National Education Standards

Article excerpt

Martin West's "Global Lessons for Improving U.S. Education" (Issues, Spring 2012) reaffirms the importance of developing and implementing rigorous standards and transparent data-driven accountability in our schools.

The extent of students' capabilities carries an immense economic and social impact for America's families, communities, and states. As the United States continues to rank below the world's high-performing nations in core subjects, we must transform our education system to ensure that every student gains the power of knowledge.

We cannot fund our way to the top. West points out that the United States achieves second-rate results while spending significantly more per student than higher-performing countries. Our nation has the resources, financial and human, to host the greatest education system in the world. And that is what our students deserve: an education system designed to equip every child to achieve their God-given potential.

As West notes, education reform should improve the quality of education available rather than merely increase the quantity that students consume. To accomplish this, complete transformation is needed.

We need higher standards. West reports that by age 15, the average U.S. student is a year behind the average student in six countries in math. Recognizing the need for change, state leaders developed new benchmarks focused on preparing today's students to thrive in the 21st-century workforce. Thanks to those efforts, most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, and beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, math skills and concepts will be more focused across the nation. The first step, adopting the new standards, has largely been accomplished. The second step, implementing these standards and preparing teachers and school infrastructure, is critical.

We must hold schools accountable for the learning of each and every student. Transparent data-driven accountability that recognizes both progress and performance is necessary. This provides leaders, communities, and parents with a clear understanding of their school's true state of education. Without assessments to compare students' achievements against the standard of knowledge and skills they need to be successful, teachers, school leaders, and parents are ill-equipped to help each child learn.


We must also hold all students to high expectations and end the damaging practice of social promotion. Too many students leave high school only to face college remediation. Worse yet, many students never graduate because they become bored or fall behind.

A state-led movement to fundamentally shift education policy toward student learning and cognitive development is sweeping the nation. In the past two years, nearly half the states have adopted reforms to improve student achievement and transform education for their students. This is exciting, but we must remember that successful education reform is a process, not an event.

Only after lawmakers, communities, and educators recognize the urgency of the matter and commit to a long-term investment in our students' future will our states unleash an unprecedented flood of human potential.


The author was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and chairs the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Martin West builds a careful case that our nation's productivity is closely tied to our educational outcomes. Although it is true, as West notes, that global academic competition is not a zero-sum game, the failure of our education system is profound. Even in our usual area of competitive advantage, higher education, we face rapid growth from competing nations. In K-12 schools, moreover, the situation is increasingly bleak.

West flags some consequences, including increased gross domestic product, that are achievable with better education outcomes. …