A group of governors and school superintendents released a proposed set of academic standards Wednesday that lays out what students should be learning in math and English every year from kindergarten through high school.
The guidelines are part of a push to iron out the jumble of state standards and raise expectations for American schools. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia joined in the effort to develop national standards, leaving Alaska and Texas as the lone holdouts.
If proponents have their way, third-graders across the country will understand the function of adjectives and adverbs, while eighth-graders will be introduced to the Pythagorean theorem. More broadly, the standards are meant to prepare kids for the possibility of college.
The proposal, backed by President Obama, was unveiled by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It emerged with surprisingly broad agreement after years of bitter debate between the federal government and the states over who should set academic standards.
Kindergarten: Basic counting. Read at least 25 high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she).
First Grade: Addition and subtraction. Read grade-appropriate irregularly spelled words (e.g., said, were, could, would).
Second Grade: Basic problem solving using addition and subtraction. Distinguish long and short vowels.
Third Grade: Multiplication and division. Decode multisyllabic words (e.g., supper, chimpanzee, refrigerator).
Fourth Grade: Operations on fractions. Produce complete sentences, avoiding fragments and run-ons.
Fifth Grade: Decimal concepts. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
Sixth Grade: Properties of area, surface area and volume. Use commas, parentheses or dashes to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
Seventh Grade: Elementary algebra. Learn to avoid misplaced and dangling modifiers.
Eighth Grade: Plane and solid geometry. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.
— Excerpted from the Common Core State Standards Initiative
Chris Minnich, director of standards and assessment for the Council of Chief State School Officers, told The Associated Press that the process of coming up with the new standards put a premium on consensus-building.
But some education experts have criticized the process, saying adoption of the new standards will not be voluntary.
"First they tried to tie it to Race to the Top money ... now they're trying to tie it to Title I funds," said Robert Scott, Texas' commissioner of education.
Last month, Obama told the nation's governors that his administration wants to make dollars from the largest federal education program, known as Title I, contingent on adoption of college- and career-ready reading and math standards. Money would be awarded under the Race to the Top program, based on progress toward the proposed benchmarks.
The president said the states would not be required to adopt the coalition's standards.
Kentucky last month became the first state to officially adopt the guidelines in the blueprint.
The Obama administration supports the plan as a way to address a key criticism of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative — that it allows each state to administer separate achievement tests to its students, creating a hodgepodge of standards. It is unclear what impact the new plan might have on No Child Left Behind.
The latest proposal, known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative, is expected to lead to standardization of textbooks and testing, and make learning easier for students who move from state to state.
"These are rigorous standards. These standards are as high as the highest standards that any state has," said William McCallum, chairman of the math standards committee and head of the mathematics department at the University of Arizona.
Texas and Alaska are the only states not participating in the national standards effort. Texas has also opted out of the federal Race to the Top competition for $4.35 billion for education reform.
"Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools," Scott wrote in a letter to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). "It is clear that the first step toward nationalization of our schools has been put into place."
The public is invited to comment on the proposed new national standards until April 2, and the developers hope to publish final education goals for K-12 math and English in May.
From NPR's Scott Neuman and Larry Abramson, with additional material from The Associated Press