Johnson: The Common Core will help our children compete

A student works on a problem in a

A student works on a problem in a 9th grade Integrated Algebra class at Freeport High school where the lessons are based on the Common Core standards. (March 7, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile)

Long Islanders are understandably anxious about changes in the way public school students are taught and tested. People attending community forums on the new Common Core State Standards are worried that their kids aren’t succeeding, their property values are going to plummet, and public education is now under the control of bureaucrats in Albany who are working to dismantle it.

But slowing implementation of the Common Core standards, as some are calling for the state to do, would be a step in the wrong direction. This change has been difficult because the old way had become comfortable. Kids on Long Island looked good on paper: In 2012, 62.4 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded proficiency standards in English, and 72.7 percent did so in math. Those of us invested in our children’s education were coasting on complacency, even when we knew it wasn’t necessarily serving students well.

The Common Core reforms are a necessary recalibration. While it’s easy to get caught up in the vitriol, it’s important to ground the debate over Common Core in the facts.


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Setting state standards is nothing new. The state Education Department has been outlining what students should know in English language arts and math for nearly 20 years. But, as in many states, those standards were often vague and cumbersome, a mile wide and an inch deep.

The Common Core standards are a definite improvement. They are clear, focused and rigorous — something even critics acknowledge. In the early grades, the standards emphasize foundational reading and math skills, and they acknowledge the importance of play to learning in kindergarten classrooms. By high school, they are focused on ensuring all students do the kind of demanding daily work that will prepare them for the range of opportunities that await them after graduation.

Peer-reviewed research by a leading expert on international mathematics performance has compared the topics in the Common Core to high-performing countries in grades K-8. The study found that the Common Core math standards closely matched the standards of high-performing nations. It also found that states whose standards more closely matched the Common Core tended to have higher scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the largest nationally representative assessment of American students — than those that didn’t.

Similarly, the demands of the Common Core are a response to research that has shown that, even as the demands of college-level reading have increased, the difficulty of the texts students read in grades K-12 has dropped for years.

State Education Commissioner John King has correctly noted that certain tests are unnecessary and should be dropped. The goal has never been about testing our children into the ground. Any reduction of testing, however, cannot be at the expense of halting implementation of the Common Core.

New York is a national leader in Common Core implementation. In many states, teachers are clamoring for guidance. New York has begun developing a curriculum for all grades in both English language arts and math that has been highly touted by educators nationwide. The materials are well-aligned to the Common Core and available to every New York teacher free of charge.

As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has noted, the Common Core rollout has been rocky. But it’s a smart way to go if we want to ensure that Long Island’s young people are ready for the world that awaits them.

King was a teacher in Massachusetts when that state implemented the most ambitious curriculum and standards in the nation. He knows what disruption looks like. He also knows how important it is to get this right, so teachers can ensure that our students will flourish.

Delaying this important progress, rolling back these well-thought-out policies, and ignoring the problems they’re intended to solve won’t make the issues go away. And it certainly won’t do any favors for our kids.

Craig Johnson, a former state senator from Port Washington, is chairman of Democrats for Education Reform New York and a managing director at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.

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