Opinion: Common educational standards for common good

July 30, 2010

Ted Mitchell (op-ed), San Francisco Chronicle

Strong academic content standards are critical to ensuring that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in post-secondary education and the workforce. Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers determine what their students need to know and when.

Standards help students, teachers and parents by setting clear and realistic goals for success.

Currently, each state has its own process for developing, adopting and implementing standards. As a result, what students are expected to learn can vary significantly across states. Adopting common and demanding standards will help ensure that students are receiving a high-quality education consistently across the nation. The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort to establish a single set of high and clear educational standards for English-language arts and mathematics that states can share and voluntarily adopt. These national standards have been informed by the best available evidence and the highest state standards from across the country. They were designed by a diverse group of teachers, experts, parents and school administrators, so they reflect both our aspirations for our children and the realities of the classroom.

Common Core standards are aligned with college and work expectations, and include rigorous content and skills. The standards are benchmarked to those of other top-performing countries to guarantee that our students are competitive in the global marketplace.

California’s existing standards are rightly recognized as among the nation’s highest. When adopting the Common Core standards, states have the option to add additional standards as a way to encourage high-standards states like California to maintain and even extend the rigor of their existing standards.

In its recommendation to the State Board of Education, California’s Academic Content Standards Commission was able to use this rule to ensure that California maintains its high expectations for all students. These additions, for example, will better prepare all students for success in eighth-grade algebra, which education experts agree is a critical factor in college and career readiness. While the expectation is for all students to master algebra, the Common Core enables students not yet ready for algebra in eighth grade to pursue another college-ready path. This is superior to California’s current standards that simply require students not ready for algebra to repeat seventh-grade math, which does nothing to prepare them for high school algebra.

Adopting the Common Core standards would:

— Create a system of comparability and equality. The standards will raise the bar for all students.

— Establish a measure of where California’s students stand in comparison to other students throughout the nation.

— Allow California to collaborate with other states on best educational practices and reduce costs because of common assessments, textbooks, materials and curriculum.

Adopting the Common Core, as enhanced by the California’s Standards Commission, is a historic opportunity for California and for the nation.

Ted Mitchell is the president of the California State Board of Education and CEO of the NewSchools Venture Fund.