Point of Beginning

Academic standards should be in local hands

July 8, 2009

Karen Utley

Statesmanjournal.com: Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, thinks all schoolchildren in the U.S. should be measured with the same ruler. Fearing that uneven state standards have led to lower expectations and are producing poorly prepared graduates, he's promoting the development and adoption of national reading and math benchmarks.

"Benchmark" is a popular synonym for "standard" that's often used by educators and their bosses to more colorfully describe what they're hoping to achieve. The term originated with surveyors, to refer to carved horizontal marks they used as reference points for measuring altitudes.

I worked on a survey crew one summer many, many years ago. Although I realized within the first week that surveying wasn't a particularly good career choice for a math-impaired literary philosopher like me, by the end of the season I had managed to pick up a few fundamental - and thus philosophical - truths about measurement.

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