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Michael J. Petrilli and Michael Brickman: Common Core raises standards

  • Published Friday, March 14, 2014, at 12 a.m.

For almost two decades now, the United States has been working to improve its schools by holding them accountable for results on standardized tests. And there’s been some success, with America’s lowest-performing students showing marked gains.

Unfortunately, similar progress hasn’t been made for students in the middle or at the top. That shouldn’t be surprising, since the standards and tests that most states put into place – including in Kansas – were set at ridiculously low levels.

Now we see the result of these shortsighted policies: Many young people have been taking and passing these standardized tests, yet still emerge from high school unready for college-level work in the core subjects, and unready for decent-paying jobs.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute – a conservative think tank that examines policy issues and promotes reforms in K-12 education – reviewed Kansas’ standards and graded them a C in English language arts and an F in mathematics. In 2010, however, Kansas adopted the Common Core state standards, the product of a multiyear state-led effort aimed at aligning school expectations for students with the demands of the real world (both college and modern jobs). We rated these standards a B-plus in English language arts and an A-minus in math.

In recent months, we have been puzzled by the small but vocal minority of conservatives who have joined forces with some on the far left to oppose the Common Core. It’s appropriate, of course, to worry about threats like federal intervention into schools, ideological indoctrination of students and poor-quality instruction. But the Common Core doesn’t promote any of those things. Instead, it pushes schools, teachers and students to higher levels of achievement and deeper levels of skill-and-content knowledge.

Leaders in Kansas should stand up to misguided and ill-informed political attacks and demand answers from both liberal and conservative critics of the Common Core: Would those on the left really remove testing and other measures that ensure that parents and teachers know whether students are learning all that they should – and how to help those who aren’t? Would those on the right have Kansans send their children to schools that are forced to scrap these higher standards?

Kansas made a choice for the better when it adopted the Common Core. It should not turn back now.

Michael J. Petrilli and Michael Brickman are, respectively, executive vice president and national policy director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

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