standards-based structure. At Saturn, the company sets high goals for performance (e.g., a standard of zero defects), measures performance regularly, and gives extraordinary authority to teams of workers, including line workers, while linking their pay and job security to performance.
Likewise, a number of public-sector agencies are “reinventing government” by adopting similar principles (Osborne and Gaebler, 1993).
In education, the idea of standards-based reform grew in part out of the same notions that drove the reforms in business and government, but also out of a critique of previous education reform efforts, particularly the experience with Title I and Chapter 1. Yet despite the prominence of standards-based reform in the policy debate, there are few examples of districts or states that have put the entire standards-based puzzle together, much less achieved success through it. Some evidence is beginning to gather. Grissmer and Flanagan (1998), for example, found that North Carolina and Texas have produced gains in student performance through the implementation of standards-based systems. Other evidence comes from Europe and Asia, where national systems of education have produced curriculum guides and related assessments, and where many countries outperform the United States on international assessments (Schmidt et al., 1998).
In large part, the limited body of evidence in this country reflects the complexity of the concept. It requires substantial changes in a number of major interlocking dimensions, and education policy seldom occurs in such a systematic fashion. Moreover, it poses the technical challenge of creating new instruments and systems, all of which are exceedingly controversial and costly, in the center of a highly charged political arena.
The theory of action of standards-based reform rests on four major components: standards, assessments, flexibility, and accountability. It is represented graphically in Figure 2-1.
Setting Standards. As its name suggests, standards-based reform rests primarily on standards for student performance. The standards should be clear,