Led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the states, including Maryland and Virginia, are aiming to define a framework of content and skills that meet an overarching goal. When students get their high school diplomas, the coalition says, they should be ready to tackle college or a job. The benchmarks would be "internationally competitive."
Once the organizers of the effort agree to a proposal, each state would decide individually whether to adopt it.The nearly complete support of governors for the effort -- leaders in Texas, Alaska, Missouri and South Carolina are the only ones that have not signed on -- is key. Many Republicans oppose nationally mandated standards, saying schools should not be controlled by Washington. But there is broad support for a voluntary effort that bubbles up from the states.
"This is the beginning of a new day for education in our country," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "A lot of hard work is ahead of us. But this is a huge step in a direction that would have been unimaginable just a year or two ago."There will be no prescription for how teachers get there, avoiding nettlesome discussions about whether phonics or whole language is a better method of teaching reading; whether students should be drilled in math facts; or whether eighth-graders should read "The Great Gatsby" or "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Education experts say there will still be plenty to argue about.
"All the groups, the math educators and the English professors and the liberals and the conservatives will want to weigh in," said Michael J. Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the nonprofit Thomas B. Fordham Institution. "There are fundamental disagreements in our society about what kids should learn."