to adopt or closely model is not new, a number of groups have recently advocated it. The discussion surrounding renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has focused new attention on the effects of the current model, in which states independently develop standards that vary widely in focus and content. As Judith Rizzo of the James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy noted in explaining the impetus for the workshop series, NCLB has shone a “spotlight on the incredible variability of state test scores, both within and among states.” The variation in student performance has caused many to wonder whether the logical next step for a nation committed to improving achievement for all students is to move toward common standards.
The Commission on No Child Left Behind, the Education Trust, the Fordham Foundation, and the American Federation of Teachers are among those who have argued in favor of voluntary national, or common, standards as a means of improving both achievement and equity (Goertz, 2007; Massell, 2008). Others have argued against common standards on the grounds that states, school districts, and teachers need flexibility to serve their students’ needs and that reaching consensus on the shape and content of common standards—and even on a workable process for establishing that consensus—would be a formidable challenge. Complicating the discussion is the fact that evaluations of existing state standards in core subjects by such groups as Editorial Projects in Education, the Fordham Foundation, and the American Federation of Teachers have found many of them wanting (American Federation of Teachers, 2003; Editorial Projects in Education, 2008; Gross et al., 2005). A further complication is the fact that the term “standards” is used in a somewhat imprecise way. In the context of the workshops it was generally used to refer to both content standards, which describe material that students should be expected to learn, and performance standards, which describe the level of proficiency or mastery expected of them. Most state standards specify both.
To support analysis of these conflicting points of view, the committee wished first to examine the ways in which standards are currently functioning in the states and then to consider possible approaches to implementing common standards that could apply in all the states. Four questions guided the examination of the status quo:
What are the major roles that standards play in state K-12 education policy and practice?
What are the major strengths and weaknesses of K-12 state standards-based reform efforts with respect to achieving efficiency, equity, and quality? What are states doing to achieve these goals?
How and to what degree are the strengths and weaknesses of reform efforts related to the standards themselves? How and to