More than five and a half million of the 30 million young adults in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 don’t have a high school diploma, according to the 2012 U.S. Census. Unfortunately, for many the personal consequences will be negative and long lasting: few good job opportunities and low pay in the short term, and, over the long haul, a rocky path to career success and financial security.
But we all pay the price for sending millions of young adults into the world without even the minimum preparation a high school diploma represents, whether that toll is measured in a lower national economic output, a public support system needed to keep families from further slipping into poverty, or another generation born on society’s lowest and least-secure rung. And the difficult truth is that when talent and potential are wasted on this scale, we all bear some responsibility.
That’s why the Campaign for High School Equity (of which I am the executive director) and so many other fierce believers in the American dream support the national move toward the Common Core State Standards. Built on the premise of uniformly high expectations and accountability, and now being implemented in nearly all of the states and the District of Columbia, these standards are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure that all students are prepared for college and career, regardless of ZIP code, income, race, or ethnicity.
These standards are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure that all students are prepared for college and career."
Today’s education system is fragmented and inefficient. An 8th grader whose family moves from one state to another in search of better job opportunities may find different academic expectations for 8th graders in her new school. And too many kids learn from experience to equate “education” with rote learning that appears to have little relevance to their lives and dreams. This is especially true for kids from low-income communities and communities of color.
We are approaching the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended the shameful “separate but equal” doctrine by declaring unequivocally that the opportunity of an education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” We must continue the fight toward educational equality.
And we can, by embracing the rigorous, grade-appropriate central concepts at the heart of the common-core standards. These concepts will further challenge educators to tailor their teaching to the individual students in their classes and communities, creating a better, more engaging learning environment.
Although the nation’s high school graduation rate was at a 20-year high during the 2009-10 academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the unfortunate truth is that we still had states with graduation rates in the 70 percent and 60 percent ranges for Latino and black students, respectively, and even lower for Native students. According to the NCES, in 2007-08, an estimated 1.7 million students graduated from high school needing remedial courses in basic math and English to prepare them for college-level classes.
That’s why we’re committed at the Campaign for High School Equity to pressing for the common standards and the supporting curricula, as well as advocating for the teacher training and resources required to close the achievement gap, once and for all.
We welcome the healthy debate that an endeavor this large should spark in a democratic society. But we can’t allow narrow special interests, or the politicians beholden to them, to lower educational standards for students already shortchanged by the system. And we will not stand by while common-core opponents spread myths or deliberate falsehoods in order to defeat or delay them.
These standards are not a panacea. We know that translating the common standards into curricula, meaningful teaching, learning, and accountability will take a lot of hard work. This move to more rigorous standards may mean we see lower student test scores for a time as the curricula are implemented for all grade levels. But if we are to make sure every student is college- and career-ready, this work is essential.
The anniversary of the Brown decision provides us with an opportunity to measure our progress in the subsequent decades and to ensure this nation’s continued commitment to bring every student to a higher plane of educational expectation and excellence.
This is our duty, in our time, yet it is rooted in the same compelling truth that then-attorney Thurgood Marshall voiced when he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, “There is no way you can repay lost school years.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 2014 edition of Education Week as A Common Cause for the Common Core