Common Sense Standards: Why Not Give Our Children a Chance?

Diane Ravitch is an education historian who has been torn between supporting Common Core Standards and not supporting the Standards. As of today, she does not support the Standards, but she has left the door open to change her mind by saying, “While I cannot support the Common Core Standards, I will remain open to new evidence. If the standards help kids, I will say so. If they hurt them, I will say so.” I respect that she is “open to new evidence” supporting the Standards, but what evidence does she have that supports the Standards will not help kids? She has criticized the Standards as untested and unproven, but wouldn’t that be the case for anything new that has yet to be given a fair chance to be tested or proven? Aren’t her concerns and the concerns of other Common Core critics untested and unproven as well? Does she really not support the Standards, or are her words examples of the age old education problem of “riding the fence” or “let’s wait and see?”

When it comes to support of the Common Core Standards, I am not a “fence rider.” Although I do have reservations about assessment of the Standards, I stand behind the commitment our schools have made to use them to improve the education of the boys and girls in Mississippi. I applaud the state’s educators for their bold commitment to enable Mississippi children to build the knowledge and skills they need to be competitively successful in today’s and tomorrow’s world. Such a commitment in the face of impending privatization of public schools, education misinformation or propaganda, ignorance, good old boy political posturing and attacks by those poor souls in favor of leaving things as they have always been in Mississippi is the stuff that makes for runaway bestselling novels in the New York Times and blockbuster movies in Hollywood. Thank the good Lord we have educators courageous enough to stand against the status quo and say this is what is best for Mississippi’s children!

As an educator for almost four decades, I believe the Common Core Standards are the best chance of improving education for children, especially in Mississippi. Of course, I realize my experience in education falls short of the evidence the naysayers seek that the Standards will make a positive difference in a child’s education, but I believe Ravitch might agree with me that past education experiences carry as much validity at this time as the limited non-conclusive evidence supporting or not supporting the Standards. Lack of clear evidence either way is at the core of her struggle to support or not support the Standards. Unfortunately, there are those who argue the lack of support from such a well-respected scholar is justification enough not to move forward with the Standards. They might be right if the variations of state standards we have spoon fed our children over the years had any real substance, but that has not been the case. They might be right if Mississippi could afford to start over from scratch and create its own new standards. We have tried that several times – FLE, MCT, MCT2, SATP and SATP2 – and each time after the politicians, concerned parents, business community, and scared for their jobs state educators gave their input as to what should and should not be included in the state standards and how it needed to be assessed and scored, we were left with a watered down state standardized mess that held little merit or benefit for students. I cannot speak for a nation, but I can speak from experience in Mississippi that standards should be strengthened, assessments should be administered that are timely and relevant, and classroom instructional practices should be aligned and tweaked to provide a more relevant and meaningful education for the state’s children. The Common Core Standards, which are not perfect but better than what we have offered students over the past several years, are the common sense approach to making those things happen.

Our children are not inferior to other children across the nation, but yet year after year, we are ranked on or near the bottom when it comes to education performance. There are three primary reasons for that: (1) Poverty – 35% of our children live at or below the poverty level; (2) Lack of commitment to education as a priority by many in our state legislature as well as in our homes; and (3) Inconsistent instructional practices in the classroom. In Mississippi, the quality of a child’s education often has as much to do with geography as it does with the child’s ability to learn. Until we raise the level of education commitment and quality for all children including those in impoverished areas of the Mississippi Delta and our inner city schools, Mississippi will continue to lie fallow at the bottom of the pile in the areas of education, economic development, and the general welfare of the people.

I do not have an answer for poverty, but a commitment to educate all children with the knowledge and skills they need to pull themselves and their families from the gutter of impoverished helplessness is the first step. I do not have an answer for the lack of commitment to education as a priority in Mississippi. The lack of education commitment is deep rooted in our culture and political system; nevertheless, we must do whatever it takes to eradicate such a culture from our existence. However, there is an answer for the plague of instructional inconsistencies that have ravaged Mississippi classrooms for too long. The answer lies in the consistent and sound instructional practices promoted through the Common Core Standards that if given a chance can and will make a serious even dramatic difference in the lives of Mississippi children.

My strongest reason for supporting the Common Core Standards is that I support and believe in the teachers of Mississippi, and they are telling me that Common Core Standards are the right thing to do for our children. As one teacher wrote, “Look at how America ranks in education. Look at where Mississippi ranks. Now, someone explain the case for not trying anything new to me.” Another teacher wrote, “We should be ashamed! If opponents would read the standards they would recognize that the goals are actually similar to goals stressed decades ago when people could read, write and complete math equations without the help of spell check and calculators. I say bring it on. As a teacher, I say ‘I am ready!’” I believe Mississippi is also ready! It is ludicrous not to try something new when what we have done for so many years in the classroom has not consistently worked. Consequently, it stands to reason and common sense that the Common Core Standards should be given a fair chance to succeed. Again, I cannot speak for the rest of the nation, but Mississippi has nothing to lose by implementing the Common Core Standards and everything to gain. Obamaphobia will be vanquished in a couple of years and in a few short years the good old boy politicians who want to railroad the Standards out of Mississippi in favor of the status quo will hopefully be relegated to sipping ice tea and swatting flies on their back porches. But, if we are not careful the impact of their insecurities and lack of foresight will plague our children for generations to come. Diane Ravitch may be wise in her cautionary counsel regarding implementation of the Standards across the nation, but for Mississippi the implementation of the Standards represent a major step up the ladder for our children. The question is will we be brave enough and committed enough to climb that ladder, or will we remain grounded as a stepping stone for the rest of the nation. Will we have the common sense to give the Common Core Standards and our teachers a chance to succeed on behalf of our children? Will we embrace the Common Sense Standards and give the people of Mississippi a chance to move out of the past into a brighter future?

JL

©Jack Linton, January 5, 2015

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