Written by Matt Leon, Ed Speaks editorial board member
The truth is that how well – or poorly – American schools are doing in comparison with the rest of the world is the subject of some debate. Some say our education system is failing; Others believe those claims are overblown.
Here’s something that’s harder to argue about: Parents want their kids to have options in life, be responsible and successful, and pass along the same opportunities to future generations. Higher education is increasingly essential to making this happen.
According to a 2010 study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the workforce, the share of American jobs that will require post-secondary education will increase to 63 percent by 2018. It was 28 percent in 1973.
“High school graduates and dropouts will find themselves largely left behind in the coming decade as employer demand for workers with postsecondary degrees continues to surge,” the report states.
Some are concerned that many high school graduates are not ready for college, jeopardizing their shot at a degree. The State University of New York Task Force on Remediation estimates that 40 percent of the state’s high school students arrive at college under-prepared.
It was similar statistics like these led the National Governor’s Association to launch the effort that ultimately became the Common Core State Standards. New York is among the 45 states that are in the process of implementing the standards, which are touted as research-based, internationally-benchmarked, clear markers of what students need to know by grade level to be ready for college and careers.
In our most recent “Ed Speaks on Ed Reform” post we talked about what Common Core standards are not. Let’s take a closer look at what they are and what they demand of our schools.
The Common Core State Standards were developed by a team of stakeholders, including teachers, content experts, administrators, and parents, convened by the governor’s association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They were were announced 2010 after a year of development and more than 10,000 comments received from the public.
The Common Core’s widespread implementation has been aided by the federal government’s Race to the Top grants and other policies. But decisions about whether to adopt the new standards, and how and when to implement them, have been up to each state. New York adopted the Common Core in 2010.
The Common Core standards are a big shift and a big lift.
Educators in New York frequently talk about the state’s previous standards as being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Many have welcomed the Common Core’s shift in focus to critical thinking and in-depth study of fewer topics.
The Common Core standards call for students in English Language Arts (ELA) to read more non-fiction and be able to cite specific textual evidence when crafting a written or verbal argument. The math standards also stress deep understanding: fluency with numbers and the ability to use math in real-world situations.
The goal is for what students learn in school to reflect what they will need to know later in life. The standards are designed to be rigorous – and they are, according to a 2010 study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The study showed that out of the math and ELA standards in 53 states and territories – 106 sets of standards in all – the Common Core were “superior” to 76, including those of New York.
In the study, New York’s previous ELA standards received a C and the math standards received a B. “The Common Core math standards earn a grade of A-minus while the Common Core ELA standards earn a B-plus, both solidly in the honors range,” the Fordham report states. “Neither is perfect. Both are very, very strong.”
The Common Core standards are a roadmap
The same Fordham Institute report says that standards are the foundation on which the rest of the educational process should rest: “Choose your metaphor: Standards are targets, or blueprints, or roadmaps. They set the destination: what we want our students to know and be able to do by the end of their K-12 experience, and the benchmarks they should reach along the way.”
Proponents of the Common Core say it was time for American schools to have consistent standards for what students should learn, regardless of their state. They believe this will lead to more effective collaboration between schools and teachers across the country, and also benefit students who move from one state to another.
The standards themselves are broad objectives. Here are two Common Core standards, for example:
Kindergarten math: Count to 100 by ones and by tens.
Grades 11-12, English Language Arts: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
It’s up to states, schools, principals, and teachers to decide how the standards will be met.
In New York, the State Education Department is providing – but not mandating – curriculum modules that are aligned with Common Core. It has launched the website http://engageNY.org in an effort to help school leaders, teachers, and families make the adjustment. The curriculum materials are posted there for all to access.
Common Core standards are a work in progress.
The 45 Common Core states are at various points in a multi-year implementation process. Most states won’t have them in place entirely until at least 2014-15, according to a Center for Educational Policy (CEP) report published last year. New York has targeted the current year for full implementation.
“Fully implementing the [Common Core standards] s a complex undertaking that will take time and affect many aspects of the education system,” CEP report co-author Diane Stark Rentner, told NEA Today. “Looming over this entire process is the major challenge of adequate resources. Policymakers should be aware that funding problems could cause states to curtail or delay some of their plans.”
Along with Kentucky, New York was one of the first states to test students based on Common Core. In New York, this happened last spring, prior to the standards being fully incorporated into the curriculum. The corresponding drop in proficiency levels, the use of the results in the new educator evaluation system, and recent cuts in education funding have led many conclude that schools and teachers have not been given the time or resources to implement Common Core properly.
Education Commissioner John King is hearing this message in a series of public forums on Common Core he is currently holding across the state. King has counseled patience, and promises that the State Education Department is listening, willing to make adjustments, and fully committed to the standards.
The state Senate Education Committee has been hearing much of the same feedback in a series of hearings it is holding on school reform. However, many of those testifying, by invitation, are voicing support for the new learning standards themselves.
Dr. Thomas Rogers, superintendent of Nassau BOCES, encouraged an honest appraisal of present conditions and a focus on moving forward in his testimony.
“Whatever the reservation about its implementation, calls to abandon the Common Core effort are misplaced. Although this first experience with it has been bracing, it is not a reason to return to the status quo,” Dr. Rogers said. “We need to continue to focus on a narrower set of deep concepts, and we need to stimulate higher order thinking skills.”