The Collaborative for Student Success: The Need is Great for Truth-Telling on Common Core

By Stacy Carlson and Julie Mikuta

Imagine a lifeguard course in which more than half of its graduates don’t know basic CPR. Or a pharmacology college in which three-quarters of the graduates routinely commit dosage errors because they don’t understand proportional math.

If it sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. Every year, nearly six in ten first-year college students arrive on campus and are shocked to learn they require remedial courses in English or mathematics – classes that cost just as much as college courses, but don’t earn credits.

Among students entering two-year colleges, the statistics are even more sobering: three-quarters of incoming students require remedial instruction in English, math or both.

A New York Post report published last year found that an astonishing 80 percent of New York City high school grads enrolled at CUNY community colleges required remedial classes.

The problem isn’t unique to CUNY. Lack of college readiness is one of the leading factors nationally responsible for a failure to earn a college degree. Every year, it imposes enormous costs on students and their families – an estimated $3 billion annually – and also on taxpayers, who are forced to foot the bill for duplicative instructions, in high school and then again in college.

Nor is the problem unique to colleges. The military, too, has noticed a lack of readiness among young applicants. About 30 percent of high school graduates can’t pass the Military Entrance Exam, which military leaders say has a direct impact on troop recruitment and, ultimately, our national security.

As a predictor of success, few if any types of opportunities matter more than a good education – for college, for the military or the workforce. It’s always been the great equalizer.

Yet today, educational inequality persists in America on a grand scale. Before the adoption of the Common Core State Standards by 45 states, what one state deemed as college- or career-ready often had no bearing to reality. What passed for college- or career-ready in Mississippi was far different from Massachusetts. Often, high school graduates across the country would get a rude awakening when they entered college or a work training program only to be finally told the truth: they weren’t adequately prepared.

It’s this lack of rigorous standards that has so many educators and reform-minded philanthropies, like the ones we represent, deeply invested in the success of the Common Core State Standards. These state-led reforms are seen by many as the most promising educational reform of the past quarter century because they would replace the hodgepodge of vastly different educational goals that currently exist from state to state, with a consistent set of high standards.

The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to tackle credit-bearing coursework in two- or four-year college programs, or enter the workforce or the military. They are formulated to be clear and concise, so that parents, teachers, and students have a clear understanding of the expectations in reading, writing and mathematics.

Common Core today is at a defining moment, as implementation is under way in nearly every state. Polls show that, among those familiar with the standards, supporters outnumber opponents by a nearly three-to-one margin, 31 percent to 12 percent. The more familiarity people have with Common Core, the more likely they are to support the standards.

Still, an astonishing 58 percent of Americans don’t yet know what the standards are, a fact not lost on opponents of Common Core who are eager to define them with half-truths and misinformation. With so many people unclear about what Common Core is and what it is not, and a growing amount of misinformation about the standards making its way around, a clear need exists for fact-based, objective information.

Last year, Helios Education Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation were among seven foundations that came together to form the Collaborative for Student Success. The goal of the Collaborative is to respond to state-based requests for support to help ensure that teachers, administrators, parents and others in the states that have chosen to adopt the standards have the information and tools they need to successfully implement them.

In addition to Helios Education Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, foundations in the Collaborative include The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation. They are a part of the Collaborative because it provides a mechanism for more efficiently harnessing and allocating our collective resources – not only financial, but also the strategic thinking that goes into making the case for the importance of these standards.

As charitable institutions, our sole motivation is achieving a better future for our nation’s students.

Ultimately, the success of Common Core will depend on the grit and determination of parents, teachers, administrators, policymakers and students themselves willing to accept the discomfort created by reforms, in pursuit of higher educational standards that will better prepare kids for college and successful careers.

But the early results are highly encouraging and they serve as an example of the potential impact of the new standards. While the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card on k-12 public school performance, reported slightly increased scores overall, Tennessee and the District of Columbia, each of which were early adopters of the higher standards, displayed the greatest jumps in student performance and far exceeded the national average.

There is no doubt that these gains are the result of hard work. There have been challenges in implementation that have required course correction. Continuing this progress will require flexibility and persistence. In particular, teachers need support with first-rate professional development and access to high-quality materials well-aligned to these standards. And each state will need to consider how to support effective implementation.

But, we sincerely believe that if the debate centers on the facts rather than politically motivated, willful misinformation, cynical innuendo and outright lies, our country will be able to capitalize on this opportunity to offer our children the excellent education they deserve.

Stacy Carlson, Vice President and Program Director, Transition Years – Florida, Helios Education Foundation, is co-Chair of the Collaborative for Student Success. Julie Mikuta is Senior Director, Education, of the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

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