Are federal education standards best for state?

School chief Randy Dorn has signaled the state will go with federal standards.

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Over the past two decades, Washington state has attempted to reform education by adopting higher standards and then hold students -- as well as teachers and parents -- to those standards.

It's been a long and difficult process. Establishing standards and then reaching a consensus on how to best measure whether those standards has at times been downright painful.

Yet, real progress has been made.

But when Randy Dorn defeated three-term Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, it sent education reform in a different direction. That, in itself, was not necessarily bad if the new superintendent continued to make progress.

Dorn has adopted a new test to measure success. Whether it is better or not probably can't be determined for several years.

However, Washington's education reform experienced a new twist last week. Dorn announced he wants Washington to adopt new federal standards for English and math. We are skeptical.

It's not clear how the federal standards measure up to Washington's standards. State officials have not had time to do an analysis comparing the two sets of standards.

Dorn was hot to move forward because of an Aug. 2 deadline to qualify for consideration for $250 million in Race to the Top funds. States have to agree to adopt the federal standards to be eligible for the federal money. It was announced Tuesday that Washington is not a finalist. Nevertheless, federal money could be available in the future because of this new designation.

So is the possibility of millions in federal grants worth tossing away the education gains that have been made?

At this point, we don't know enough about the risks vs. rewards in hitching our wagon to the federal education standards.

Still, having a national standard creates an even playing field when it comes to evaulating how Washington is doing compared to other states. In the past, Washington has suffered for setting the bar too high.

But some education observers question whether it is wise to have one learning standard for all states.

"Making education uniform at too high of a level ... ignores the diversity of the needs of our children as well as the diversity of opinion about how best to serve those needs," said Jay Greene, an education professor at University of Arkansas.

It's a prudent observation. What's good for Washington state's population might not serve the needs of those in downtown Los Angeles or rural West Virginia and vice versa. One size doesn't always fit all.

While Dorn has agreed to the federal standards, it's not a done deal until state lawmakers make the final call. We would urge legislators to take the time to make certain accepting the federal standards is, in the long run, best for Washington state and its students.

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