Education Standards March 11, 1994 • Volume 4, Issue 10
Will national standards improve U.S. schools?
By Charles S. Clark Introduction
Nearly everyone agrees that U.S. education is in deep trouble. Many experts think the solution lies in establishing
nationwide standards describing what every student should learn in core academic subjects. Spurred by 21st-century
goals set by the Bush and Clinton administrations, teams of specialists are at work designing content standards in
math, science, English and social studies. Many in the standards movement also advocate a nationwide system of
state- administered tests to gauge whether content standards are met. Critics, however, warn of federal intrusion on
local education prerogatives. Others worry that disadvantaged and minority children will suffer if standards are imposed
without first equalizing education funding.
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When Earlene Hemmer began teaching in the early 1970s, her grade- schoolers in Bel-grade, Mont., tackled arithmetic
largely by memorizing multiplication tables. “But they didn't understand why” the numbers worked, she recalls. “It was
frustrating because by simply teaching according to the manual, I had stopped listening to myself, and I wasn't listening
to the kids.”
As she gained experience, Hemmer gradually moved toward more conceptual methods, showing students the reasons
behind each process, bringing in her own visual aids. “There's still memorization,” she says, “but things are done in a
different order. The kids first think about how we learn and how we apply it.”
By the late 1980s, Hemmer was gratified to realize that math teachers across the country had made similar
discoveries. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics sent Hemmer and other math teachers the curriculum
standards it had created through years of research and consensus-building in the profession -- the first such standards
in the nation.
“I felt reassured I was on the right track,” Hemmer says. “I started to trust myself, and I got more out of reading the
standards a second and third time.”
Today, the council's math standards are used in schools in more than 40 states, and standards are being prepared in
science, English, civics, history, geography and foreign languages.
In his State of the Union address last month, President Clinton promoted standards through legislation, called the
Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which he said “links world-class standards to grass-roots reforms.” Business
groups, teachers unions, governors and many in the education field are rallying round the creation of standards