Topeka Education officials in almost all states, including those in Kansas, are working on what are called Common Core State Standards, which will make the teaching of English and math in public school classrooms nationwide more uniform.
Supporters say the standards are a common-sense way to approach education in a mobile society, one in which students must be prepared to face global competition and where parents and politicians are demanding improvements in the way schools are gauged and compared.
“If you teach a kid in Kansas to read, you assume if they go to Oklahoma they can still read,” said Tom Foster, director of standards and assessment with the Kansas Department of Education.
For example, under the math standards, a sixth-grader — regardless of what state he or she lives in — should understand ratios and proportional relationships; a third-grader who doesn’t know the meaning of a word should understand how to figure it out by the way it’s used in a sentence, or analyzing the word’s root and being able to look it up in a dictionary.
The State Board of Education will discuss the standards during its Sept. 14-15 meeting and may adopt them in October. Thirty-five states already have adopted the standards, and nearly all are expected to.
At a recent briefing on the issue, legislators raised some concerns.
“I see good things to this,” said Sen. Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford, but she added, “What happens to local control?”
Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, who is vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, predicted that once most states adopt the standards, the next step will be development of a national test.
“What comes after that is where the rubber meets the road,” Vratil said.
States with high-performing students will fight for tougher tests, while low-performing states will go the other way so that their students won’t “look like dummies,” he said.
And once a national test is established, a national curriculum won’t be far behind, Vratil said, and that means local control over policies and funding will be diminished.
“You can’t just focus on the Common Core Standards. You have to look at where that will lead you and what is likely to occur,” he said.
But state education officials note the Common Core initiative was conducted at the state level, not the federal level. They say Kansas has been involved in developing the standards, and each state can add more standards for its own use.