Today, Obama told members of the National Governor's Association that his administration plans to require states to adopt "college and career-readiness" standards to qualify for $14.5 billion in Title 1 funding, which supports school districts with a high percentage of low-income, high-minority students. Under No Child Left Behind, schools had to meet state standards, but these were adopted with little input from the federal government. Because NCLB penalized schools that failed to meet the self-imposed standards, many just lowered them.
The new education plan, whose details still have to be ironed out by Congress, seems to remedy many of the problems with the counterproductive incentive system of NCLB. States would be required to adopt common standards but not penalized if certain schools failed to meet them. Instead, these schools would receive additional assistance. The proposed standards would be "developed through a consortium of states" -- the Common Core Standards that the Governor's Association has been working on since July seem like a likely candidate.
While states would together be in charge of coming up with the standards, this is an obvious move toward the smart move of nationalization. Opponents of having national standards have typically argued that the problems schools face can be solved simply by encouraging "competition" with charter schools, and that national standards don't take into account the different needs of students in different communities.
Charter schools indeed lead to "competition," but not in the way many supporters think. The schools often do not compete to be the "most improved" school but instead compete for students, which has led them to be far more racially and socioeconomically segregated than public schools. And while it may be true that students' needs may differ across communities, national standards aren't the ceiling -- they're the floor. I don't see how someone can read the Common Core Standards, which include things like knowing how to use fractions and percentages, and think these are skills that students in any community need not know. School districts across the country are free to tailor curricula to their needs, but national standards establish a bare minimum for what taxpayers can get out of the school system.