No academic reform is more needed than credible performance standards that can be applied in all parts of the country. And no classrooms are in greater need of such standards than those in America's inner cities. That's why it was heartening to hear that New York City's chancellor of schools, Rudy Crew, is steering his sprawling system toward this crucial reform.
Dr. Crew plans to draw on New Standards, a project of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) and the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Their funds come from private foundations and states and from local school districts that are partners in the project.
The New Standards program is distinct from the highly publicized - and frequently highly controversial - national standards developed with federal funding. Like the latter, this project has sought input from teachers, education experts, and citizens from around the US. However, an often-praised strength of the New Standards product is its assessment process. Examples of students' work show educators, and other students, just what is expected under the math, English, science, and applied-learning standards.
New York isn't alone in experimenting with these standards. San Diego; Pittsburgh; Fort Worth, Texas; and Rochester and White Plains, N.Y., are also using them to strengthen public education.
The New Standards developers have "benchmarked" their work to academic expectations in Europe and Japan. The volume of reading required, and the quality of scientific and mathematical reasoning, could boggle some US students.
But beyond boggling could come gratifying accomplishment. The idea of standards is to give all students, and teachers, something clear to shoot for. The term "national standards" has, unfortunately, carried for some an implication of control from Washington. But standards such as those being considered by New York City will inevitably undergo some local adaptation - in fact, that's expected.
A core of common goals should be preserved, however. And if a set of standards with national scope can be successfully applied in the Big Apple, the lumbering school-reform movement could kick into higher gear.
Readers who want to know more about New Standards can check out the NCEE World Wide Web site: http://www.ncee.org.