More Rigorous Education Standards Don’t Preclude Character-Building


States’ commitment to raising academic expectations marginalizes a “vast majority” of children who do not receive recognition for their classroom success, suggests David L. Hough, a professor at Missouri State University, in the Springfield News-Leader.

Higher standards, Hough indicates, discourage instruction that emphasizes character development. “What if ‘kindness’ and ‘empathy’ were part of” states’ new learning goals, the piece asks. “What would we think about a spelling bee champ who robbed a bank?”

However, there is plenty of room within states’ efforts to implement challenging new learning goals for character-building. In fact, the purpose of more rigorous standards is to better prepare students to become informed, productive and engaged citizens.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett agrees that schools must prepare students for “civic responsibility and competition in the modern economy.” He wrote previously in the Wall Street Journal that high, comparable education standards are necessary to help all students reach that goal.

Recent results indicate that states’ commitment to raising the academic bar is helping to more fully prepare students for college, careers and civic engagement. Last year most states made significant student-proficiency improvements in math and reading. Some of the biggest gains were made by third-graders, who have spent most or all of their academic careers learning to meet higher expectations.

“These findings send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests,” explains Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s Secretary of Education.

We agree state and local leaders should continually strive to incorporate learning that builds character and other intangible skills critical to post-secondary success. Because states and districts have full ownership of their learning goals, they are able to tailor instruction to emphasize those abilities. Nothing in states’ higher education standards prohibit schools from addressing those needs.