Yong Zhao, an educational professor in Michigan, published today an important editorial on the question of moving ahead with unified national standards in reading and mathematics.   Zhao and I share a commitment to preparing students to compete globally, and we have to acknowledge that the proponents of national standards, the Obama administration chief among them, argue that these new national standard initiatives do precisely that. “The joint initiative promises to help America’s children ‘to be prepared to compete globally.”

But the standards are concerned exclusively with assessing children’s ability to pass standardized tests in multiple choice formats in only mathematics and reading– and these standardized tests are set at a level that may be high for some children, but low for many others.     The result is anything but preparing students with the thinking, creating, innovating, criticizing, and collaborating skills necessary for their future.

More from Zho:

In reality, it is precisely what is needed to ruin America’s capacity for global competitiveness. No evidence shows national standards result in better academic achievement. Most countries have centralized standards, but their performance on international tests varies a great deal.

But the negative consequences of national standards are well documented. First, they deprive students of a real education, which is different than acquiring the knowledge and skills to pass standardized tests. The result of NCLB is far fewer opportunities for students to learn subjects beyond math and reading.

Second, national standards stifle creativity and reduce diversity of talents by instilling a single view of worthwhile knowledge. A child who does not read or do math at the level and time point stipulated is deemed at risk, regardless of other strengths, which may actually be more valuable in future life. The child is put in remedial classes and deprived of opportunities to develop her strengths and, worse yet, the ability to have a dream.

Third, national standards discourage innovations in schools by forcing educators to focus only on the standards.

I agree– let’s ensure all of our students are learning and mastering the core subjects to the greatest degree possible for each of them, and let’s ensure our schools and teachers are free to innovate in the direction of better facilitating their students learning of creativity and a wide array of talents.