Kentucky voices

Ky. voices: Common core standards target of misinformation

August 6, 2013 

Three years after its unanimous adoption, several opposition groups are attempting to derail one of the most promising reforms in public education in decades.

The emerging argument about the common core standards is making headlines and creating unnecessary acrimony. It is our hope that we can state clearly what we know to be true and express unqualified support for Kentucky's educators as they implement these new, important standards.

First, what do we mean by "standards"? In simplest terms, they are the words we use to describe what children need to know and be able to do at each stage of their education.

Kentucky's General Assembly adopted Senate Bill 1 (2009) by a unanimous vote, directing the Department of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education to work together to implement new K-12 standards that: are aligned with what our colleges and universities expect students to know in order to take credit-bearing courses upon admission and are benchmarked internationally so Kentucky students can compete against the world's best-educated students.

The standards clearly describe to teachers what students need to know and be able to do at the end of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and all the way up to high school graduation. However, the decisions on how to teach a subject, what textbooks to use, what homework to assign, etc. (what we generally refer to as the curriculum) remain a local decision made by local teachers, school boards and site-based councils. For example, if the standards call for students to be able to multiply fractions by a certain grade level, it is up to our classroom teachers to decide how best to teach students to perform that skill.

As we began in 2009 to implement the directives in SB 1, the National Governors Association in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers (then led by Kentucky's former Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit) announced their intention to develop a set of standards that could voluntarily be adopted by states that met the same criteria the Kentucky General Assembly had established six months earlier. That effort, originally inspired by mostly Republican governors, assembled the finest minds and most experienced educators in the nation to draft the new standards.

We decided to participate rather than expend several millions of tax dollars to develop our own separate standards. Kentucky's participation involved more than 100 collegiate faculty from our state universities and a like number of K-12 teachers. They reviewed drafts from the Chief State School Officers and offered numerous comments and suggestions, many of which were incorporated into the final version. Kentucky was the first in the nation to adopt the standards and implement them throughout our public education system.

Just three years into this effort, the results are promising. Thousands more students are meeting college readiness standards on the ACT exam, and the performance of students in the lower grades is beginning to reflect better learning outcomes than we have seen in the last few decades. In addition, Kentucky's teachers are widely supportive of the new standards and the guidance they are providing to help teachers know and understand what is expected of them and their students.

So what is the argument? There is a claim that the standards are the work of the federal government, forcing its education agenda on the states in a top-down manner. That is unequivocally false. The standards are the brainchild of the states, through the governors and chief state school officers, and the product of educators across Kentucky and elsewhere across the nation. It is true that the U.S. Department of Education supports implementation of the standards and has encouraged their adoption. But it is the federal government supporting a good idea that began in a few select states and quickly spread outward. In fact, Kentucky, as an early adopter and influence, has become a leader in this national movement, which should be a source of pride to Kentuckians.

So don't get cold feet, Kentucky. The common core standards are what our state and our students need. They will not solve every problem, but they will help.

As for the detractors, while honest debate is always welcome, creating arguments based on falsehoods diminishes the remarkable improvements your local teachers are creating for your kids.

Terry Holliday is Kentucky's education commissioner. Bob King is president of the Council on Postsecondary Education.

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