by Robert Coon
Posted 1/22/2014 02:43 pm
Updated 10 months ago
When I was in the 4th grade, I was a little energetic in the classroom. My teacher, Mrs. Wimmer, told me I needed to exhibit more “self-control.” Obviously that’s a hard concept for a 10-year-old to get his head around.
But Mrs. Wimmer had a useful tool to encourage me: multiplication tables. Bringing home one or two — and sometimes four or five — multiplication table assignments daily quickly became the norm for me. It wasn’t long before my mother, picking me up from school, stopped asking “if” I’d been assigned any tables, but “how many.”
As you can imagine, by the end of my 4th grade year, I was a pro at writing those tables. Not only had I developed a system to write them more efficiently (and to lessen hand cramps), I could recite any multiplication answer between zero times zero and twelve times twelve at the snap of a finger.
Fortunately, I eventually developed some much needed self-control. But I’m not sure whether I developed a better understanding of math from this daily exercise, or just got good at memorizing numbers.
I’ve been pondering the difference as the debate over Common Core State Standards has heated up nationally and in Arkansas.
Common Core is a set of K-12 educational standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in conjunction with teachers, parents, academics and school administrators. In a nutshell, Common Core seeks to establish standard benchmarks for each grade level. For math, the standards favor critical thinking and problem-solving over memorization. For reading and literacy, Common Core encourages a broader, more informational and analytic approach.
Forty-five states have adopted Common Core standards. But recently they’ve become highly controversial, with opponents calling for them to be scrapped. Certainly the standards aren’t perfect, but much of the criticism leveled against Common Core is based on misinformation and hyperbole.
Groups like the Foundation for Excellence in Education and education policy experts like Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute have done a good job breaking down a number of the bogus Common Core claims earlier this year. So instead of re-plowing old ground, I think it’s more important to ask whether we can afford to reject change in education for the sake of maintaining the status quo.
The truth is, we can’t.
While we probably don’t want to admit it — and it doesn’t make us feel warm and fuzzy to say it — the hard reality is that our education system is not performing at the level it must. There certainly are bright spots. But time and again, we’re reminded how we’re struggling to educate our children:
- Education Week’s 2013 Quality Counts Report Card graded Arkansas a C- in “Chance for Success” and a D in “K-12 Achievement.”
- A national study by ACT showed only one quarter of students entering college met College Readiness Bookmarks in all four tested subjects.
- Data by the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development revealed that while U.S. student scores weren’t measurably different from years past, we slipped in global education rankings, falling from 24th to 29th in math, 19th to 22nd in science, and 10th to 20th in reading.
Quite simply, we’re going backward when compared to the competition.
This should be a wake-up call for any parent with schoolchildren anywhere in the United States. But it should also be a wake up call for everyone who cares about our children, our economy and our nation’s future.
We live in a global economy. When it comes to education, workforce development and, ultimately, economic growth, we’re in direct competition with Asia and Europe. So building a solid educational foundation for the next generation is critical to our country’s long-term economic prosperity.
There’s no question that parental involvement and personal responsibility are the most important factors in positioning our children for educational success. And as much as we might want to legislate or mandate those things, the best we can do is strongly encourage them. Beyond that, it’s our collective responsibility to ensure that our education system is efficient and effective, and that our children are, in fact, learning.
Common Core is not a panacea for our education system’s flaws. It’s also not perfect, and probably will never be. But we can’t leave our education system on autopilot because we’re afraid of change. State, national and global data have already shown us the results we’ll get if we continue to do the things we’re doing now. Isn’t it worth trying something different?
For that reason, I’m willing to give Common Core the benefit of the doubt in hopes that its standards will bring about positive changes in our education system, so that we can stop going backward and start moving forward, for all our sakes.
(Robert Coon is a partner at Impact Management Group, a public relations, public opinion, and public affairs firm in Little Rock and Baton Rouge, La. You can follow him on Twitter at RobertWCoon. His column appears every other Wednesday in the weekly Government & Politics e-newsletter. You can subscribe for free here.)