August 31, 2014 00:13 UTC

Audio / Education Report

No National Standards: Strength or Weakness for Schools in US?

Students at Lorain Southview High School in Lorain, Ohio
Students at Lorain Southview High School in Lorain, Ohio

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

What American students are expected to learn has long been different from state to state. We talked last time about the tradition of local control of schools. To some people, the lack of national academic standards is an important limit on federal powers. But others say all it does is limit American competitiveness in a world that is becoming more educated.

Now, state governors and chief school officers are leading a movement toward what are known as the "common core state standards." These list content in math and English language arts that students are expected to learn each year from kindergarten to high school.

In the past year, most of the fifty states have adopted these standards. That speed is partly explained by President Obama's Race to the Top competition. Accepting the standards helped states that competed last year for federal money for school reform efforts.

Patrick Murray has been an elected member of the school governing board in Bradford, Maine, for four years. The public school system is small, just one thousand two hundred students from five towns. In April, Maine became the forty-second state to approve the common core standards.

Mr. Murray says he does not trust supporters of these standards. "They say this is a state-led effort," he says, but he thinks the goal is national control of education.

PATRICK MURRAY: "Any school that receives federal or state money is going to be required to use the common core standards."

He says many states have adopted the common core standards only because they were offered federal money.

PATRICK MURRAY: "My opinion is when you have federal mandates and federal money involved, it’s no longer state-led."

Mr. Murray says national academic standards would violate the United States Constitution. He believes the federal government should have no role in education -- none.

Patience Blythe disagrees. Ms. Blythe has taught for five years. She recently moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before that she was a science teacher in Texas -- one of the few states not to adopt the common core standards.

Ms. Blythe says national standards could improve the results of American students on international science tests.

PATIENCE BLYTHE: "Not everything has to be a state issue. There could be a benefit from some more federal involvement in our education system, that we could address a lot of the inequalities that we have."

She also disagrees with those who say the standards could limit the ability of teachers to be creative.

PATIENCE BLYTHE: "The reality is the standards give you keys and tools to understand what the objectives are, and understand what the questions on whatever state assessment you’re going to take are going to cover. I can be as creative as I want to, especially if I have a good team of teachers to work with, and that we can work together and bounce ideas off each other."

And that’s the VOA Special English Education Report. You can find last week's report on the debate over national standards at voaspecialenglish.com. And tell us what you think of this issue. You can also write to us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Christopher Cruise.

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