Editorial: Adopt Common-sense Education Standards

By Retired: AL.com and Press-Register Editorial Board
on November 17, 2010 at 6:04 AM
IT’S QUITE a leap to say that if Alabama agrees to teach the same general principles that 39 other states teach in math and English, the federal government is somehow swooping in to take control.

Yet that’s the battle cry of opponents to the Common Core State Standards, which will be considered by the State Board of Education this week.

Alabama should adopt these common-sense standards without fearing federal control. They merely lay out basic levels of knowledge that students should have in math and English by the time they complete a grade.

Far from being a federal mandate, the standards were developed by the states in collaboration with teachers, parents and education experts.

Just look at a few of the standards cited on the Common Core website, www.corestandards.org. They state that students should:

** In kindergarten-level English, identify the front cover, back cover and title page of a book.

** In third-grade math, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers. (Translation: know multiplication tables.)

** In seventh-grade English, write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

** In high-school geometry, derive the equation of a circle of given center and radius using the Pythagorean Theorem; complete the square to find the center and radius of a circle given by an equation.

Sound like a federal takeover or a dumbing-down of the curricula? Hardly.

What is worrisome, however, is that academic requirements currently vary widely from state to state. As things stand now, what a child learns in English or math depends on the standards adopted by the particular state in which he attends school.

Adopting common standards would give students in different states the same fighting chance at a good education. It would also make it easier for students to keep up with their studies if they transfer across state lines, as many military families do.

Next, consider the ramifications that predictable academics would have on economic development. Businesses looking to locate a new plant wouldn’t have to wonder about the strength of the local schools’ offerings in English and math — as long as the state has adopted Common Core standards.

Caroline Novak, president of A+ Education Partnership, suggests that adopting common requirements may even help Alabama save money on remediation. Community colleges and four-year institutions spend almost $100 million to re-teach students who aren’t ready for advanced classes. Avoiding the cost of remediation would give the state more money to spend on equipment, or even more classrooms.

State Board of Education members, who meet Thursday, don’t have to listen to the naysayers who fear the havoc common standards might wreak on the schools. Truth is, they might set the bar higher and accomplish more good than we could ever imagine.