One way to win a debate is to make sure you're in on developing the question, for it is the nature of the question that frames the debate. The question is the fence around the playing field and when the question is, for example, "What should our standards be?", or "How will we measure success?", you can't discuss, "What are our standards for?", or "How will we act on our measurements?".
In public education much of the debate has been co-opted by this time tested debating technique. While people argue about curriculum, pedagogy, and standards, two mythologies, central to the field are left outside the fence. One myth is that all children have the same abilities (child as widget) and its partner is that public education can be designed as a singular (widget factory) assembly line, replicated across towns, states, and country. Much of the flailing in evidence today is about how to come up with this mythical process for our mythical widgets.
First, child as widget. I don't buy it. Without addressing why or how children arrive at their various capabilities, it is demonstrably true that any age based cross section of kids will produce a vast range of abilities. These can be athletic, academic, maturity, or any other measure you can think of. Kids exhibit huge differences in any category you can think of.
Unfortunately, many (most?) of the education establishment does buy into the child as widget meme. It's understandable since this is both politically and emotionally correct. Who wants to admit an inconvenient truth after all? If you buy the myth while being charged with developing widget factories, then your first task as a designer is to come up with a device that supports your mythological fantasies.
This is the root of subjective standards. With subjective standards one can disguise differences. It allows for the substitution of exposure for mastery. It facilitates social promotion. It pretends that there are no dependent stages to building an educated widget. It eliminates the need for expectations. Subjective standards remove the scoreboard from the game.
The second myth, the widget factory, is only made possible by instituting the first. It would be absurd to design a singular assembly line if your raw materials were not being delivered to the line meeting some minimum level of specification. Fuzzy specifications clear this problem. Subjective standards that support the 'child as widget' myth are a precondition for the widget factory. Fuzzy subjective standards create the necessary illusion that permits the universal solution.
So if you find yourself arguing text books, teachers, pedagogy, and expectations, lift your head out of the weeds to see if there is greener grass over the hill. You might be surprised at what you see.