The emergence and evolution of curriculum standards in American education, especially, is tightly bound up with the education field’s relationship to rationalisation, professionalisation, and centralisation – a dynamic visible contemporaneously across many social and professional fields from the late nineteenth century to the present (Batlan, 2015). While Jal Mehta (2015) traces the valorisation of standardisation in education to the Progressive Era, specifically, the basic ideal that standards express – that there is a right way to conduct schooling, and that, because it is right, every school ought to follow the same blueprint – goes back to Horace Mann in the middle of the nineteenth century (Hlebowitsh, 2001).
But while curriculum standards’ history does point to the gravitational allure of a scientifically correct means of educating citizens for the future, standards have also made up the field on which the idea of ‘scientific correctness’ in education has been challenged. Various theorists and groups have used standards as a way of ensuring the inclusion of historically marginalised, as well as newly-emerging, sources, knowledge, and skills in our schools. The story of curriculum standards, therefore, is the story of the tense and shifting relationship between the state (and nation) and the local, between structure and spontaneity, between depth and breadth, and between exclusive focus and inclusive receptivity, all bound together by the need to educate our children well for present and future belonging within a democratic governance structure in an enormous and diverse country.