Schools prepare for national standards

By Nick Anderson
Monday, January 10, 2011

Maryland and D.C. school officials have agreed to national academic standards and have begun to lay the groundwork for new tests and teacher training. But it will take at least a few years before such measures generate notable change in classrooms.

The movement to adopt common standards swept 40 states and the District last year, a watershed for public education expected to ripple through many aspects of teaching and learning. The standards, spelling out what should be learned in English and math every year from kindergarten through high school, are meant to replace what has been a jumble of benchmarks that vary from state to state in content and depth.

The Center on Education Policy reported last week that many states plan to revise teacher training within the next two years. But in most cases, key measures will not be rolled out until 2013 or later.

"Adopting the standards was difficult for a number of states," said Jack Jennings, president of the policy center and a former Democratic congressional aide. "They were worried about the politics. But they sailed past all that. There doesn't seem to be much backtracking. The states made the commitment, and it seems as if they're going to stick with it."

The standards were sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with financial support from private charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Obama administration encouraged the development of the standards but did not directly fund it.

Some analysts had predicted the movement would generate an outcry because of the nation's tradition of local control of education.

But there has been little backlash to the national standards as they begin to take root - with some exceptions, such as Virginia and other states that have not approved them.

D.C. and Maryland school officials adopted the standards last year and won major school reform grants from the federal government to help carry them out.

The District's share from the $4 billion Race to the Top contest is $75 million. Maryland's is $250 million.

In addition, Maryland and D.C. officials are among the leaders of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

The group, which has about $185 million in federal funding, plans to establish a common testing system for the city and two dozen states by 2014, centered on the new standards.

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