What is the nature of legislative resistance to national education standards?
Lewenstein, Florian Jacobus
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During the past three decades there has been ongoing national discourse over the increasing deterioration of our public education system. There is universal agreement that education is a critical component of our societal infrastructure that is necessary for the future of our economy and our democratic way of life. From the outset, one reform that has been proposed as essential is the establishment of national standards for K - 12 education, to assure that all students will be provided access to a curriculum that will prepare them for higher education and participation in the civic life of our society. Proposals for education reform that incorporate national standards have aroused vigorous opposition from a variety of stakeholders, for a variety of reasons, which has contributed to the inability of policy makers to adopt effective reforms. Congress has passed only one bill calling for the voluntary establishment of national education standards, but there has been no progress since that legislation was signed into law almost two decades ago. This paper builds on a 1999 study by David Merrett, who examined the voting patterns of the legislators who considered the 1994 Goals 2000 legislation that called for the establishment of national education standards. The purpose of this study is to examine those voting patterns to determine whether there is a common theme that might lend coherence to the disparate opposition to national education standards. The identification of such a common theme could enable policy makers to work together more effectively in the pursuit of education reform. Regression analysis demonstrates that legislators who opposed other social reforms were likely to oppose national education standards as well. This tendency can be explained by a 1986 analysis by Strickland and Whicker, who propose that social issues tend to be bi-modal issues that motivate policy makers to adopt extreme and inflexible positions. The conclusion of this study is that national education standards represent an approach to education reform that is bi-modal in nature. To make progress, policy makers will need to recognize the legitimate concerns of all stakeholders, in order to garner the support that a successful reform initiative will require.