I have always believed that closing the achievement gap in American schools would bring our country closer to the ideal of “liberty and justice for all” than it has ever come before. Within my first three years of teaching, however, I have realized that our current approach to education really isn’t getting us very close to accomplishing this goal.
The problem is difficult to admit: In 2006, the ACT published a study called Reading between the Lines, which produced evidence that our nation – as a whole – lacks proficiency in reading complex texts. How important is this? Well, the ACT concluded that the average level of text difficulty exposed to our nation’s high school seniors is at least two grade levels below the expectations to which they will be held to during their first year of college, or throughout their career. Furthermore, only 50 percent of Ivy-League-bound high school seniors can proficiently read texts at a complex level. Is this really the quality of education we want to persist in our country? One needs only to read through the Common Core State Standards and the research supporting them to recognize their potential to catalyze monumental student achievement gains across all 50 states.
Recognizing that the status quo is not the quality of education we want to impart on our students, my educator colleagues and I must demand to be a larger part of the conversation in support of the standards. You see, opponents to the Common Core argue that the bar set by the standards is too outrageously different or difficult for our students, and that our current system is doing just fine. Quite frankly, while opponents to the standards likely have the best intentions of children at heart, making the claim that “our students just can’t be expected to achieve at such high levels” is deplorable. This is why teachers’ voices are critical to successful implementation of the standards. Thanks to the Common Core, I have begun to hold my students to even higher expectations than I had before, and guess what? They are rising to meet the challenge.
Our challenge – as a nation full of urban, rural, and suburban educators – is to push our students to think independently; to have the patience to think differently; and to acquire the grit demanded of them by a competitive economy. It is this purposeful “mindset shift,” offered by the standards, that has made me even more passionate about teaching. When I ask my students for a rationale behind our daily work, they can tell me, among other things, “Reading complex texts will help us to be ready for college.” Unfortunately, many of my students – and many students across the country lack the strategies to independently comprehend the meaning and significance of complex texts. The standards have guided how I prepare my students to confront texts and gain confidence picking them apart.
Our world is changing. Less than 10 years ago I graduated high school, and the way we educate our children today must pivot from my experience if we expect them to be able to compete in our interconnected global economy. The Common Core so accurately displays a philosophy of holding our students to high expectations that we would be remiss to simplify the standards to a battle of anything but “self-improvement.”