Perdue Rebuts Other GOP Governors: Common Academic Standards Set A Floor, Not A Ceiling, For Students

This week, Govs. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) and Rick Perry (R-TX) declined to participate in the second round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, a $4 billion initiative that provides competitive grants to states that implement education reforms. Both governors relied on the false argument that adoption of the National Governors Association’s common academic standards (which earns a state 40 points on its application, out of 500) would force them to lower their own state’s standards.

Common standards “would likely weaken the rigorous college- and career-ready standards and assessments already in place in our state,” Perry said. “They would require us to essentially reduce the quality of Virginia’s standards, and we just can’t do that,” McDonnell opined, adding that “we think those common standards ought to be a floor not a ceiling.”

As I’ve pointed out, according to the Race to the Top executive summary, the common standards are, in fact, a floor and not a ceiling. And Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-GA), who co-chairs the NGA’s education initiative, agrees, as evidenced by his statement yesterday at an event unveiling the final version of the standards:

Complacency can’t lead us into the doldrums, and our nation can’t afford to be second class in education…I see a direct link in education and economic development. What are the opportunities and the rightful responsibilities of our states to get students, not at a ceiling, but at a floor of expectations?

The new standards have also been met with praise by the American Federation of Teachers. “Imagine in football if one team made a first down in 7 yards and the other in 10 yards. That’s not fair,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “Once the states adopt this, that’s when the preparation really begins to take this from ‘should’ to ‘will.’” According to the New Teacher Project, Race to the Top “has already accelerated education reform by decades in some states.”

Perdue is right to frame the push for higher standards in terms of their economic benefits. According to research done by McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, if the educational achievement gap between America’s lowest and highest performing states had been narrowed “GDP in 2008 would have been $425 billion to $700 billion higher, or 3 to 5 percent of GDP.”

In addition, “if the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher.” “This represents 9 to 16 percent of GDP,” the firm found.

It’s been clear since McDonnell began making his claim that it simply isn’t true, but as Monica Potts pointed out, McDonnell “has a complicit press in helping spin this into an anti-federalist stand.” It’s good to see another Republican governor set the record straight.