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In a country as large and diverse as the United States, several things are bound to vary across the map, and one of them is education.
Although the fundamental concepts that students learn remain the same, the quality with which these concepts are learned is not always consistent among various schools. The result is a full, varied range of competence - from very low to exceptionally high - among American students.
Better educational balance and parity is the basic drive behind government legislations such as the "No Child Left Behind" law. Such legislations aim to provide students with consistent quality of learning, so that no student falls behind the rest in terms of proficiency, and thus, overall nationwide quality is improved. Under the "No Child Left Behind" law, there are national standards to measure the performances of schools.
National learning standards have long been a subject of debate. For one, some argue that rigid standards prevent innovation and growth for advancing schools. Also, individual states in the country have their respective learning standards, and these do not necessarily agree with those of the other states. Each state is also free to change their standards as they deem necessary. Thus, nationwide testing using national standards may produce irregular comparisons.
But this is exactly why there is a need for national learning standards - the US as a whole needs to work on the same targets instead of separately working on individual goals.
The big vision is a scenario of individual states coming together, with no state lagging behind. The current situation, however, is quite the opposite. A report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found out that not only do states have greatly varying standards, most actually have lower standards than the current national benchmarks.
This finding offers several implications. Looking at the big picture, the report highlights the large discrepancy among state standards, and the areas where the standards can be improved. It also provides possible goals for states to aim for. But the bottom line of all these are the learning of students, and so it is important to look at the implications specifically from their perspective.
From the perspective of students, the inconsistency of state standards would mean that they may be getting an inferior quality of education as compared to their peers from other states. This is an apparent contradiction to the "No Child Left Behind" goal.
This inconsistency also creates another issue for students who are transferring to schools across their borders. They will have to deal not only with the change of environment, but with a change of standards as well. For instance, a student coming from a school of lower standards to one of higher standards might experience a difficult struggle trying to make the grade in the new school.
These are important areas where national learning standards can be the solution. National benchmarks serve as goals for schools in improving the learning they provide. In thus improving, they can ensure that no student is indeed left behind, because they are keeping up with the same standards held by all the other states. As another result, no student is burdened with a difficult transition when changing schools.
The notion that standards cripple the progress of advancing schools does not necessarily have to be true. Growth does not have to be a competition among schools or states - it can be done together. Indeed, national learning standards are not about competition. They are meant to unify this large and diverse country in terms of education, so that students all have an equal chance to a bright future.