The Common Core State Standards represent the single most important step towards raising the achievement bar for America’s students and improving academic performance. Unfortunately, the standards have come under fire lately by those seeking political gain and suggesting the standards are a federal government take-over of education. Nothing is further from the truth! The Common Core State Standards were developed by educators based on proven research and they are widely-supported by both teachers and the general public.
The Denver Post reported last week that 40 percent of Colorado’s students need remediation before achieving college-readiness. Across the country, employers report that students are not graduating high school with the math and reading skills needed to be employable. Remediation courses are expensive, often adding significant time and cost by way of excess courses to the college track, prolonging graduation date. Research shows that nearly 50 percent of all undergraduates and 70 percent of all community college students enroll in at least one remedial course – and for students who begin in remediation, fewer than 10 percent graduate from community colleges within three years and fewer than 40 percent complete a bachelor’s degree within six. For students who are not college-bound, remedial courses increase the amount of time before a student can enter the workforce and become a productive, tax-paying member of society. And parents, government, and student foot the bill for this added time and expense.
The Common Core State Standards create a set of benchmarks that, when implemented successfully, ensure students are prepared for college and future career. The standards seek to ensure that no matter where a child lives —mountainous Colorado, rural Kansas or urban Washington, D.C. — - he/she will be held to rigorous academic standards, end each school year well-prepared to enter the next grade, and graduate high school with a skill set matching the needs of a 21st century economy. This consistency should be a comfort to every parent, especially in our increasingly mobile society. How many of us have been forced to relocate – for a job, a military assignment – only to find our child simply isn’t on track to succeed in his or her new school?
States have always set their own standards, and voluntary adoption of Common Core is no exception. Upon reflection of the successes and failures of No Child Left Behind, it was evident that many states, when forced with assessing “hard to teach” populations to comply with federal accountability measures, simply dumbed down the standards to boost student performance rates. This phenomenon resulted in a “race to the bottom” and high school graduates ill-prepared for college or for career.. While Common Core standards represent an improvement over most state standards prior to adoption, other states, such as Massachusetts, have implemented the standards while also maintaining rigorous benchmarks above and beyond the minimum set by Common Core. Additionally, other states, like Virginia, developed and implemented their own college- and career-ready standards. Virginia’s Standards of Learning, first piloted in 2002, have been judged by the US Department of Education to be closely aligned with college- and career-readiness benchmarks.
Some critics have voiced concerns that adoption of the standards will lead to stifled creativity and autonomy of individual teachers, ultimately dictating lesson plans and all curriculum. PTA would never encourage monolithic classrooms, and we do not subscribe to this concern; we know that every teacher’s unique experience, instructional style, and curriculum alignment contribute to a positive and productive learning experience. While the Common Core State Standards define WHAT students will learn, the standards do not dictate HOW students should learn the material, or how teaching professionals should teach it. Each state and district will still write its own curriculum and determine how teachers work with their students and families to achieve the benchmarked learning goals, matriculate successfully, and graduate on-time.
Change is never easy, and as with any transition, this monumental shift to a new set of academically rigorous standards and aligned assessments will be accompanied by hurdles and challenges. Some challenges will be shared, others will be unique as states and districts all tackle implementation while adapting to meet the unique needs of students and families. PTA has never taken the easy road, we advocate every day for the BEST road; the road that leads every child to success in school and in life.
We understand that any change in education can seem scary. But before you push back, we urge all parents to become familiar with the standards and the new state assessments under development in order to fully understand how the standards will improve education for all students. PTA members should work to educate other parents, regardless of PTA membership, on the benefits of Common Core State Standards and academic benchmarking. National PTA has developed a robust set of resources for parents, educators, and policy-makers, and I encourage all of you to familiarize with the parent-friendly guides to understanding the standards and state-specific assessment materials.
Teachers, principals, and administrators – the ones in whose care we entrust our children day in and day out – overwhelmingly support the Common Core Standards. Sadly, the progress made toward college- and career-readiness is now being bogged down by politics and a fear of change. It is vital that PTA members speak up and stand up for Common Core by supporting teachers who are working hard to apply the standards in their classrooms. Family engagement is critical to succeeding in this battle, as it is in any fight for the education of our children. Teachers, administrators, and state legislators need to know that PTA will not be divided by political rhetoric, but will stand together, as one voice advocating for the success of every child.
Betsy Landers is the President of National PTA in Alexandria, VA.