This is a breaking story about which I'll have more to say in a column next week, but today the National Governors' Association announced that 46 states and the District of Columbia have joined a coalition in favor of common academic standards. Only South Carolina, Alaska, Missouri, and Texas have held back. From the NGA press release:

By signing on to the common core state standards initiative, governors and state commissioners of education across the country are committing to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills.

The caveat here is that once the coalition develops the standards, each state will be able to choose whether or not it will actually adhere to them. Unless the federal government provides some sticks and carrots, there will be little incentive for politicians from low-performing states, like Mississippi, to enact the standards. After all, doing so would reveal just how little those states' school children are actually learning, and to what a pitifully low standard they've been held.

But this is still big news. It wasn't that long ago that proponents of common standards believed the best they could hope for were regional standards. In other words, instead of our current system of 50 different state curricula, groups of states would band together and agree to share one system. But in recent months, the political calculus has shifted considerably, with national standards emerging as education reform common ground between teachers' unions and some of their opponents within the Democratic coalition -- those who broadly support teacher merit pay, an expansion of charter schools and vouchers, and alternative-certification programs for teachers. All of these folks can agree, seemingly, that the system would benefit from some regularization.

Of course, anti-testing advocates are likely to be quite skeptical of this move, which has the potential to lead to national assessments. At this early stage, though, it is totally unclear whether common assessments would even be an outgrowth of common standards.

--Dana Goldstein

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