Delivering Quality Instruction without ZIP Codes
August 24 2011
By Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President, Programs, NCLR
This was originally published in La Opinión. Read it here.
Variety can be a good thing, but inconsistency and lack of clear goals is another matter altogether. Imagine, for instance, if restaurants never used menus. Chefs would prepare meals with whatever they had in the refrigerator. The ingredients for the same dish would always be different—and of drastically varying quality. Most of us would never know what would end up on our tables, and there would be little attention paid to nutritional needs or details.
Unfortunately, we’ve been facing a similar challenge in our nation’s schools. Without “consistent standards” to serve as guides and define clear goals, education has been done with surprisingly little coordination. Academic content is different from state to state, and so is the quality of instruction.
Our children are the ones who’ve been paying the price for this disjointed system. Only 58% of Latino students graduate from high school, and those who do graduate have not necessarily been taught what they need to succeed in college. Ultimately, it has been ZIP codes—not sound and rigorous standards expressed as clear academic objectives—that have dictated much of what is taught in schools. That structure hurts our children, our future as a community, and our nation as whole.
To combat these inequalities and improve education in all schools, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have worked with parents, local organizations, researchers, teachers and other education professionals. Together, they have created a core of new common standards in math and language arts. This new guide—the Common Core State Standards (CCSS or “Common Core”)—provides real consistency in quality instruction across schools and communities. These innovative standards are not the product of a federal mandate. Rather, the CCSS were born, and are now being implemented, at the state level. And, while the goals of the Common Core are world-class and well-coordinated, educational decisions will remain at the local level.
Already more than 40 states have voluntarily replaced their old—often disjointed—standards with those of the CCSS. With this move, states adopt a clear set of objectives regarding the knowledge and skills that students must acquire to succeed in school and in life. It is a major and overdue step in the right direction, and it will help Latino students tremendously.
The CCSS takes the best elements of quality instruction from the some of the world’s leading nations. The state standards are designed to help all students get into college without having to take remedial courses. That means our children won’t have to play “catch-up.” Instead, they will be able to focus on succeeding academically and preparing for jobs where they will earn good salaries.
Of course, just as a menu does not tell a chef how to make the meal, the Common Core does not tell a teacher how to teach. The CCSS only say what students should know and be able to do at the end of the school year. It is state and local educators, however, who will continue to develop the curriculum and day-by-day lessons. Schools and teachers will still adapt their instruction to the local needs and interests, but they will also ensure that students master all the skills and knowledge contained in the standards.
As a next step in this process, states are helping educators incorporate the CCSS into current instruction. Some states have joined in consortia to develop shared tests and other assessments based on the Common Core. This will save time and money by eliminating duplication. It will also make it harder to convey the false illusion of progress through inappropriate or inaccurate measurements.
At the same time, and with the CCSS as a guide, educators are creating ways to share lessons and materials online. That allows students in Colorado to benefit from the knowledge and creativity of teachers in Massachusetts. Publishers, too, are developing textbooks and supports based on the Common Core. And, since the Common Core also has a specific emphasis on the best research-based instruction for English Language Learners, better materials are being developed to help these students.
Indeed, like a good menu that informs customers and allows them to demand quality food in a restaurant, the Common Core helps define and promote the kind of instruction that prepares students—step-by-step—for college, the workplace, and life. Clearly, the outcomes depend on the continued work of teachers, administrators, parents, and students themselves. But the CCSS—along with the materials, exams, and other tools that are being developed around them—bring true quality control to the process. That’s great news for everyone who recognizes that our children are a major part of our present and 100% of the future. Now we’ll all be on the same page when it comes to preparing them for a brighter tomorrow.
Issues: Education, Youth, Common Standards
Geography:California, Far West, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, Texas