Truth and Hope in Education Reform

Too often, education reform discussions focus just on the hard facts.  They spotlight the difficult truths of public education, where too many kids are failing to perform at goal, where too many students are dropping out of high school, and where too many children are denied access to a exemplary public education.

But if we are serious about improving our public schools, and if we are truly committed to ensuring that all kids — regardless of race, family income, or zip code — have access to great public schools, we must focus on both the truths and the hope.  We must be honest about our shortcomings but forthright about the possibilities.

Last month, I had the honor and privilege of speaking at the Connecticut NAACP State Convention.  In remarks focused on both the truth and hope of education reform, I talk of the social contract we have to provide all kids with a great public education.  You can see most of the speech here.  The first few minutes are missing, but it is still worth a watch …

(Originally published on Yes Conn, We Can blog.)

Just Say No to ALEC’s Latest Move

Every three or five years, I changed school districts as a child.  I spent my K-12 years in four different states.  With each move, I was faced with a different set of academic standards and a different set of expectations.

After some moves, I found myself greatly ahead of the curve.  In another, I found myself behind what was expected.  And in my final move, made before my junior year of high school, I actually had my new high school try to say I was ineligible to be valedictorian because I had taken chemistry “too early” in the sequencing.

We are now a nation on the move.  Families move in search of work, to take care of family members, or simply to find better opportunities.  With each of those moves, each and every child should be able to expect the same thing from school  Sixth grade should be sixth grade, whether it is sixth grade in Connecticut, Georgia, Colorado, or California.
Fortunately, over the past several years 45 states came together to develop a common set of standards for our schools, clearly identifying what should be learned in kindergarten through 12th grade.  Led by our nation’s governors and top education leaders, these standards — known as Common Core State Standards — are voluntary benchmarks that assure all kids are getting a world-class education.

Why are these standards important?  Five simple reasons:
* Common Core offers fewer and clearer standards, providing teachers the ability to focus on their student and tailor their lesson plans to the needs of the classroom
* Common Core goes into greater depth within fewer topics and theories within subjects, allowing for more engaging learning and deeper understanding
* Common Core provides faster results when it comes to assessment, empowering educators to address and course correct
* Common Core is built to focus on understanding and not memorization, prioritizing comprehension, mastery, hands-on learning, and learning that sticks with students
* Common Core allows for better materials for the classroom and allows educators to share ideas and resources
Here in Connecticut, school districts are hard at work to adopt the Common Core, working with educators and communities to develop the lesson plans, professional development, classroom support, and assessments that will provide a path for improvement in all of our classrooms.
Unfortunately, later this week, a group called ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) will be taking up an amendment condemning the Common Core.  Between now and the 16th, ALEC’s Board of Directors will vote on whether to approve its “Comprehensive Legislative Package Opposing the Common Core State Standards Initiative.”
Put simply, this is the wrong vote at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.  Now, more than ever, the United States needs common academic standards to ensure that, regardless of the state a kid lives in, a 10th grade education always means the same thing.  We need to be doing more to establish clear standards, standards that individual states can’t tinker with or lower to make themselves look good.  We need one high standard that all states follow, so we can truly compare apples to apples.
It is time to tell ALEC no.  Common Core is a positive step forward that this board should not act against.  We need to focus our energies on strong implementation and fostering its embrace by the entire school community.  It’s the least we can do for our kids.
(The above blog post originally appeared on Patrick Riccards’ Yes Conn, We Can blog on November 8, 2012.)