Despite bold reforms and critical progress made by governors such as Ohio’s John Kasich, America’s education system remains in a state of crisis. That is the staggering, painful reality, backed by statistic after statistic, that should concern every single individual concerned about the future of our country’s economy and national security and the quality of life our children and grandchildren will enjoy.
For decades, the entrenched establishment, which dominated K-12 public education for far too long, enabled a status quo that dumbed down expectations for students — even as government spending on schools increased exponentially year by year. As a result, American students are falling further and further behind their peers in countries across the world as they languish in classrooms with mediocre standards and minimal accountability.
Fortunately, the State Board of Education, with the support of the Ohio General Assembly, made the important decision three years ago to reverse this course and dramatically raise expectations for students. Ohio joined 45 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting world-class academic standards, known as the Common Core State Standards. The initiative is state-driven, voluntary and truly bipartisan. Unfortunately, as full implementation of the new standards nears, myths and misinformation are threatening to derail this great progress.
Retreating from this bold education reform would be bad policy and bad politics and would jeopardize the college and career readiness of future generations of students and, ultimately, the quality of tomorrow’s work force. It also would render Ohio’s already significant taxpayer investment in the new standards worthless and without account. To understand the significance of this policy issue, it is important to review the facts and separate the truth from mendacity.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, one of the nation’s leading authorities on education policy and academic standards, recently compared K-12 standards in each state against the new Common Core State Standards. The results were compelling, but not surprising. In both English language arts and math, Fordham found that Ohio’s standards fell short in every category measured, from lack of rigor to weakness in content, while Common Core standards were rated as rigorous, clear, streamlined and relevant.
Common Core standards will challenge students to read critically, write extensively and solve real-world math problems at greater capacity, resulting in a more valuable education and a better return on taxpayers’ investment. The standards are benchmarked to high international standards to guarantee that American students are prepared to succeed in the 21st century global economy. Most important, Common Core State Standards define what students need to know; they do not dictate how teachers should teach or how students should learn. Those decisions are left to states and local school districts.
That’s what Common Core standards are. Here’s what they’re not: a national curriculum or national mandate, a federal takeover of education, an invasion of student privacy or a device of crony capitalism. Those are just a few of the myths that have circulated in recent months. I understand and appreciate the intent of the concerns shared by opponents of the initiative, some of whom are my fellow conservatives, but it is critical to address these misconceptions and return the focus of this debate to where it should be: our kids and our future.
Common Core State Standards will ensure our nation’s academic requirements are aligned to the expectations of higher-education institutions in Ohio and across the country and the needs of American employers competing in the global economy. The future of America will be determined by the strength of our economy, an economy where success will be predicated on a highly educated work force prepared to create and foster the industries and technologies of tomorrow. Without higher quality schools, our nation’s status as a global leader and beacon of prosperity will be jeopardized, while the percentage of our population relying on government aid will only increase.
Change isn’t easy, especially when it comes in the form of disruptive policy that truly holds the potential to transform education. Under Common Core State Standards, more will be expected of our children and teachers. Parents may see their child’s scores drop slightly as school work becomes more rigorous. School and government leaders will endure the complaints of those who cling to the status quo and from the apologists who don’t believe every single student needs nor has the right to a high-quality education.
However, if leaders in Ohio and in states across the country keep stepping up and continue on the course of higher expectations for all students, we will fully realize a quality education system, state by state, essential to maintaining our long tradition of American exceptionalism.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.