The Common Core and the Common Good: American schools need rigorous standards to make kids competitive in a global job market

August 21, 2013

The Common Core and the Common Good

By CHARLES M. BLOW

America, we have a problem.

Our educational system is not keeping up with that of many other industrialized countries, even as the job market becomes more global and international competition for jobs becomes steeper. We have gone from the leader to a laggard. According to the Broad Foundation, an educational reform group, “American students rank 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading compared to students in 27 industrialized countries.” And we have gone from No. 1 in high school graduation to 22nd among industrialized countries, according to a report last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.That same report found that fewer than half of our students finished college. This ranked us 14th among O.E.C.D. countries, below the O.E.C.D. average. In 1995 we were among the Top 5.

Some rightly point to the high levels of poverty in our public schools to adjust for our lagging performance, but poverty — and affluence — can’t explain all the results away.

As Amanda Ripley, an investigative journalist, explains in her new book, “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way,” American students are not performing at the same level of their peers internationally.

She writes: “American kids are better off, on average, than the typical child in Japan, New Zealand, or South Korea, yet they knew far less math than those children. Our most privileged teenagers had highly educated parents and attended the richest school in the world, yet they ranked 18th in math compared to their privileged peers around the world, scoring well below affluent kinds in New Zealand, Belgium, France and Korea, among other places. The typical child in Beverly Hills performed below average, compared to all kids in Canada.”

A report this month by the company that administers ACT, the college admissions test, found that only a fourth of those tested were ready for college. And that was among motivated students who want to go to college, from all sorts of schools, not just public school students.

Any way you slice it, we’re not where we want or need to be.

One strategy of changing our direction as a nation is the adoption of Common Core State Standards, meant to teach children the skills they need to be successful in college and careers — skills like critical thinking and deep analysis.

These are things that Americans recognize that our schools need to teach. According to a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released Wednesday, 80 percent of Americans strongly agree that schools should teach critical thinking skills, 78 percent agree that they should teach communication skills, 57 percent agree that they should teach students how to collaborate and 51 percent believe that they should help build student’s character.

The Obama administration strongly supports the Common Core, and the American Federation of Teachers endorses it. The president of the United Federation of Teachers says that most teachers agree it should be implemented. And, according toCoreStandands.org, “45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activities have adopted the Common Core State Standards.”

This seemed like a sure thing. The problem is that, in some states, Common Core testing has been implemented before teachers, or the public for that matter, have been instructed in how to teach students using the new standards.

This means that, when students score poorly on the more rigorous Common Core-based tests, it threatens to cause a backlash among parents, who increasingly see testing as the problem, not the solution.

That Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll also found that most Americans had not heard of the Common Core. Only 22 percent thought increased testing helped school performance, and most rejected the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

Because we insist on prioritizing testing over teaching — punishments over preparation — we run the risk of turning Americans off one of the few educational strategies in recent memory that most people say we need.

That’s so American.

We have to decide as a country — politicians and parents, corporations and communities — that high-performance education is not only valuable to our sense of self, but essential to our future prosperity. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workers and leaders and innovators and entrepreneurs.

In all the discussions I have with educational leaders and reformers on improving our educational outcomes, there seems to be some level of agreement — though obviously not full agreement — on strategies that work: attracting, supporting and keeping the best teachers and investing in their development; providing “wrap-around” services for poor and struggling students; making schools safe, welcoming, fun places with recess and art and music and nutritious food; and strongly promoting parental engagement.

And we need a national standard for what the kind of education that we want our children to receive. Our educational system has become so tangled in experiments and exams and excuses that we’ve drifted away from the basis of what makes education great: learning to think critically and solve problems.

We have drifted away from the fundamentals of what makes a great teacher: the ability to light a fire in a child, to develop in him or her a level of intellectual curiosity, the grit to persevere and the capacity to expand. Great teachers help to activate a small thing that breeds great minds: thirst.

The Common Core is meant to help bolster those forms of learning and teaching.

The Common Core is for the common good, if only we can get our act together and properly implement it.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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