Monday, March 13, 2006

National standardization grows close to a tree

This morning's eduwonk ran a contest on national standards that I couldn't resist entering. The two articles, one by Diane Ravitch the other by Kevin Kosar. Read Ravitch here, and Kosar's op-ed here. Eduwonk asked about a common thread between the two. The answer it turns out is that Kosar was Ravitch's doctoral advisee. The protégé doesn't fall far from the tree. Both of these pieces advocate for national standards, likely for some different reasons. But they differ more fundamentally.

Ravitch invokes College Board founders Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, and Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University. By doing so she implicitly advocates higher ed institutions should be setting the curriculum. Kosar takes a different tact. With a plaintive appraisal of a political landscape unfavorable to national standards policy, he implicitly argues for a more traditional approach to national standards. By traditional, I mean in the sense that policy makers constantly fiddle with K-12 standards and avoid 13-20 standards. Kosar's approach to national standardization, where K-12 universal standards would ideally lead to more symmetry in the admissions process and eventually college achievement, seems more politically tenable in this political environment than it has before. As he suggests, it's probably not going to happen, but a little more articulation between systems seems to be in order.

I'm reminded of a professor who got me into this whole education policy mess. She was way left, brazen with her New York accent, and righteous. She derailed the career of a future educator for alcohol misconduct. One day in class, after a long discussion about what if anything could fix our education woes--I remember pressing her pretty hard--she bluntly and unapologetically said: "standardize it all." It was obvious after class that she felt she had alienated the masses on that front. But she stuck to her guns: put every child on the same page every day. This makes some sense. However, it goes against foundational mores and enlightenment ideals like some local control that people like de Tocqueville saw necessary to fend off rank apathy and administrative centralization. Alexis de Tocqueville predicted that an America that emphasizes equality over liberty would force something like national standards. My take is like Kosar's. There's still enough liberty loving, in the perverted-over-time anti-federalist tradition, to thwart equality's ultimate payday--national school standards. More to come I'm sure.


Blogger Kevin said...

Thanks much for reading my op-ed.

I'm not sure, though, that I "implicitly argue for a more traditional approach to national standards." Nor, do I believe that I advocate "national standardization, where K-12 universal standards would ideally lead to more symmetry in the admissions process and eventually college achievement."

At the end of my book on education standards (see, I observe that the No Child Left Behind Act moves the federal government further into school policy by increasing the conditions states must meet to receive federal aid. I also provide a series of suggestions to improve this federal stadards policy. The notions aren't radical just an effort to tease out policy improvements that won't provoke widspread outcries from the left and right.



2:30 PM  

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