Core standards will unlock better future for kids, state

July 30, 2013 

Winning strong bipartisan support for a major initiative doesn't happen all that often in Kentucky. When it does, the matter is of great significance.

That was the case in 2009, when Kentucky's House and Senate — Democrats and Republicans — set the state on a visionary course to becoming a leader in better preparing our students to succeed in college and their careers. Since then, Kentucky's educators, advocates, students, and community and business leaders have been working successfully to implement and support the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.

While the state has finished its second round of testing on the new assessments developed to reflect the tougher standards, the college and career preparation of our students has shown measurable improvement, from 34 percent in 2009 to 47.2 percent in 2012.

And yet, some people would have Kentuckians think all this has been bad news and now, three years after the fact, are trying to politicize what educators are teaching.

A couple of key questions: How many opponents of the standards have actually read them? How many of them know what a standard is?

Simply put, a standard is just a sentence that specifies what a child should know and be able to do at the end of a school year. In kindergarten, students are expected to be able to count to 100 and do basic addition and subtraction. By the end of grade 12, they should be able to read and comprehend literature that can be in the form of informational tests, history, social studies and other areas.

The business community is no stranger to standards. Employees must meet certain expectations of performance and quality control to keep their jobs.

We also recognize what is good about the Kentucky Core Academic Standards and have been vocal in our support of them and the teachers who are making them a reality in classrooms.

■ The standards reflect what students are expected to achieve in countries that have some of the world's highest-performing education systems, meaning Kentuckians will be better equipped to compete in a global economy.

■ They establish the same expectations for academic mastery of subjects in the 40-plus states that have adopted them. Kentucky parents will truly know how their child is doing in comparison to their counterparts across the nation.

■ Significantly, especially in view of the misinformation that is being spread about the standards, they are not a curriculum but a set of common expectations for each grade. They do not dictate how teachers teach, what materials they must use or anything else about the classroom. That is left up to local decision-making, as it should be.

As Conservatives for Higher Standards have noted, "The call — and need — for raising standards is not new. President Eisenhower called for clearer education standards in response to the Russians launching Sputnik. President Ronald Reagan oversaw the landmark 'Nation at Risk' report that found school standards were too low. By 2008, consensus formed among governors and chief state school officers that raising academic expectations was a shared imperative. The result was the Common Core State Standards initiative." (The organization's website includes a long list of supporters and their rationales for raising standards: Highercorestandards.org/supporters)

The standards were conceived by and for the states. The federal government was not involved; the effort began long before the current administration took office. Gov. Jim Hunt of North Carolina started the discussion in 2006, engaging his colleagues through the National Governors Association to partner with the Council of Chief State School Officers. Kentucky and nearly four dozen other states were involved.

Many of the arguments voiced by critics are based on misinformation or manipulation of the facts. As partners in Business Leader Champions for Education and through our individual organizations, we urge Kentuckians to reject those arguments and join us in strongly supporting the continued efforts and excellent work of Kentucky educators to better prepare our students.

Kentucky cannot afford to step away from the tougher academic standards and this opportunity to create a world-class education system. That is what Kentucky needs to give our students the strongest possible foundation for meeting the state's challenges and succeeding in life and work.

Dave Adkisson is president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. James R. Allen is CEO of Hilliard Lyons and chair of Business Leader Champions for Education. Stu Silberman is executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

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