Recent criticism of Common Core by teachers unions, long some of its biggest supporters, is understandable. It has caused alarm in the media and in the education community. Great ideas – like higher standards for students – only stay great when they are implemented well and, in some cases, teachers believe they have not been. While teacher support for the standards themselves appears strong, concerns about implementation, student testing, and teacher evaluations have caused unions in some states to waiver.
But we shouldn’t panic. Advocates for higher standards can use this as an opportunity to address educator critiques, help students reach these new expectations and prevent this effort from losing momentum. While we must accept, and even expect, implementation hiccups, states can help educators adjust without compromising the purpose of Common Core.
In Delaware, our educators are teaching to the standards now, but in order to provide enough time to transition, we won’t move to a more rigorous student assessment until the spring of 2015. Assessment results won’t impact teacher evaluation until a year later. This means that educators, school leaders, and state policymakers have a chance to work out kinks at each stage, gaining a better understanding of how new lessons impact their students before moving onto the next step.
Meanwhile, we must give schools resources for support. Our state has found success by providing teachers training and assistance in shaping their curriculum to best meets their students’ needs. I recently visited with a group of first grade teachers at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Newark, Delaware. They told me that the combination of Common Core standards with more intensive analysis of data about student achievement is making them more effective in the classroom.
We must improve Common Core implementation because the status quo is unacceptable. U.S. student achievement has remained stagnant, but more than 60 percent of jobs will require education or training beyond high school and the College Board has found that far fewer students graduate ready for college or a career. Common Core was designed by states, teachers, and education experts to help students improve critical thinking skills and develop a deeper understanding of concepts rather than simply memorize facts. Delaware’s 2013 Teacher of the Year has emphasized that “with fewer, clearer and higher expectations for students, the standards allow for more meaningful instruction and fuller understanding by students.”
The transition to Common Core is difficult. But we have all learned that higher standards can make a real difference. The state of Massachusetts decided in 1993 to require higher standards in its school. Change came slowly. But eventually, Massachusetts’ students outperformed the nation’s. Today, their students compare favorably with the best students around the world.
Justice Brandeis famously wrote that states are “laboratories of democracy.” Implementation of higher standards worked in Massachusetts. It will work in the rest of the country as well. Staying the course on Common Core while heeding the feedback of educators about the supports they need will sustain our broad coalition, which includes teachers, parents, and the business community. If implemented with fidelity, the Common Core Standards will remake our schools for the next generation and give our students the opportunity they deserve to make the most of their talents.
This opinion piece was originally published by U.S. News & World Reports.