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Education chief hopes stimulus will push standards

Posted June 14, 2009
Updated June 15, 2009

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— U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is offering federal cash incentives to achieve one of his priorities: developing national standards for reading and math to replace benchmarks that vary among states.

Duncan said Sunday that the efforts of 46 states to develop common, internationally measured standards for student achievement would be bolstered by up to $350 million in federal funds to help them develop tests to assess those standards.

"Once you commit to that, then you have to figure out how to assess those standards, and we are putting unprecdented dollars on the table to pay for that development," Duncan said during a conference at the Umstead Resort in Cary.

He was attending the Governors Education Symposium, a conference for education experts and 20 governors hosted by the National Governors Association and the James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy.

Constitutionally, education decisions are made by the states, and the federal government cannot mandate national standards. That makes for wide variation from state to state. Students and schools deemed failing in one state might get passing grades in another.

It will be up to states to adopt the new standards. But Duncan has been using his bully pulpit to push the effort – and now he's using Washington's checkbook, too. He said spending up to $350 million to support state efforts to craft assessments would be Washington's largest-ever investment in encouraging a set of common standards.

The money will come from the federal Education Department's $5 billion fund to reward states that adopt innovations the Obama administration supports.

"Historically, this was a third rail. You couldn't even talk about (standards)," Duncan said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "What you've seen over the past couple years is a growing recognition from political leaders, educators, unions, nonprofits – literally every sector – coming to realize that 50 states doing their own thing doesn't make sense."

Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas are the hold-outs against signing on to an effort to develop standards by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. But getting the states to adopt whatever emerges will be politically difficult.

"Resources are important, but resources are actually a small piece of this puzzle," Duncan told the AP. "What's really needed here is political courage. We need governors to continue to invest their energy and political capital."

Any tests developed for the new standards would likely replace existing ones. Asked to explain the money's focus on developing more tests, Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive.

Developing assessments, by contrast, is a "very heavy lift financially," Duncan said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing.

"Having real high standards is important, but behind that, I think in this country we have too many bad tests," Duncan said. "If we're going to have world-class international standards, we need to have world-class evaluations behind them."


Libby Quaid reported from Washington.


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  • kellyaustin96 Jun 15, 2009

    This is all very good that we are upset with the federal government's role in public education. But, what are we going to do about it?

    What if the parent's of the able students abandoned public education and fully went into sending their children to private schools?

    Without the able students the public school system would be forced to reform and to present a reliable, qualitative product.

    I have had my children in public and private schools. The private school my child attends accepts learning diabled students and provides scholsrships to children without economic means. This private school is vastly superior to the public school on all levels: academics, discipline, behavior and attitude of the school officials. The money I pay to send my child there is a bargain, not to put up with the foolishness of the public education system.

    The federal government imposing federal standards is nothing more than nationalization of the public education system. No Thank-You!

  • djofraleigh Jun 15, 2009

    Take their money, then take their direction is the path. Score this or that or lose federal funding.

    I like testing, and I like having a way to compare state to state, but I don't want to see the Federalies taking over education the way the state has from the counties. There's a balance from local to state to national to figure out and maintain.

    If we just had and used a test that would compare us to the nation, better, it would be good, but not necessary.

    How about giving that money back to the people they got it from? Give Duncan's salary back to the taxpayer too.

  • helloworld Jun 15, 2009

    I am a teacher, and we spent the last full month of school preparing for the eog tests....what to look for, tricky answers, wording in the questions...so, I am against adding another...even to replace the current ones. We would then be spending even MORE time getting ready for the NEW ones. Kids are tested to death and hate it. They get tired and have the 'get it over with' attitude. People not in the classroom don't get that. Visit a 3-12 classroom prior to testing. Thanks.

  • clover1019 Jun 15, 2009

    hmmm wonder how much this cost the taxpayers: "a conference at the Umstead Resort in Cary" I would like my job to set me up with a conference there.

  • colliedave Jun 15, 2009

    Constitutionally, education decisions are made by the states, and the federal government cannot mandate national standards.

    Yep, just add in someone who gave money to The Messiah's adminisration to make up the standards and another one who gave money to the administration to enforce the standards. And there will be the need at the state-levels to monitor the standards are being met. And there will be the need to have monitors monitor the monitors,

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy Jun 15, 2009

    The problem with GOVERNMENT standards is that when a large group doesn't meet or exceed them, then they lower them so that group CAN meet the "standard"....I think a better idea would be to just give everyone straight A's! then everyone would be at the HIGHEST standard!!! lol

  • ++Ajax++ Jun 15, 2009

    Hey I can develop standards and save the country millions. Here we go...... do you work, study and pass the class. There I just solved the problem.

  • georgegray Jun 15, 2009

    Yeah, that's what we need - more tests (sarcasm). Our students spend so much time preparing for tests now that they cannot think for themselves (or recognize sarcasm without it being labeled). I'm all for high standards, but as long as all these tests carry SO MUCH WEIGHT(even if this test replaces an old test), we will continue to see a decline in students' ability to think critically and solve nonstandard problems.

  • thewayitis Jun 15, 2009

    NC should not give important state decisions to the federal government, but I fear it will. NC used to be big on state's rights, but now I'm sure they will just stick out their hands for that nice government handout, along with the servitude that goes with it.

  • veyor Jun 15, 2009

    Take Fed money, do as they tell you to do.