Special Report

May/June 2012 Transcontinental Education

Soon, nearly every state in the union will have the same demanding standards for what students should know. If history is any guide, a burst of innovation won’t be far behind.

By Robert Rothman

Yet the prospects are not, on the whole, bleak. For one thing, the fact that nearly all states have adopted the standards makes it possible to achieve some additional cost savings through economies of scale. Teachers in forty-six states should be able to share the same online courses in professional development to prepare them for the new standards regime, rather than having to reinvent the wheel state by state. (Offering the course online, by the way, saves still more money; in the past, “teacher training” meant hiring an instructor, removing teachers from their class-rooms, and hiring substitutes to cover for them for a few days.) As the efforts by the two state consortia to develop new assessments aligned to the common core standards have shown, cross-state development can produce a much better product at a lower cost than states could produce operating independently. Discussions among states about cross-state partnerships are now in progress.

Moreover, the expenses involved in implementing standards do not all require new money. States spend money every year on tests, textbooks, and teacher training; that money will now go toward materials and training related to the new standards, rather than to their existing standards. In the end, the common nature of the new standards is likely to be their most important contribution. Just as President Lincoln envisioned a transcontinental railroad that would tie the country together economically, the common standards can knit the country together educationally.

The result, if it is sustained, will be a major advancement for equal opportunity. Well before most other countries, the United States opened access to education and made universal public schooling common. With the advent of the standards movement, states began to define what that education should consist of. Now there is near-nationwide agreement on the matter, and the bar is higher than ever before. All students, regardless of their background or where they live, are now expected to learn what they need to know to be ready for college or the workplace by the time they graduate from high school. The tough part—living up to that challenge—comes next. But the foundation is in place.

Robert Rothman is an education writer and a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education. He is the author of Something in Common: The Common Core Standards and the Next Chapter in American Education.


  • Big River Bandido on May 11, 2012 12:40 PM:

    If the only way you measure students against "standards" is high-stakes testing, you take all the "education" out of "reform". Ten years of NCLB has diluted the primary and secondary education experience into nothing but a drill of rote concepts that are likely to appear on standardized tests.

    What good is requiring students to be able to recite the Gettysburg Address if schools aren't allowed the time to teach them what it means?

  • Anonymous on May 11, 2012 1:10 PM:

    that's how students are taught by countries with better educations.
    i hope this will work out great!
    a good non-partisan comprehensive article on educational reform.

  • LoachDriver on May 30, 2012 11:12 PM:

    It's easy to see the benefits of national standards but country mouse I am willing to sacrifice a bit of efficiency to maintain local standards in education.

    Regimented efficiency was a favorite dogma of the Soviet Union & we saw how that worked out, not very well.

  • rick on June 04, 2012 8:56 PM:

    Any school reform generated in ivory towers will become an abject failure. Any experienced teacher can read the handwriting on the wall regarding the common core. I would recommend that the experts generating this newest round of tests spend a marking period in front of a class of 7th graders before that press the print button.