My twin sons, now in public school in Oregon, are shaping up to be pretty good basketball players. They're seven years old, and they play on an 8 foot basket. Imagine that throughout elementary, middle, and high school, they continue playing on this 8 foot basket. They're stars! Then they go to college and discover a hard truth: regulation basketball hoops are 10 feet tall. They're way behind their peers, who have been practicing on the standard hoop for years.
Substitute academics for sports, and this is exactly the situation millions of American students are in right now: their states' low academic standards don't prepare them for the rigor of college or careers. These low standards are exactly why the new Common Core Standards are so important. Adopted by 46 states, the Common Core Standards are clearer, higher, fewer, and more coherent academic standards that will address the glaring gap between what certain states require students to learn and what those students actually need to learn to be ready for college or a career. The standards will open the door for teachers to collaborate and share lesson plans across states. They'll let parents and students know that graduating with A's in Arizona means the same thing as graduating an A student in Massachusetts, and that both diplomas indicate real preparation for the future.
Seem like a no brainer? Not for the Republican National Committee, who just released draft language of a resolution to officially oppose the Common Core, calling the standards a "nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement." Meanwhile, Common Core opponents in Indiana, Oklahoma, Florida and elsewhere consistently make the false claim that the Common Core Standards were developed by federal government to impose illegally on the states.
I wish the RNC would talk to Martin Avila, an Arizona public school graduate and business major at New York University, about his school experiences. "I got straight A's in math in Arizona all the way through AP Calculus," Martin says, "and I never had to crack open a textbook." Martin graduated in the top 3 percent of his class and arrived at NYU feeling confident. "I talked to my advisor to see if I could place out of some math classes," Martin said. "He told me not to be so sure, since I was from Arizona public schools. Sure enough, when I took the calculus test at NYU I didn't know any of what I was supposed to know! I ended up having to take pre-calculus and calculus again in college. Since my business degree is so numbers based, I'm still struggling because I'm a step behind everyone. It's clear now that I wasn't ready at all."
Martin's story is far too common. As I've said before, one out of three of our students get to college and then need costly and demotivating remediation courses. Remediation is a strong predictor of college drop-outs: only 35 percent of students who take remediation classes graduate within six years.
It's time to give our kids the skills they need to compete and thrive after high school graduation. It's time for Common Core supporters: Governors and legislators of both parties, business and union leaders, educators, university and community college presidents, and more to stand up and be counted. Get the facts about the Common Core and encourage legislators in your state to follow the lead of states like Tennessee, Colorado, and Arizona, where bipartisan coalitions are moving Common Core implementation forward.
If we get this right, by the 2014-2015 school year the standards that kids are held accountable to in 46 states will finally align with what they actually need to know in college and in the real world. In other words, all of our kids will start playing ball on a 10-foot, not an 8-foot, basket.