The United States operates with a common — also known as uniform — unit of money, language, calendar, military, flag and even core values. Those core values establish our form of government with officials elected by the people to represent them on decisions impacting all Americans.
As part of that representation, the National Governors Association — “the collective voice of the nation’s governors” — voted to support Common Core education benchmarks or standards that students across the country should meet at the conclusion of specific grade levels to better prepare them to be college- and career-ready by the time they graduate high school. The goal is to prioritize the outcomes of students’ school performance by measuring accomplishments along the way, ensuring a more effective and efficient postsecondary education system.
Those metrics are collected in an aggregate form for comparison purposes — just as they have been in the past — to see what is working and what isn’t working with this strategy. Such metrics are an important measure to determine the states’ — and that also means taxpayers’ — return on their financial investment in its education system. Is it accomplishing its goals of producing graduates who are work-ready and college-ready? If not, why not?
Most Americans agree our country needs a first-class education system and that a better-educated workforce makes Americans more competitive in today’s global marketplace. So it makes good sense to have uniform metrics at the end of each school year to ensure students are on track.
The new Common Core standards were voted on and approved by the various state boards of education — filled by those elected board members representing their constituents. For those who don’t remember who they voted for on Kansas’ state board of education, Janet Waugh, Kansas City, represents District 1 and the Wellsville school district; John Bacon, Olathe, represents District 3 and the Wellsville school district; while Jana Shaver, Independence, represents District 9 and the Ottawa, Central Heights, Wellsville and West Franklin school districts. Clearly Wellsville’s views ought to be well-represented with three board members representing its district.
This kind of commonality certainly will make it easier for transient students, especially those in military families, who are moved from state to state to keep from falling behind because of varying standards. Common Core’s blending of standards with local flexibility offers the best of both worlds; it’s clear not all children learn the same way nor at the same speed, yet all need to have critical thinking and problem-solving skills. State Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, illustrated this point at a recent legislative listening tour in Ottawa when she described her own experience as a second-grade student proficient at using negative numbers at one elementary school, though when she attended a different school that year the class wasn’t as far along as she was. In this case, she was more accelerated than the class she joined, so common standards were not being utilized. But imagine if her move had placed her in a class that was far more advanced — not less — than her original school.
Despite the commonalities in education adopted with Common Core, each school district has the ability to teach its concepts in the manner it sees fit locally. While some states or districts might believe they have unique curriculum that ought to be taught in their geographic area, it is difficult to believe districts couldn’t agree on a common math standard — especially when one considers that the commonly accepted standards for college entrance, the ACT or SAT tests, are the same regardless of the state. Similarly, English and grammar are the same across the country even though speaking dialects and pronunciations might differ slightly around the country.
The No Child Left Behind education mandate had few supporters at the outset, and even fewer by the time it concluded and was replaced by Common Core. Today’s Common Core strategy faces criticism too, and for some of the same reasons, such as being unproven. Students who aren’t good test takers and other at-risk students will, no doubt, have a tougher go of it with Common Core than others, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a positive step forward for America’s schools. A rigorous common education system is a sound way to raise the country’s collective brainpower.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher