Maybe you've run into this problem. Your child is near the top of his 3rd grade class and excited about going to school every day. But after a move to another state, your son enters a new 3rd grade class and finds that his old school was far behind where his new classmates are in math. He struggles to adjust to a new neighborhood and a new school. And on top of that, he struggles to try to catch up with his new classmates.
That's an issue that a group of educators from across the country, led by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, hopes will be addressed with the introduction of a new set of academic standards for the core subjects of math and English.
The standards were introduced earlier this month and 48 of 50 states have committed to helping with the effort and working to adopt the standards when they are finalized after a period of public comment and review. One state, Kentucky, has already approved the standards.
The whole idea of common academic standards is one that education officials have argued about for years. Dane Linn, director of education for the National Governor's Association, said the group looked to countries like Finland, the Netherlands and New Zealand, whose students regularly outperform not just Americans, but just about all other kids in the world. They also focused on the examples of top performing states in America, such as Indiana, with its High Tech School project; California with its Green Schools and some of the most successful magnet schools through the country.
Linn said there are three main reasons for the push for national standards:
- Help increasingly mobile families. It is more and more common for a child to start a school in one state and end his education in another, as more families follow job opportunities around the country, Linn said.
- Give America's students a fighting chance for jobs. In this increasingly global economy, competition for jobs will more and more come from other countries, in addition to the United States. Right now, many U.S. students are at a disadvantage against the graduates of stronger educational systems in other countries.
- Fill the need for 21st Century skills. The recommendations for common standards in math and English also focus on a new set of skills and knowledge that kids will need to know, and which are not included in many state standards today.
Barb Kapinus, education policy analyst for the National Education Association who worked with the NGA and CCSSO, said the group knew it wanted to cut through the myriad standards in math and English that can be found all across the country. The idea was for standards that are clearer, fewer and higher, she said.
The work on the standards also purposely strayed away from adopting a consensus process, Linn said. That's one of the errors many states have made. Plenty of smart, talented experts came up with ideas for standards and "at the end of the day, you ended up with lots and lots of standards," Linn said.
Instead, the NGA, CCSSO and education experts focused on the best available evidence for what works in education, from Finland and Japan to California and Massachusetts. "This process was guided by taking advantage of the best available evidence," he said.
Armando Vilaseca, Vermont's Commissioner of Education, said he's excited about the new standards. "This sets a high bar for all the states," he said. "It's high time we got together as a nation and came up with standards across the country."
Linn and Kapunis said it probably will be 2 to 3 years until the standards are in place in schools across the country. There's plenty of work to be done first: adopting the standards, creating assessments, or testing, to match the new standards, then implementing those standards by revising and creating curriculum that will lead students toward the new goals.
While drafting assessments that are more than memorization drills will be challenging, Linn said implementing the standards will truly be demanding. "We are talking about changing what goes on in classrooms," Linn said. "And we're not just talking about a few hundred kids but hundreds of thousands of kids. If we thought adopting the standards was the hard part, we are in for a long, long haul."
As the process toward new standards continues, parents can play an important role, Linn and Kapinus said.
- Read the standards and offer feedback. The standards are available at www.corestandards.org and anyone can fill out a survey to leave comments and suggestions.
- Get involved on the state level. After the comment period, most states will take time to consider adopting the standards. Whether it's your state Board of Education of state Legislature, make your opinion known.
- Volunteer at your kid's school. Be a part of your school or district's effort to implement the new standards. "Parents need to push for an education system that doesn't expect everyone to master content the same way and expect everyone to move along through the curriculum at the same pace. We all have strengths and weaknesses," Linn said. The educational system needs to recognize that.