American education has always been run at the state and local level. Even as Washington has pushed states to try out this or that policy in exchange for federal funding, states have always chosen their own tests and learning goals.
But this fall, for the first time, a majority of American public school children are working to master the same set of more rigorous skills in math and English. These new targets, known as the Common Core State Standards, have been adopted by 45 states in an almost inexplicably speedy wave of reform, representing the biggest shift in the content of the American education in a century.
As such, hostilities have erupted on all sides. Tea Party groups refer to the standards as Obamacore, despite the fact that the federal government had nothing to do with their creation. Meanwhile, leftist critics have attacked the standards as "corporate" reforms, despite the fact that they were developed by teachers and researchers at the behest of a bipartisan group of governors and state education leaders.
One state bypassed all this tumult, however. Kentucky barreled headlong into the future three years ago and embraced the new targets before any other states, holding its children and teachers to a higher bar. Those same children and teachers, as well as the parents, who live there have much to tell the rest of us about what to expect next.