Expectation for Work and College
At a time when all students are entering the same global workforce, why should states set different expectations for their students? Every student in the nation should have the benefit of a rigorous high school curriculum aligned to college and work standards. They should be given performance-based tests that let them know if they are on track to meeting those expectations. Yet we know that today's antiquated education system is not serving that purpose, in great part due to a lack of alignment throughout the system and with college and work readiness expectations.
The nation faces both a moral and economic imperative to simultaneously raise its expectations for students, align the entire education system to those expectations, and ensure that all students reach the goals being set for them. Because national expectations will only be met if the entire education system is designed to meet them, national leadership should be bold and assertive in adjusting the education system so it is prepared to address the demands and problems of the present and the future. The momentum built by state efforts should be scaled nationally to save time, capital, and political will and to allow the nation to quickly and efficiently meet its goals of graduating every student prepared for success in the twenty-first century.
Immediately, the federal government should begin to assume a much more active role in easing the burden on states and accelerating their efforts nationally. First, federal policy should move from the goal of "all students proficient" to the goal of "all students ready for college and work." Second, the federal government should play a role in guaranteeing that American elementary and secondary education is based on a shared set of voluntary, nationally agreed-upon expectations for all students that will ensure that they are educated to high standards and will graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and in today's workplace. There are many ways to set national standards that would be benchmarked against the demands of higher education, business, and the global marketplace; to build on the best state standards; and to reflect the knowledge of experts in the field. The federal government does not need to - and in fact, must not - set the standards or impose them on the states. But Congress should play a role in advancing shared standards and, once they are agreed upon, in offering incentives to states to adopt them.
Lastly, federal policy should provide incentives to states and districts to align the rest of their education systems to these standards. This should include providing the states with free, optional, high-quality assessments designed to allow students to demonstrate whether they have, or are on track to have, the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed after high school. Federal policy should provide incentives to states to align their curricula, teacher preparation, assessment, and other systems to shared college- and work-ready standards. Federal policy should ensure transparency and provide incentives to help states, districts, and schools ensure that every student receives a college- and work-ready education by increasing student access to and success in a rigorous and well-rounded curriculum. This includes requiring states to report annually on student access to and success in college preparatory course work across the state.