own needs. These state standards will act as blueprints for local schools, districts, and others to develop the classroom materials and lessons for a single subject or combination of subjects. They will also establish guidelines for effective teacher preparation, professional development, and certification.

In addition, the new Goals 2000: Educate America Act will provide funds to the states to develop their own state improvement and implementation plans that will include content and performance standards and valid assessments aligned with the standards. The setting of state standards can be informed by the model standards. The state plans will also include voluntary standards or strategies to ensure that all students have a fair opportunity to achieve the knowledge and skills described in the state content and performance standards.

How can you learn more about the standards projects?

You can order a copy of the math standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the arts standards developed by a U.S. Department of Education-funded consortium of arts organizations. Write the Department-funded groups working on standards in other subjects if you would like to participate as a reviewer of drafts or review those that are complete. You can contact them at the following locations:


Released 1989
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Order Processing
1906 Association Drive
Reston, Virginia 22091
800 235 7566

Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics; Item # 398E1; ISBN 0-87353-273-2; cost $25, discount for bulk orders


Released March 1994
Music Educators National Conference
Publications Sales
1806 Robert Fulton Drive
Reston, Virginia 22091
800 828 0229

National Standards for Arts Education; Item # 1605; cost $15.00

Civics and Government
Released November 1994
National Standards for Civics and Government Center for Civic Education
5146 Douglas Fir Road
Calabasas, California 91302
800 350 4223

National Standards for Civics and Government; ISBN 0-89818-155-0; cost $12.00 plus s/h, discount for bulk orders (sales tax charged in CA)

Foreign Language Education:
Completion winter 1995-1996
National Standards in Foreign Language Education
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
6 Executive Boulevard
Yonkers, New York 10701-6801
914 963 8830

Draft copy available for review

Released October 1994
National Geography Standards
National Geographic Society
P.O. Box 1640
Washington, DC 20013-1640
800 368 2728

Geography for Life: National Geography Standards 1994; Item # 01775; ISBN 0-7922-2775-1; cost $9.00, discount for bulk orders (sales tax charged in CA, DC, MD, MI, Canada)

Released October/November 1994
National Center for History in the Schools
University of California, Los Angeles
10880 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 761
Los Angeles, CA 90024-4108
310 825 4702

Three volumes are available:

  1. National Standards for History (grades K-4);
    cost $7.95 plus s/h for educators, $12.95 plus s/h for institutions (sales tax charged in CA);
  2. National Standards for United States History (grades 5-12);
    cost $18.95 plus s/h for educators, $24.95 plus s/h for institutions (sales tax charged in CA); and
  3. National Standards for World History (grades 5-12),
    cost $18.95 plus s/h for educators, $24.95 plus s/h for institutions (sales tax charged in CA).
Completion: late 1995
National Research Council
National Science Education Standards Project
2101 Constitution Avenue, NW HA486
Washington, DC 20418
202 334 1399

Draft copy available for review 1/95

U.S. Department of Education

For general information about content standards development, contact: Office of Educational Research and Improvement/Standards U.S. Department of Education 555 New Jersey Avenue NW Washington, DC 20208-5573

For more information about Goals 2000, standards, or for other questions about education, call: 1-800-USA-LEARN

An Example of a Draft U.S. History Standard

By high school graduation, students should know how political institutions and religious freedom emerged in the North American colonies. To do this, students should be able to demonstrate understanding of how the roots of representative government and political rights were defined during the colonization period by:

The National Education Goals

In stressing quality education from early childhood through life long learning, the President and the governors adopted the National Education Goals, which were put into law by the Congress in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. The model standards will help define what it means to reach the third and fourth of the goals below.

The Goals state that by the year 2000: