Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Strengthening America’s Competitiveness through Common Academic Standards

An official chat on national standards took place this morning in the House Education and Labor Committee. The hearing was intended to examine how states can better prepare their students to compete in a global economy by using internationally benchmarked common standards.

Congressman George Miller, Chairman, opened the hearing with the following comment:

Today our Committee will examine the great momentum that is building for improving our schools and our competitiveness though internationally-benchmarked common academic standards.

Our nation faces unprecedented challenges that threaten our competitiveness. We face an achievement gap within our schools but we also face an achievement gap between the U.S. and other countries whose educational outcomes are surging while ours are stagnating.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan recognize that our economy’s fate is directly linked to addressing both achievement gaps.

They know we won’t be able to build the world-class education system our economy needs and our children deserve unless all students are taught to rigorous standards hat prepare them for college and good jobs.

We all know the statistics – we’ve fallen to 21st in math achievement, 25th in science, and 24th in problem solving. We used to be number one in college completion. Now we are 18th...

... Let me be clear: I want this committee, and the Congress, to do whatever we can to support this state-led, bipartisan effort. That’s why we’re here today – to learn more about this work and to hear from you all about how the federal government can best support it.

We forged a good start by making historic investments in education in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

We created an unprecedented, $5 billion Race to the Top fund that will allow Secretary Duncan to encourage states to innovate. This includes improving standards and assessments so they are aligned with career and college-readiness.

This fund will lay the foundation for the significant changes we’ll need to make to truly improve our schools, make sure students graduate with the skills they need, and cultivate a workforce that can compete globally...

As NAEP shows us year after year, the unintended consequences of a system that varies vastly from state to state is rather than striving for excellence, states are camouflaging poor performance.

The result is a generation of students without the complex skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the jobs of the future...

This from former North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt, Jr:

Let me be clear from the very beginning. We need a set of common state standards that are rigorous and relevant, and we must stop fooling around. Today, the variability in state standards is off the charts. There should not be 50 different versions of algebra I across the nation. It’s just not logical; students in California learn the same as students in North Carolina.

We must be vigilant in our development of common standards that are fewer, clearer, and higher. The process for getting there must be based on evidence of what’s necessary and sufficient for students to succeed in college and in work—not on including everyone’s, or every interest group’s, opinion. It should be a tight common core that teachers can teach and students can understand and master.

This from former drive-by Fayette County Superintendent and current Educatin Commissioner of Arkansas, Ken James.

First and foremost, this is a voluntary, state-led effort to establish a common core of standards across the states. Let me be clear, this is not an effort to establish federal standards. The effort to establish a common core will build directly on the recent work of leading states and initiatives that have focused on college- and career-ready standards. Leading states will be called upon to participate and add their knowledge to the standards setting process, and it is expected that leading states, based on their prior work, will be furthest along toward adoption of the common core. Furthermore, no state will see their standards lowered as a result of this collaboration. Rather, the purpose of the common state standards initiative is to raise the bar for all states by drawing on the best research and evidence from leading states and experts regarding, among other things, college- and work-readiness, rigorous knowledge and skills, and international benchmarking.

KIPP co-founder David Levin testified:

When the KIPP network reaches 100 fully grown schools, it will serve the same number of students as the public school district in Atlanta, Georgia. And yet, as a national network the lack of common standards makes it difficult to gauge how well KIPP is meeting its ultimate goal: preparing all of our students with the character and academic skills for success, self-sufficiency, and happiness in college and in life.

Currently, states set their own standards and determine how hard or easy it will be for students to pass. The result? We have passing hurdles that are very high in some states and close to the ground in others. According to Education Next, which reviews the rigor of state standards each year, only three states—Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Missouri—have established world class standards in reading and math. Some states, like Georgia and Tennessee, have established such mediocre expectations that nearly every student is considered to be on grade level.

With states held accountable for meeting the standards they set, there’s an unfortunate incentive for states to set the bar low...

President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten said
We should start with standards. The AFT supports the development of rigorous common state standards. Our reasons are straightforward. We live in a highly mobile, instantly connected world in which knowledge travels on highways we can’t even see. Our students need to be able to navigate through that world—to study, work and live in states other than the one in which they were educated, if they so chose or if circumstances demand it. Their ability to do that, and to do it well, will be limited if we don’t change our current patchwork of varying state standards.
Politics K-12 conducted a little Live Blogging: The Common Standards Hearing here.

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