Establishing national standards for what should be taught in schools along with a test to measure if the standards have been met have been debated and tried to varying extents over the last quartery century.

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This Policy Information Perspective aims at increasing our understanding of the history, the facts, the choices, the risks, and the possibilities that are involved in coming to a decision about establishing national standards in a nation that prizes local control of schools. The report offers a number of approaches that might be considered for increasing commonality in what is taught and presents experiences and examples that are being tried across the nation and could provide a basis for new efforts. This summary could be relevant for the discussion about the LEP (Livelli essenziali di prestazioni ) in Italy.


National Education Standards: Getting Beneath the Surface

Author(s): Barton, Paul E.

Publication Year:2009

Publisher: Education Testing Service, Princeton


This national standards primer takes a look at the who, what, where, when, and why of this movement as it has alternately spurted and stalled over the last 25 years. Or as Michael T. Nettles explains in the preface, "While the report is not a ’yes’ or ’no’ about uniform national standards, the clear message is that anyone who wants to make a sound and reasoned judgment on the question needs to do much homework first. This report will help with that." The scope is broad: Having laid out the history of national standards, author Paul Barton looks at the current conversation, including, in particular, the variation in how we define "national standards"—do we mean content and curriculum, performance standards, or student achievement? The common conflation of these three concepts has only served to confuse the movement, he explains. This confusion is also reflected in the sheer magnitude of variation in states, districts, schools, and students. From basic school structure to students’ differing levels of cognitive development upon entering kindergarten, the American public education system certainly seems to reflect its bottom-up history. Tackling that organic history will be a tough battle for any national movement, especially this one. In fact, the risks and difficulties it faces mean that any set of national standards will necessarily be voluntary. And it’s yet unclear how these standards will remain national but not federal, who will oversee and update them, and how they will be implemented. Don’t read this report and expect to come away with all your questions answered; you’ll be sorely disappointed. But the reality—that you will find yourself with more and better- informed questions—will likely prove more helpful anyway.


Summary by Stafford Palmieri published in "The Education Gadfly" , a Weekly Bulletin of News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham InstituteVolume 9, Number 26. July 23, 2009.

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