DOE Chief of Staff: State Education Standards Are ‘Lying’ to Parents

By Penny Starr | August 11, 2011 | 3:55 AM EDT

Education Secretary Arne Duncan addresses a national conference on safe schools on Aug. 9, 2011. Duncan has told states they can apply for waivers from some requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, which he says has 'one-size-fits-all' mandates. ( Starr)

( – Citing the need for “global competitiveness” and an “international benchmark” for assessing how American children are faring in core subjects like math and reading, the chief of staff to Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday that it was dishonest to allow each state to set standards.

Joanne Weiss told reporters at the National Press Club that a new study comparing the government’s National Assessment of Education Progress framework with assessments done by states, shows that many states have set “low expectations” for students.

Weiss said the study, released by National Center for Education Statistics, showed “that setting 50 different bars in 50 different states is tremendously problematic.”

“A child who’s told she’s proficient – maybe even advanced – in Tennessee, moves to Massachusetts and finds out that there she’s actually below standard,” she said.

“That’s actually lying to parents, it’s lying to children and it’s lying to teachers and principals about the work they’re doing.”

The press conference came as part of a flurry of Education Department activity in recent weeks, including an announcement by Duncan that states can apply to receive a waiver from meeting some of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which oversees pre-collegiate education in the U.S.

The law, enacted in 2002, allows states to set their own standards for assessing children’s academic progress while requiring regular testing and the meeting of specific proficiency goals.

Under NCLB, testing began in the 2005-06 school year in reading and math, followed by testing in science at least once in elementary, middle and high school, beginning in the 2007-08 school year.

A core tenet of the law is that all students in the United States would reach the “proficient” level on state tests by the 2013-14 school year.

The Department of Education has not announced what will be required of states wishing to receive a waiver.

Weiss said at Wednesday’s press conference that even if all U.S. schools had the same standards for assessing academic proficiency, it would not be enough.

As the nation moves “into a century of global competitiveness, it’s not just good enough for a child in Tennessee and a child in Massachusetts to be held to the same standards.”

“That child could be competing with kids in Shanghai, or Canada or Germany for jobs when they get out of school,” Weiss said. “So this needs to be a series of assessments that are actually internationally benchmarked to ensure global competitiveness and that, of course, is the challenge that’s on the horizon for all of us.”

In a statement Wednesday about the study, Duncan cited the federal government’s role to “support states” in raising standards.

“In our plan to offer flexibility from No Child Left Behind’s one-size-fits-all mandates, we will encourage states to set a high bar and raise their standards,” he said.

“Under the $350 million Race to the Top Assessment Program, states are working to create the next generation of assessments that will track students' academic growth and measure higher-order thinking skills,” Duncan continued.

“Higher standards and better assessments are essential reform, and I am committed to supporting states as they do the work of raising standards.”

Link to full National Center for Education Statistics report (PDF 1.9 MB)