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Seeking Common Ground
This fall, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) launched the Common Core Standards Initiative in partnership with ACT, the College Board and Achieve. Their goal is to initiate a state-led national movement to create and abide by common educational standards. They hope to garner more support from their target audience by taking a grassroots state-level approach instead of a top-down federal approach.
Many education experts see the development of common standards as a crucial step in building a better-educated and more productive society. The way things are now, the quality of a child's education can vary drastically based solely on geography - not just state to state, but even between neighboring districts. The Common Core Standards Initiative isn't seeking to make every child's school experience the same, but simply to ensure that the quality of every child's education meets certain basic standards.
Once states implement the standards, they should be able to:
- Articulate specific expectations for students to teachers, parents and the public;
- Bring curricula, textbooks and digital media up to international benchmark standards;
- Implement professional development practices for educators that are based on identified needs and best practices;
- Assess student performance against common core standards;
- Evaluate policy changes to help schools meet the common core standards.
The project started by developing standards for college- and career-readiness. In order to avoid the ideological pitfalls that often plague educational innovation, the CCSSO and NGA Center worked to determine the standards through research and evidence-based decision making. They then passed them through independent review committees and plan to continue to update them as research and education evolve.
The next step for the initiative will be to focus on developing specific standards for English language arts and mathematics. They're starting with these subjects because many states already have some type of standard in place for English and math, but in the future they plan to expand the project to science and other areas.
In October, forty-eight states signed on to a draft of the college- and career-readiness standards. The project is planning to release a more final version this month. They hope that states will then submit timelines for adopting these standards in early 2010.
Even as support grows for the common core standards, a lot of effort will be required to effect the kind of legislative changes that will make these standards stick. The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) just received a grant from the Gates Foundation to pursue that goal by organizing parental support in four states: Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and North Carolina. The National PTA chose these states as a jumping-off point for the movement because they already have especially active members, but they hope to expand to other states by mid-2010.
Parents are an important constituency for any educational movement. They tend to have a lot of influence on state legislature and, perhaps more importantly, they have a natural stake in the effort to educate their own children. Yet as Erin Hart, director of strategic alliances for the National PTA, points out, parents are often a 'forgotten voice at the table.' With 5.2 million members across the country, the National PTA hopes to rouse parents to action and create a unified voice in support of the common core standards. Their ultimate goal is to convince boards of education, which are typically the decision-making groups, to adopt the documents drafted by the Common Core Standards Initiative.
The NGA Center and CCSSO have also reached out to other local organizations, such as teachers' unions, in the effort to reach individual schools and districts. Because they can tap into influential community resources in each state, the participation of the National PTA may well be exactly what the common standards movement needs.