Did you know that the 50 states in this country essentially have 50 different curriculums for their K-12 schools? That means that graduating from fifth grade in Virginia doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as graduating fifth grade in Florida. Both states can have entirely different ideas of what children should be expected to learn by the end of those years.

Needless to say, this creates vast discrepancies among school systems in each state.

Fortunately, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers are leading a move to unify standards across the country.

Many states have signed on to basically share the same standards for math and English.

Proponents of these “common core standards” say that ensuring students across the country are on the same page educationally would ensure that the U.S. stays competitive internationally. Also, supporters say homogenous standards would prevent some states from performing far below others.

Opponents of the unification say that it will not have the desired effect and will be very costly to states that have to essentially redesign their educational systems.

For an overview of what’s happening with common core standards, you can go to http://www.corestandards.org/.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the argument’s pros and cons.

Why We Should Have Common Educational Standards

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece in April making “The Case for Common Educational Standards.”

The article is written by Craig Barrett, the former CEO of Intel Corp., and co-chair of Achieve, a nonprofit, bipartisan education reform organization. He uses his expertise as a businessman to lend credence to his arguments

“As a former CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I know that common education standards are essential for producing the educated work force America needs to remain globally competitive,” he says.

He goes on to talk about how English and math standards are usually determined without much consideration as to whether those standards are sufficient for what colleges and the work force require. The common standards being developed would help with this problem, he says.

He also notes the wide support for common standards coming from many, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, not to mention some conservative governors. That last part is particularly interesting because, politically speaking, one might typically expect conservatives to be skeptical of embracing what are essentially national standards. That conservative appeal might be helped by the fact that the program is strictly voluntary, as Barrett points out. States can join or not. The federal government is, however, hoping to sweeten the deal with incentives for states that cooperate.

You can’t read the article on the newspaper’s website without a subscription, but it has been posted in its entirety at the link below.  Click here to read more of Barrett’s arguments:

Additionally, a June 1 Washington Post article cites U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who says that the current ensemble of separate standards allows some students to perform well at the state level but more poorly nationally.

Check out these quotes from the article:

“In Mississippi, for instance, 90 percent of fourth-graders passed the state reading exam in 2007, according to U.S. Department of Education data. But only 51 percent had at least “basic” or “partial mastery” on the test known as the Nation’s Report Card.

“In Maryland, 86 percent of fourth-graders passed the reading test, while 69 percent earned a basic score or better on the national test, according to federal data. And in Virginia, about 87 percent of fourth-graders passed the state test, while 74 percent reached at least a basic score on the national exam.”

So, you can see that there appears to be some compelling reasons why states are looking at common standards.

Why We Shouldn’t Have Common Educational Standards

Jump over to a recent article at National Public Radio and you can see some of the arguments against common standards. This piece takes the stance of a myth-busting article, addressing misconceptions on the topic.

The authors take issue with the idea that common standards will increase our international competitiveness.

“The relationship between standards and academic achievement is unclear. While it’s true that many of the countries that outperform the U.S. on international tests have national standards, so do most of the countries that score lower than the U.S.,” the article states.

Additionally, the article states that common standards wouldn’t necessarily help bridge the divide between successful states and their lesser-achieving brethren.

“Some states do have higher standards than others. But the same pressures that drive down state standards would likely plague national standards — and if national standards were defined down, they would undercut states with higher standards, such as Massachusetts,” the article states.

Check out the article for more information about why common educational standards are a bad idea.

The Situation in Virginia

Regardless of your opinion, if you live in the state of Virginia, the situation is basically set. As it stands, the state will not be adopting common standards.

According to a June 3 piece in the Washington Post, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is saying that the state standards are good enough and that changing the state’s educational system to fall in line with common standards would require expensive changes.

A Virginia Department of Education spokesman, Charles Pyle, had this to say:

“Virginia’s entire accountability and support system is built on the Standards of Learning. Removing this foundation and replacing it with the common core would disrupt instruction in every school in the commonwealth.”

Perhaps, but William Schmidt, a professor of statistics and education at Michigan State University, says that Virginia’s math standards are not quite up to par with the common standards. Of course, Schmidt helped create those standards, so he might not be the most unbiased observer.

What Do You Think?

Now you have heard some arguments from the so-called experts. But what do you think? Post your comments on this article and start a discussion about the value of common core standards among the states. We want to hear from you.