Whenever I hear about moves to create national standards I'm reminded of the tyranny of averages. Averages are obtained by a simple algorithm that reduces the great cacophony of human endeavor to a cipher. All things human have a distribution and if you're measuring a performance you can be certain of results from awful to superlative.
If you're setting a standard for performance it will seek to find this middle ground of average capability. Set it too low and you leave money on the table. Set it too high and you've created an unatainable, frustrating goal. Even if you attempt to set it as some sort of forcing function, to set a high bar, you still must be cognizant of the middle.
What, then, happens to performers in a system where the goal is changed to average? Well the people who are awful, remain so. Absent some other change to the stage, a new goal doesn't have the juice to change an awful performance. The people on the other end of the spectrum, the ones whose excellence brought the average up in the first place, will likely lower their performance. They're the only demographic that has the unfettered ability to move to the new goal.
The new average, the one that kicks in after a few years of leveling, will be lower than the original. The high end has moved down. The low end stayed in the same place and the middle probably didn't know anything was happening anyway. This is the tyranny of average.
Without firing a shot or forcing any unpleasentness, the frog gets lowered into the cold water to start its cooking!
I'm reminded of Catherine's comments on the 'convergence of interests' when I think of this effort to create a national standard. Put another way, you could say that the convergence is also a 'synergy of entanglements'. A national standard would be a standard gleaned from national consensus (an average) brought to you be a cabal of vested interests. And, even though each participant in the great leveling may have individual pursuits in mind, they all serve the great convergence. They all strive to keep the beast alive because it is the beast that butters their toast.
I've been entangled in many start up companies and was priviliged to see a few grow to greatness. Most are now gone. They replaced their entrepreneurial, chaotic (successful) beginnings with the stultified average of (failed) convergence. We're in the midst of such a process right now in our politics. We seem unable to embrace failure as the cauldron where future success is born. Instead, we are scrambling to make sure that nobody fails. From the executive taking his gold from the burning plane, to the scofflaw who mortgaged a house they couldn't afford, we are doing everything possible to see them reach the tyrannically average American dream.
Our school systems are a mess and they are jam packed with entanglements. On whole it is a gigantic entangled, convergent, average. Instead of codifying this monster with national standards it should be decentralized down to a few million Darwinian enclaves to see which one is most fit.