By Guest Columnist DANA RICKMAN, director of policy and research for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education
Recently there has been no education topic more hotly debated than the Common Core State Standards.
For those of you new to this debate, the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) are Georgia’s version of the national Common Core State Standards (CCSS). It is important to understand the purpose of the standards, why Georgia led the nation in adopting them and why they were created in the first place.
In 2006, it was evident that the United States was falling behind other countries in our ability to educate a competitive workforce for the global market. American 15-year-olds ranked 25th globally in math and 21st in science achievement on the most recent international assessments. At the same time, the United States ranked among the highest in inequality, with the third largest gap in science scores between students from differing socio-economic groups.
It was also apparent that the nation was rapidly losing its historic edge in educational attainment. In 1995, America was tied for first in college and university graduation rates, but by 2006 we had dropped to 14th. That same year, we had the second-highest college dropout rate among 27 other first-world countries. Put simply, not only were our children not able to compete on a global level, more and more of them were not prepared for the rigor required for post-secondary instruction.
In response to this educational crisis, governors from across the country (30 of them Republican) called for common national standards that were internationally benchmarked in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that all students – no matter what state they lived in – would be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be ready for college and career when they graduated high school.
As a result, in 2009 the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) created a state-led process to develop the CCSS. It is important to note that standards are not a curriculum, but rather a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills are needed for our students to succeed.
The CCSS are the goals for what students should know and be able to do when they complete a grade level, and ultimately what they should know when they graduate high school. Standards do not dictate how teachers should teach and do not require any specific curriculum.
The standards themselves were heavily based on Georgia’s existing Georgia Performance Standards (GPS), which were adopted in 2004. According to independent research conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the GPS align with about 75 percent of the new common standards. The report acknowledges the strengths of the GPS and highlights the areas in both math and language arts where the new CCSS builds on and enhances what Georgia has already been doing.
Georgia was one of the first states in 2010 to formally adopt these new standards after a public comment period. Georgia’s then Gov. Sonny Perdue served as the NGA’s co-chairman of the initiative that created the standards.
At the time of their adoption, speaking at a national kick-off event held in June 2010 at Suwanee’s Peachtree Ridge High School, Perdue said it was time to take this bold step forward.
“Complacency can’t lead us into the doldrums, and our nation can’t afford to be second class in education,” Perdue stressed. “I see a direct link in education and economic development. What are the opportunities and the rightful responsibilities of our states to get students, not at a ceiling, but at a floor of expectations?”
Recently the Georgia Department of Education released the graduation rate for the 2011-2012 school year — 69.7 percent. That is a two percentage point increase over last year’s numbers. While there is slow improvement, some employers and institutions of higher education now view a high school diploma with some skepticism. Good grades on a high school transcript do not always translate to a mastery of content knowledge or the development of critical thinking skills. Most colleges and universities require admissions exams to demonstrate college-readiness. Even with these additional measures, many students enter college having to enroll in remedial classes.
Under the previous standards in Georgia, of the students who graduated (met all the required standards), nearly 50 percent were still not prepared for college within the University System of Georgia, and required remediation. Of those – only about 20 percent will ever graduate college. The remediation work alone costs the state more than $22 million – annually.
Georgia is predicted to add 1.5 million new jobs by 2020. Of these new jobs, nearly 60 percent will require some sort of education beyond high school. Currently, only about 42 percent of Georgia’s adult population meets that requirement. The skill level of Georgia’s workforce does not currently meet the growing needs of a successful economic development plan. A strong educational system is a necessary component to support the state’s economic vision, and strong standards are the cornerstone of that system.
There is currently a movement within Georgia to pull out of the Common Core and return to our previous standards. Much of this is fueled by partisan rhetoric and misinformation. Ten years ago, Georgia was highly criticized not only for a lack of performance, but a lack of rigorous standards. As a state, we addressed those issues with the implementation of the GPS.
Using the state’s old GPS standards as a basis, Georgia helped lead the way in the creation of the Common Core – which takes the GPS to the next level of student preparedness. If we pull out now, Georgia will once again be criticized for a lack of commitment to our students and as not being serious about making sure our students are ready for college and career when they graduate high school.
From a business and economic development standpoint, our students will be viewed as not ready and less competitive than students from other states. Georgia cannot afford to put our head in the sand and pretend that other states (and nations) are not moving forward; otherwise our state (and our students) will be left behind.