Common Core State Standards—Our Kids’ Future
Posted September 19, 2012
Historically, educating our country’s children has always been in the hands of teachers, principals, schools, districts and states. As we moved into the 21st century, many states had systems in place to standardize what teachers would teach and students would learn in each grade. Then in 2002, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) institutionalized this system by federally mandating that every state implement a standards-based system of assessment and accountability. While this requirement was well-intentioned and an important step in the right direction, the federal law mandated only that individual states develop and adopt statewide standards; it did not specify the necessary rigor for those standards. As a result, states set varying levels of expectations for their students; some very high, some very low, and some in-between. As a result, a student’s ZIP code continued to be the greatest determinant of what he or she would learn each year as well as the minimum expectations for what he or she would achieve before graduating high school.
In addition to the equity concerns of state-specific standards that varied wildly across the country in 2002, the system also presented another problem for students. Families move—within and across states—and the varying expectations meant students were often unprepared for the demands of their new classrooms, or, alternatively, they had already learned information being taught. This impact was felt most acutely by our nation’s military children, who attend an average of six to nine different schools from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Finally, under previous state standards students were (and unfortunately still are) graduating high school not ready to succeed in credit-bearing courses in two- and four-year colleges, or to begin training for a career of their choice.
In 2007, states decided to take on this problem directly. Governors and state superintendents came together to outline what students should be expected to learn at every grade level in English language arts and mathematics. These expectations, which evolved into what we now call the Common Core State Standards (Common Core), outline the skills and knowledge students need to learn each year in order to ensure they graduate from high school prepared to be successful in college and career-training programs.
The Common Core State Standards represent an enormous step forward for America and our students both because they are common across states and provide equitable opportunities to students, and because they set a higher bar of achievement for all students than has existed in any state previously.
To date, 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity, which administers schools for our military children around the world, have voluntarily adopted the Common Core as their own state standards. This is a remarkable step forward in the movement to reform America’s public education system. As one of the authors of the standards put it, “what other policy, in education or outside education, has been adopted in a bi-partisan way in the past four years?” Adoption of these standards was not an easy feat for states. Now, they face the even harder work of implementing these standards and preparing teachers to use them.
This is why it is exciting to have the GE Corporation and the GE Foundation so interested in helping states, districts, schools and teachers understand and use the Common Core, and help students achieve at higher levels across the country. The support that GE has given to help bring the standards to life are unprecedented, and is directly affecting teachers’ ability to incorporate the Common Core into their classrooms and curriculums.
How will we know if the promise of the Common Core is realized in states? Ultimately, we should look toward student outcomes. We should see fewer students needing to take remedial courses when they enter college. We should see more students gainfully employed in their career of choice.
There are a few key areas on which we should focus to move toward this vision of successful implementation.
First, educators must be adequately prepared to incorporate the standards into their lesson plans. The Common Core calls for major shifts in how teachers teach, and how and what students learn. Students will need to understand mathematical concepts in greater depth. They will be asked to read more informational texts, and focus on language comprehension and skill mastery. The implementation of the Common Core is not an exercise in buying new textbooks; it is a transformation of the expectations for student learning across the country.
Second, all of us in education must understand that the commitment from the business community is essential to implementation of these expectations. There will be increased pressure on teachers as they raise expectations for their students. This will not happen in one school year. In this time of increased accountability, it could be very easy to blame the Common Core if schools continue to fail. The business community should be adamant that the new standards align with their expectations for the future of the workforce. This is not a pilot or a small scale change. The Common Core will fundamentally affect the national business community, and the talent that they are able to hire.
It is no longer acceptable for students to graduate from school unprepared for college, work and life. We owe this to our next generation. But more importantly, we owe this to our country.