Kress recently (June 5) commented on eduwonk on the current fascination with national academic-content standards.
He speculates that governors, chief state school officers, and others are under the spell of utopian "good feelings" about national standards that do not yet exist.
But once the good feelings "wear off," Kress says, they will start asking questions. Writing national standards will stir up perennial controversies: whole language vs. phonics, computation vs. concepts. Then, Kress points out, come all the questions of detail "that arise once you get below the level of 30,000 feet."
At this point, Kress says, policymakers may get to the place where they find out the new national standards under consideration are not ideal, not perfect, indeed no better than (or even possibly worse than) the standards that the states already have.
Kress asks reasonable questions about the horse-trading and interest-group jockeying that will inevitably arise:
Could it be that the tradeoffs that happen nationally will be the same as those that occur in the states? Could the same interest groups intervene? Could this nice dream [of national standards] be interrupted by the demons that bedevil state standard-setting? Could these interests be the problem as much as variation [among state standards documents]?Then Kress brings up the centrally important issue of a nationally uniform grading policy (technically known as "performance standards"):
If we ever get to detailed, precise [national academic-content] standards in each grade for reading and math, do the participants agree to common performance standards? If they don’t, who’s kidding whom? The real problem today is not so much that some states have vastly higher [content] standards than other states; it’s more that their performance standards are greatly different.... [W]ill the states, commit to making those the same? If not, [the national standard-setting process] will be utterly fruitless.Although Kress did not make this point in this eduwonk comment, he and those he works with have often pointed out that revising academic-content standards can be a time-consuming excuse for not doing the hard work of fixing failing schools and closing the achievement gap.
For example, the Washington Post reported on June 1 that immediate-past U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has voiced a cautionary note on this matter. Spellings said in a recent interview that she supports a process of states working together from the bottom-up to raise academic standards. But she is concerned that the strenuous effort required to create new national standards could divert attention from students who are failing right now:
We have a speedometer, and it says we're going too slow. Should we get a more precise speedometer? Sure. But the most important thing is speeding up.