Knoxville News Sentinel, September 7, 2013. Reprinted by permission.
I am passionate about education, particularly breaking the cycle of poverty and low education rates of at-risk students and their families. I believe in and have invested a significant amount of my life’s work in the full-service community school model, which encourages collaboration and coordination of academic, social and health services at the school level to meet all of a student’s and sometimes parents’ needs so that they can learn.
However, even if we succeed in eliminating all of the barriers to learn outside of the classroom, if expectations and standards within the classroom are low, we have failed that student. I have seen it time and again – if we expect more of students, they will achieve more.
That is why I was disappointed to learn that Tennessee’s movement to higher standards to prepare students for a successful future has come under attack.
Important work is happening every day by dedicated educators and community members to implement Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards.
Here is what is really happening in our state and community.
Schools are putting into place Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards, which set expectations for what K-12 students should know in English and math. The English standards help students develop deep reading skills by studying great writing, whether literary classics such as “Little Women” or nonfiction writing, such as the Gettysburg Address and the Federalist Papers. The math standards call for students to build on skills learned in the early grades so they are ready for Algebra II in high school.
Our standards are helping our students learn real-world skills — critical thinking and problem solving — instead of just rote memorization and test-taking tricks. As a professor at the University of Tennessee for 43 years, I know how important these skills are for success in college and the real world. Our students are not just competing within our state, they are competing with students across the U.S. and internationally.
Leaders from the states and both political parties helped create the Common Core State Standards, guided by advice from more than 100 experts on English and math instruction, and these standards have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states. The standards did not come from the federal government or Race to the Top. The standards also do not give the government a way to track student movements or weaken federal student privacy laws.
Why do we need the Common Core State Standards? The answer is our students have fallen behind. The United States no longer leads the world in student achievement, and Tennessee has for too long trailed other states on this measure.
The state’s work to raise standards has drawn positive attention. A recent research report comparing the rigor of state standards said Tennessee had jumped from an “F” to a straight “A,” a feat the researchers called “The Tennessee Miracle.” They ranked Tennessee No. 2 on standards and on a par with Massachusetts, long regarded as having the highest academic standards of any state in the nation.
It would be a terrible mistake to abandon Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards just as we are seeing progress. We adults must show our students that we truly believe that when we expect more, they achieve more.
Bob Kronick is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling at the University of Tennessee.