SUWANEE, Ga. — By third grade, students should know how to write a complex sentence and add fractions, no matter if they live in Georgia or California.
Eighth-graders should understand the Pythagorean theorem. And by high school graduation, all U.S. students should be ready for college or a career.
That's the goal of sweeping new education benchmarks released Wednesday called the Common Core State Standards, a project that aims to replace a hodgepodge of educational goals varying wildly from state to state with a uniform set of expectations for students. It's the first time states have joined together to establish what students should know by the time they graduate high school.
"With these standards, we can provide all of the country's children with the education they deserve," said West Virginia schools superintendent Steve Paine, who gathered with other educators and officials from across the country at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee just outside Atlanta to release the final draft of the standards. "Having consistent standards across the states means all of our children are going to be prepared for college and career, regardless of zip code."
States are expected to use the standards to revise their curriculum and tests to make learning more uniform across the country, eliminating inequities in education not only between states but also among districts. The standards also will ensure students transferring to a school district in a different state won't be far behind their classmates or have to repeat classes because they are more advanced.
Under Common Core, third-graders should understand subject-verb agreement, fifth-graders need to know about metaphors and similes and seventh-graders must understand how to calculate surface area. States that sign up are supposed to use the standards as a base on which to build their curricula and testing, but they can make their benchmarks tougher than Common Core.
All but two states – Alaska and Texas – signed on to the original concept of Common Core more than a year ago.
Critics worry that the standards will basically nationalize public schools rather than letting states decide what is best for their students. Texas' commissioner of education, Robert Scott, has said that the state didn't sign on to Common Core because it wants to preserve its "sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools."
So far, the standards have been adopted by Kentucky, Hawaii, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Another 40 states and Washington, D.C., have agreed to adopt the standards in coming months, said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which joined with the National Governors Association in leading the Common Core project.
"We don't think it's acceptable that because a student lives down in Atlanta and not up here, they should have different outcomes," said Wilhoit before Wednesday's event in the northern Atlanta suburbs.
The federal government was not involved but has encouraged the project, including adoption of the standards as part of the scoring in the U.S. Department of Education's "Race to the Top" grant competition. President Barack Obama has said he wants to make money from Title I – the federal government's biggest school aid program – contingent on adoption of college- and career-ready reading and math standards.
"As the nation seeks to maintain our international competitiveness, ensure all students regardless of background have access to a high quality education and prepare all students for college, work and citizenship, these standards are an important foundation for our collective work," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday in a prepared statement.
Common Core was structured over a year of meetings with teachers, parents, school administrators, civil rights leaders, education policymakers, business leaders and others from across the country. The group produced multiple drafts and collected comments from more than 10,000 people online.
"The world is small now, and we're not just competing with students in our county or across the state. We are competing with the world," said Robert Kosicki, who graduated from a Georgia high school this year after transferring from Connecticut and having to repeat classes because the curriculum was so different.
"This is a move away from the time when a student can be punished for the location of his home or the depth of his father's pockets."
On the Net:
Common Standards Initiative: http://www.corestandards.org/