Letters to the Editor

Letter | Don’t let politics get in the way of improved standards provided by Common Core

I want to thank Dillon Jones for his May 2 article in The Sun News entitled, “Beware the ‘facts’ about Common Core.” This article provided the impetus I needed to finally respond to critics of Common Core State Standards.

As someone who has been actively involved in public education for the last 47 years at almost every level from first grade through post-graduate studies and has had intensive training in understanding and applying CCSS, I would like to offer a few facts about this topic:

Common Core State Standards are just that – a set of standards that are common to every state. States have had standards for the last 15 years and no politician or policy analyst became overly excited about any of them to my knowledge. However, in this politically divisive environment where labels such as left and right and liberal and conservative and Democrat and Republican color the way many make decisions about important life events and are more binding than the real need that presents itself, all of a sudden, everyone has an opinion about something as simple as standards.

It seems that many people no longer make decisions based on what they know is best, but rather many make decisions based on what their particular “group” purports as best.

These standards have been reviewed by the nonprofit Fordham Institute and were found to be more rigorous than standards in 46 states and just as rigorous as standards in the remaining four. They represent an historic opportunity to raise the quality of American education.

Why, you might ask, is that important? Currently, the United States ranks 25th out of 34 top performing countries in math and has dropped from 1st to 10th in the number of students who graduate high school. This obviously weakens our ability to produce a workforce that can compete in a global economy.

Common Core standards do away with the disparity that existed across states. Each state with differing standards also set differing proficiency levels which had a powerful impact on the public’s perception about the quality of education from state to state.

Because of the consistent and guided progression of standards provided by CCSS across grade levels and the expectation of fluency at the end of that progression, children who move from one state to another don’t have to worry about learning gaps, as every child will be learning the same standard in the same grade level.

When every state had its own standards, each state might have had different expectations for when this should be taught. Therefore, a child moving from a state where that standard was taught in fifth grade rather than fourth might not have been prepared to become fluent in that standard through no fault of his own or his teacher. With one in six families moving each year in the United States, this is an issue that Common Core has solved.

Equally important, because of the nature of the clear and consistent progression of learning represented by the standards, they provide a natural order for teachers to scaffold learning for students who have fallen behind.

In other words, if a student isn’t successful with a particular standard, a teacher can look at the progression to see what learning needs to be in place before a student can master this particular standard and scaffold his learning accordingly. These are standards that are rigorous and internationally benchmarked; research- and evidence-based; aligned with college and career expectations; and they build on the foundation laid by individual states.

As with any standard that has been in place over the last 15 years, assessment will be based on these standards. That, however, is the purpose of standards. What any good educator knows and has known for years is that what we teach is what needs to be assessed, as assessment is necessary as a guide to next step instruction.

In order to meet the rigor of Common Core standards, as well as the more rigorous assessment that will naturally follow, classroom curriculum and instruction will need to move toward growing learners who think critically and have regular opportunities to complete tasks that are cognitively demanding. The multiple choice testing that currently serves as our cumulative state assessment is woefully unable to begin to measure that kind of thinking.

I would venture to say that the overwhelming majority of educators who are masters of their craft and who are willing to grow and learn in order to prepare their students for success see the value in these standards. It is my sincere desire that the voices of exemplary educators will be heard over those of some politicians and policy analysts so that the children of South Carolina can benefit from the wealth of possibilities offered by the acceptance of the Common Core standards.

As a lifelong educator, I would like to say, “I hope we can begin to silence the naysayers who may have agendas that extend far beyond the walls of our educational institutions and embrace Common Core standards as the gift that they are to improving the quality of education, not only in South Carolina, but in our nation.”

The writer is a retired educator who lives in Surfside Beach.