Saturday, January 23, 2010

Texas Shouldn’t Sit Out Education Race

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On Tuesday, 40 states and the District of Columbia entered a competition for $4.35 billion in federal taxpayer money aimed at improving education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry didn’t want to join the tussle (Texas could get as much as $750 million) for fear that the process could lead to too much federal government influence over public schools. This state, he said, "would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington."

Perry’s primary objection to the federal "Race to the Top" education grants is that the process gives an edge (40 points on a 500-point scale) to states that agree to use "common core" education standards. Only Texas and Alaska have not signed on.

Politicians and educators have been arguing about the pros and cons of nationwide education standards since the Soviets launched Sputnik. President Barack Obama likes the idea, and his administration is using a $4.35 billion carrot to urge it along.

Perry doesn’t like Obama’s policies — or seemingly anything about him. So if Obama says "yes," Perry says "no," or vice versa, on just about anything.

Fair enough, as far as politics go. But this is about education, and Texans take their kids’ education pretty darn seriously.

So who’s right about the standards? The answer is that it doesn’t matter who writes the standards. What matters is how good the standards are and whether they will help students compete in the global race for jobs.

The "common core" standards come from a cooperative effort led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.

Grade-level K-12 standards themselves haven’t been finished (a draft is expected before spring). But the effort’s advisory group of education experts, stealing openly from concepts used by other nations that are doing a better job of educating their young, has completed "college and career readiness" standards for math and English/language arts. It’s a description of what students should know when they leave high school. (Find it at