I have mixed feelings about national education standards. I'm inclined to think that, on the whole, they would be beneficial. It would create a set of requirements that is nationally consistent so that all children, regardless of where they live in the U.S., could reasonably expect to receive the same education.
They can also make clear expectations for teachers, which makes their job easier. For instance, The National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics has an excellent set of standards. One of the things I find most appealing is that they emphasize that math concepts should be understood in terms of language, pictoral representations, and equations. If one can master the three ways of describing a concept, obviously they've got it. I believe without such wonderful guidelines, many students would have large deficits in their math education. Of course, their effectiveness only extends to those who use them.
I have a harder time conceptualizing the use of standards in the arts and literature. Perhaps it's a good idea for people to read (and presumably understand) 3 or 4 plays by Shakespeare before they graduate from high school. Most certainly, students should have effective writing skills. What qualifies as necessary knowledge is a bit less clear for me, but obviously language skills are fundamental to success in nearly every area and literature can provide a basis for community.
A serious downside to the use of standards is exactly that: their use. Standards are a great idea, but I see them being misused very often, especially when a gifted child is in a regular classroom. Many gifted children see no need to repeat what they already know, but teachers feel they must stick to standards when teaching. It would be very nice if a classroom would check first to see if the child could meet the criteria in the standard. The child who does meet the criteria can move on and the child who doesn't meet the criteria could learn.
Unfortunately, due to classroom dynamics, that never happens. The point of the standard, in my experience, is to make sure there are no gaps in a child's education. However, many places teach to the standard, and if the child already has that set of skills and knowledge, they are stuck waiting while the teacher trudges along. Standards, sadly, are becoming an excuse to force gifted children into repetition and boredom. It is truly unfortunate that a sound concept can be misused. It would be ideal if a more effective way of using the standards, one that is more time efficient for both teachers and students, were developed.