Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The George H.W. Bush Years: Opportunity to Learn
The systemic reform argument also raised opportunity-to-learn (OTL) standards as an essential counterpart to student performance standards. Smith and O'Day recognized that "districts and schools with large numbers of poor and minority students often have less discretionary money to stimulate reform, less [sic] well-trained teachers, and more day-to-day problems that drain administrative energy." Without attention to these inequities, even with many of the elements of systemic reform in place, "we will surely enlarge the differences that continue to exist between the quality of instruction available to rich and poor, minority and majority." This idea was controversial, because conservatives viewed it as a way for schools and districts to justify increases in education spending (particularly at the local level) or to avoid accountability by claiming that they did not have the resources to make such achievement levels possible.
While recognizing that OTL standards, even at a voluntary level, had not been created, the National Council on Education Standards and Testing asserted that the standards were necessary to ascertain the feasibility of student performance standards. Ultimately the Council compromised on OTL standards (what it called "delivery and system performance standards"), asserting that they should not be national standards, but rather "developed by the states collectively from which each state could select the criteria that it finds useful for the purpose of assessing a school's capacity and performance." This was a way to avoid defining national quality requirements for schools while supporting national performance requirements for students.