Obama wants education benchmarks to meet higher standard

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 22, 2010

President Obama will seek to raise academic standards across the country by requiring states to certify that their benchmarks for reading and mathematics put students on track for college or a career, administration officials said Sunday.

The proposal, part of Obama's evolving blueprint for a revision of the No Child Left Behind law, was expected to be released Monday as the president meets with governors in Washington. It will give a further boost to a state-led movement toward common standards, a groundbreaking development for a public education system in which current expectations for students vary widely from coast to coast.

Under the proposal, $14.5 billion in annual education aid for students from poor families would be tied to states' action on standards.

Only those that have what the administration calls "college- and career-ready" standards would qualify for the funding, known in education circles as the Title I program.

White House and Education Department officials said a state could show that its benchmarks meet the expected level two ways: by adopting standards developed through a consortium of states or by certifying, in a process to be developed with universities, that their existing standards are high enough.

The first option plainly supports an initiative governors and state schools chiefs launched last year to draft new benchmarks for math and English language arts. Forty-eight states, including Maryland and Virginia, are part of the initiative, although it is unclear how many will adopt the final draft, to be released in coming weeks. The District is also part of the initiative. Texas and Alaska are not. Kentucky this month became the first state to decide to adopt the standards, after officials reviewed a late draft.

Under No Child Left Behind, which President George W. Bush signed in 2002, states are free to set standards without federal guidance. Experts say many states have lowered standards to help schools meet the law's testing and accountability requirements.

"We have to stop lying to children," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the National Governors Association on Sunday. "We have to look them in the eye and tell them the truth at every stage of their educational trajectory."

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