September 9, 2010

What Common Standards for Schools Can and Can’t Do

By By Andrew J. Rotherham

Share this article

Like many families, we try to escape the summer heat by going north. This year we spent a week in New Brunswick, Canada, at Shediac Beach, the self-proclaimed “lobster capital of the world.” But wait — Rockport, Maine, also calls itself the lobster capital of the world and has harvest data to back it up. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia claims the largest lobster ever caught, a 44-pound monster capable of devouring a house pet. So what determines lobster capitaldom? Harvesting? Big ones? A festival like the one in Shediac? Who decides, anyway?

Unfortunately, similar definitional confusion plagues an industry far more central to American life: our public education system.

Today states, school districts, and in some cases individual schools are allowed to set both their academic standards and the tests to determine whether students are reaching them. In other words, lots of different entities get to decide whether to call themselves an “education capital” of the world. Not surprisingly, many claim to be high-performers. And because there is so much conflicting data, it’s often hard even for those in the education field to make heads or tails of it.

Read the full column at

More from this topic

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.