In the US, it has always been an accepted fact that if a student moves from Georgia to Minnesota – or from any state to any other state – she can expect a potentially major shift in the way she is taught, what she is taught, and how she is tested on what she knows.
In 2010, the US took a significant step toward changing that situation: It created common, rigorous standards that are on track to be adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia.
These standards are intended to influence curricula, teacher training, and textbooks, and spur the creation of better, more sophisticated tests. By most accounts, these standards are good ones, and go a long way toward addressing the oft-cited US problem of teaching that is "a mile wide and an inch deep."
This is the first time in US history that states seem serious about having one set of universal standards – something that's commonplace in most countries, but has always been anathema to the decentralized American education system.
"Big, modern countries in a flattening, shrinking world don't have separate academic expectations for kids living in different portions of their country," says Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a longtime advocate for common standards. "We also have a mobile population of people that are as likely to live in Portland, Ore., as Portland, Maine."
Though overshadowed by the Obama administration's Race to the Top education grants and education reform battles in cities like Washington, common standards could be a key step toward meaningful reforms to improve US education, advocates say.
Mr. Finn, who was among those pleasantly surprised by the overall excellence of the standards, acknowledges that creating and adopting them is only about "10 percent" of what ultimately needs to take place.
"But if you don't have a destination for your journey that's worth getting to," he adds, "why start driving?"
By Amanda Paulson, Staff writer