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Common Core: 2014 a Pivotal Year for Needed Reform

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ruffled feathers in November with his comments about people who oppose the Common Core State Standards. He said a lot of the pushback on Common Core has come from "white suburban moms" who are upset that their children aren't "as brilliant as they thought they were" and their schools aren't "quite as good as they thought they were." Perhaps the remarks were insensitive, but his analysis was spot-on. Common Core is forcing us to realize that education reform isn't just needed to transform our urban schools -- it's desperately needed across the United States. To realize our children's full potential as well as make our schools globally competitive, we have to act now to raise the bar for all students.

At present, too many of our students are graduating from high school not ready for college-level work. Nearly 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges take remedial courses, while 20 percent of students in four-year colleges have to start by making up what they didn't learn in high school. This is unacceptable. Our schools should be preparing students for the rigors of college and career, and too many of them fail to do so.

Equally, if not more troubling, is that our children are falling further behind their global counterparts. Students in the United States are scoring well below the world's best schools in math, reading and science. This isn't restricted to students in poverty, either; middle class students are also lagging behind, as new data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) found. In the United States, teenage students ranked behind their counterparts in 23 countries in science and 30 countries in math.

Meanwhile, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2013 report card for the nation in November, showing only slight gains in math and reading for students. Even with growth in charter schools and other reform measures nationwide, it's clear we need more rigorous standards across the board. Our students can't wait: the time for reform is now.

Common Core has been the major issue in education this year, as more states move to full implementation of the standards. Like charter schools, the Common Core aims to raise the bar for all students, preparing them for college success. The K-12 standards of achievement are rigorous, calling out the very best in our kids using a system that will help parents hold teachers accountable while also giving teachers a system for professional collaboration.

To be clear: the Common Core is not a silver bullet to easily and quickly raise student achievement and spike our global competitiveness. That said, it remains a critical step for meaningful improvement in education in the United States, in conjunction with charters and other measures that challenge students to succeed at higher levels. Currently 45 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core. Six states implemented the standards during the 2012-2013 academic year. Most will be doing so in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.

As states and districts wrangle with the details of putting the Common Core in place, pushback has gotten stronger and some opponents are gaining traction. Some complain about difficulties with implementation; others worry about the assessments, which are set to go into effect in 2014-2015. Teachers are still learning how to teach to the standards, and many students are finding the material difficult. In some states, parents are pulling their children out of the classroom, frustrated with their kids' lower grades.

In New York earlier this year, test scores dropped sharply when schools administered Common Core-aligned tests. Now some states are pulling back from the assessments altogether, especially the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Aside from the rigorous standards, schools are concerned they do not have the technology resources they need to administer the assessments.

Scrapping the standards altogether because they're difficult at first would be a travesty. We must not give up on Common Core just because of difficulties in implementation or the realities they force us to face. Reform is tough -- but we have to knuckle down and do what it takes to get our students ready for college and careers. Forcing our kids to wait while we develop new, better standards or have solved every potential detail will only leave this generation of students facing bleak job prospects, struggling to compete in the global market.

We may have to get through a rough transition period over the next couple years, but Common Core standards will be a huge boost for our education system as we move into 2014. As we have already seen in many charters nationwide, critical education reforms like the Common Core can raise expectations for all students, preparing them to attend good colleges and compete for good jobs. Keeping Common Core implementation a top priority for improving our nation's schools into 2014 will take a lot of diligence and dedication, but we can do it, and we must, for the good of our students and the future of our country.