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States weigh setting one bar for students

A 'common' standard for K-12 education is in the works.

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Test time: High school students in Springfield, Ill. Educators are split over uniform test standards.

Seth Perlman/AP/File

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Efforts to establish national education standards have always foundered on the shoals of culture wars and fears of too much federal control. But the time may be ripe for something close: a common set of standards for K-12 math and reading that states could opt to adopt.

Forty-seven states now support drafting such standards by year's end. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been using his bully pulpit, and the promise of federal stimulus money, to encourage states to abandon the current mishmash of individual standards.

"We've got the best shot we've ever had at getting national standards and tests in this country," says Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research group in Washington that recently hosted a discussion on internationally benchmarked standards. "But there's still a lot of peril on the road," he says. While state leaders are eager to collaborate, "not a single state has promised to adopt the standards."

Advocates see an opportunity to create stronger requirements that could put American students on better footing for pursuing college and 21st-century careers. Many complain that US standards are broad and shallow, compared with a number of top-performing countries that build around key concepts learned in depth.

But not everyone is cheering. Some teacher bloggers suggest that talk of national standards is simply a way for politicians to act tough on education, and they lump it in the same category as the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act. And three states – Alaska, South Carolina, and Texas – have not joined the "Common Core" initiative, led by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

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