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Robert L. Caret Headshot

How the Common Core Will Keep the U.S. Education System Competitive

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It is a partnership that makes perfect sense, higher education leaders joining with their K-12 counterparts and others to work to create a national set of standards that would ensure that young people leave school armed with the knowledge they need to be successful in college, work and life.
It is an effort that everyone has a stake in -- and while the progress made to date has been conspicuous, so too are the risks unless we remain vigilant and energetic.

Developed five years ago at the behest of governors and state education officials, Common Core seeks to create a shared academic vocabulary for the young people of America. It asserts that if you graduate from a high school in the United States, you should depart with a diploma and a certain body of knowledge. It argues that there are things that you need to know to succeed in a world that seems to grow more challenging and complex by the day.

The Common Core is the first concerted effort by states across the country to analyze what works, to establish the rough framework for a locally-created curriculum and to implement rigorous assessments at crucial crossroads in the journey from kindergarten to 12th grade. These standards were created from a thoughtful analysis of what works in states like Massachusetts and push students to think creatively, understand thought processes and develop much better writing skills.

What the Common Core is not is yet another device where teachers are forced to prepare students not for college or careers -- but to be good test-takers. Instead, it is aimed at fostering a deeper understanding of what is learned. And don't listen to naysayers who complain that the Common Core foists a one-size-fits-all education on our schools: Each school, and teacher, creates an appropriate curriculum within the guiding framework of the Common Core.

While Massachusetts is often at the head of the class, clearly, our nation as a whole needs to do a better job of preparing students for college, for careers and for the demands of an internationally competitive economy. Our students' reading skills have fallen to 14th in the world, and we are a dismal 25th in math skills. Crucially, in science, where we once led the world and where the keys to climate change, economic growth and medicine will be found, the Broad Foundation analysis finds us now in 17th place. It is simply not acceptable.

The Common Core standards enjoy significant support across the nation, but there are opponents -- and given the tenacity of the opposition and the stakes of the debate, many higher education leaders are, for the first time, joining together to support the standards in an organized and energetic way. To date, 44 states, the District of Columbia and four territories have voluntarily adopted and are moving forward with the Common Core.

But, recent headlines about the Common Core have been distressing, centering on calls by some parents and lawmakers to make the standards less challenging and the assessments easier to pass. Is this really how little we think of our students? Is this how we intend to take back our spot at the top of global rankings, by lowering the bar?

Higher education leaders and organizations from across the nation have formed a coalition called Higher Ed for Higher Standards, and have done so believing that we should no longer be content to watch this this issue from the sidelines, much less from above in the ivory tower.

Students who arrive at our doors prepared remain in school and graduate. In fact, they tend to graduate on time, and in so doing, accrue less debt. In the world of public higher education, on-time graduation is as welcomed as a summer breeze, as it saves everyone money, the student and the state.

As a nation, we must fend off those who would come forward with tired top-down, one-size-fits-all arguments and give our young people the tools they need to compete and succeed in the real world.