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Common Standards for K-12 Education?: Considering the Evidence - Summary of a Workshop Series
change is framed. For example, is it presented as a solution to a specific problem that those involved believe needs to be solved? Is the common standard viewed as more or less rigorous than the standard it replaces? Will it be seen as imposing additional burdens, as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) did, or as a way to address the shortcomings of NCLB? Advocates of common standards, she argued, would be wise to consider the incentives for state policy makers to incur the political risks of making such a significant change.
State requirements for standards approval are another important factor. In most states, standards development and review require a multistep process. Ultimate authority generally rests with the state board of education, although in some cases the legislature must also sign off. However, many other participants influence the process in different ways. As the discussion about the quality of content standards illustrates, there is a tension between a broadly inclusive process and a more controlled one. The more broadly inclusive approach tends to engender less opposition than an approach that relies more heavily on expert opinion, and it is more consistent with democratic political values. The tradeoff, however, is that the standards developed through the more inclusive process may be less consistent and focused than those developed through a process shaped primarily by subject matter experts.
Moreover, the multistep process allows numerous opportunities for opponents of the idea to mobilize, which means that advocates would need to consider the likelihood that groups will mobilize in support or opposition to the change. Given the history of bitter disputes at the national and state levels over curricula, McDonnell found, many policy makers are unwilling to consider any change more drastic than modest, grassroots-based approaches to common standards.
Related, then, is the need for policy entrepreneurs, individuals, or groups who are willing to invest the time and political resources to make an active push for a policy goal. Many groups serve this function at the national level, although these groups may need to build state-level networks in order to get the issue on the agenda and shape perceptions of the proposed change. Such networks would also provide ways to anticipate the responses of groups likely to have strong reactions to a significant policy change. Without them, the political costs of the policy change are likely to be much greater.
McDonnell also pointed out that time and resource constraints often mean that policy makers pay limited attention to implementation issues when considering new policies. Yet, she explained, “we know from lots of research over 30 years that few policies reach schools and classrooms without significant modification. You can’t mandate what matters in the classroom.” Thus, policy makers need to consider what will be required to