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Video: New school standards raise the education bar

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    >>> for." nightly news" begins now.

    >>> good evening. if you're looking for any evidence that we may not be the nation we used to be, consider this. four decades ago america had the best high school graduation rate in the world, but by 2006 , it had slipped to 18th out of 24 industrialized countries. our 15-year-olds are in the bottom 1/3 of the developed world in math and science. those students who make it on to college, almost half of them need remedial courses in math or english. what do you do about this obvious downward slide in american education ? a sweeping new move to set higher standards and change american education . nbc's rehema ellis covers education for us and starts us off tonight.

    >> reporter: common standards some experts say could transform american public schools .

    >> a set of common standards are clearly an idea whose time has come.

    >> reporter: in washington, governors and school chiefs released a 130-page plan drafted over a year. it's a blueprint for k through 12th grade instruction in english and math.

    >> we can't wait any longer to close the achievement gap . if we don't get more students, and particularly students of color, from low-income families into college, the u.s. economy is not going to survive.

    >> reporter: according to the proposal, no required reading, but by second and third grade all children should be able to understand books like "charlotte's web" when read to them. by fourth grade, students should know the difference between poetry and pros. in math by seventh grade, students should understand basic geometry and algebra.

    >> actually take the heavy lifts that are necessary to get them to learn those things.

    >> reporter: the obama administration supports the plan, and has promised federal funds to states that adopt it. while the proposal has bipartisan support in 48 states , not everyone is onboard. some educators say national learning standards are not needed. alaska and texas are not participating.

    >> our standards meet or exceed every single one of theirs. to throw those out for something we just got don't make a lot of sense for us.

    >> reporter: but in kentucky, the plan is already in action.

    >> it's involved a good deal of professional development for us, but teachers love it because it engages kids, engages students. they enjoy the curriculum.

    >> reporter: if adopted, it could take years to implement, but putting more of america's 50 million students on the same page could raise standards for everyone. rehema ellis, nbc news, new york.

    >>> banks are not wildly popular

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