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Cheryl Oldham Headshot

Raising the Bar for Education Standards Is Necessary

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Should states only set educational standards that are easily attainable? Apparently, that's what many critics of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) believe. This notion should drive every parent insane. Personally, as a mother of two young boys--one in preschool, the other about to begin 5th grade in public school--I shudder to think that the expectations placed on my kids are only just enough to be attainable. Because, goodness, (begin sarcasm font) we wouldn't want them to be challenged to achieve great things!

For decades, we have been dishonest with parents and students, and told them they were on track even though the data tells a different story. Fifty percent of undergraduates and 70% of community college students must take at least one remedial course because they are underprepared. Proficiency rates on state assessments look great, but when compared to the Nation's Report Card, the numbers drop dramatically, particularly for low-income and minority students. States have set mediocre, dare I say "attainable," standards so that passage rates on assessments are acceptable to adults, and so states/districts/schools can escape accountability.

What do we have to show for those "attainable" standards? A pitiful 12th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math when compared to other developed nations, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Who suffers as a result of these chronically low standards? As always, the answer is our kids. It is the student who has been told for years, "you're on track, and you're prepared," only to find out that encouragement was woefully misguided.

We're finally in a place where 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted rigorous college and career-ready standards. Instead of saying, "finally, thank goodness we are raising the bar to make sure that our students are learning what they should be across the board," critics are finding any reason to oppose and support the old way of thinking.

Here are some common refrains as to why states should do away with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS):


  • The Obama Administration incentivized their adoption through Race to the Top. I can understand why some are concerned by this. It makes folks uncomfortable to have too close of a relationship with the federal government when it comes to education. However, these standards were not developed by the federal government. The federal government gave states a little nudge to do the right thing and adopt high standards. If that's the motivation states needed, I'm fine with that.
  • Common Core is actually 'dumbing down' standards in states like Massachusetts. This couldn't be further from the truth. Just ask the business community in Massachusetts which commissioned an independent analysis to ensure the state's already high standards would not be lowered as a result of adopting CCSS. The analysis revealed that the Massachusetts standards and CCSS were considered equally rigorous. But the tipping point for the business community, and why they ultimately came out in support of CCSS, was because of the emphasis on critical thinking in math, on reading complex texts, and on persuasive writing.
  • Because CCSS is just now being implemented, we don't really know that they will prepare students for college and career. We certainly know what isn't preparing students for college and career, and that is the current mish mash of state standards that vary widely in rigor and, in some cases, differ by as many as four grade levels. In state X, a student may be learning in 3rd grade what they wouldn't be learning until 7thgrade in state Y.

The biggest head scratcher for me is that many critics suggest there is no need for comparison across states because the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been doing this for years. Have these critics looked at NAEP comparisons recently? I can't think of a better argument for high standards for all states and all students. Virtually nowhere in this country are we even close to 100% proficiency in reading and math in the 4th or 8th grade.

But, hey, we wouldn't want our students to be challenged. Right?