A new Cato Institute study examines the arguments for national standards. Some individuals and organizations support national standards claiming that countries that outperform the United States on international assessments all have national standards. Let’s examine the facts of countries that do better and worse than the U.S. on two different international tests.

– On the international 8th grade TIMMS test, eight countries that outperformed the U.S. have national standards, but so did 33 of the 39 countries that scored lower than the U.S. – including 11 of the 12 lowest performers.- On the international PISA exam, 11 nations that outperformed the U.S. have national standards, three have regional standards, and five have no centralized standards. Of the nine countries that did worse on the PISA, four have national standards, one has regional standards, and four have no standards.

Clearly, national standards do not equal excellence.

Nations that perform well on international tests with national standards tend to be homogeneous. For a country as diverse as the U.S. making everyone happy with the content on religion or history will be extremely difficult. Just think about the recent battles in Texas over evolution and social studies.

Another thing to note is that some countries with national standards are actually decreasing the scope of their standards.

– Japan reduced the content of their national standards by 30 percent in 2002.- Singapore reduced its national curriculum by a third in 1999 and added critical thinking in 2001.- Korea is sending its teachers here to learn how to teach creativity and critical thinking.

What about the quality of the proposed national standards in the U.S.? A study released today by the Pioneer Institute and the Pacific Research Institute shows that Massachusetts and California have higher standards than the prosposed national standards. Another analysis done by higher education and public school educators comparing Texas’ English and math college readiness standards to the proposed national standards finds that Texas’ standards are more comprehensive than the national standards.

All of this confirms Texas’ decision to not join the national standards bandwagon because it just doesn’t make sense.

– Brooke Terry