This paper provides a comparative analysis of national curriculum reforms in Australia and the USA, set against the backdrop of global trends since the 1980s. The analysis is driven by an interest in the reconstitution of national policy spaces in global times, and draws particularly upon Stephen Carney’s notion of global policy-scapes as a way of understanding the complex and disjunctive flows of transnational policy ideas and practices. The paper begins by arguing that reforms since the early 1980s have been driven by global panics about globalisation, equity and market competitiveness. These global influences have underpinned parallel reform attempts in each country, including the development of national goals in the late 1980s, failed attempts at national standards in the early 1990s and rejuvenated attempts towards national consistency in the 2000s. Building on this, we argue that despite shared global drivers and broad historical similarities, reforms in each country remain distinct in scope and form, due to several unique features that inform the national policy space of each country. These distinctive national policy spaces provide different conditions of possibility for reform, reminding us that despite global commonalities, policy reforms are relational and locally negotiated.