As we prepare for 2014, our thoughts turn to the events that shaped our year, from the acquittal of George Zimmerman to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington to the recent passing of Nelson Mandela. Indeed, it has been a year of great loss, remembrance and, yes, hope. Hope that in honor of Mandela, we will fight to make sure that Trayvon Martin did not die in vain. Hope that the March for Jobs and Justice brings equality and access to the next generation. Hope that we will take our collective intellectual capital and political will to finally right some of society’s most persistent wrongs, including how we educate our children.
As we prepare for a new year filled with hope and expectations, I am reminded of one of Mandela’s famous quotes: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” This year, educational reformers have made a strategic investment in bettering educational outcomes for children in an initiative known as Common Core State Standards.
Will implementation of Common Core allow us to treat our children better? At the New York Urban League, we believe that for too long, there has been an unacceptable mismatch between what students are learning in school and what skills they need to succeed in the innovation economy.
We owe it to our students and families to improve teaching, schooling and learning for all students. We believe that responsible and well-resourced implementation of Common Core provides the opportunity for teachers to train students to question, analyze, evaluate, form opinions and argue their rationale. Common Core is a tool that should be given an opportunity to be successful, as well as the support to be revised and improved with community participation and engagement.
Our children deserve to be prepared not only to consume but also to create, innovate and ignite. Our city and our communities need problem solvers, not test takers. The most basic of jobs require reading and math skills that employers feel can best be assumed by those who have completed a level of education that has never been required before. The federal government estimates that by 2018, 63 percent of all jobs will require a high school diploma and some postsecondary training.
The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, in its 2013 report “Creating College Communities,” says that for every 100 New York City high school freshmen who enrolled in 2007, 66 graduated on time and 49 enrolled in college the following fall. The report goes on to paint a grim picture in which 1 in 4 of students drop out before the end of their first year of school. In the next six years, fewer than 30 students will receive the college degree they had hoped to receive. Too often, these students do not succeed because they arrive on their first day of college ill prepared for the rigors of college coursework.
Common Core alone cannot fix all of the ills of public education. We need resources and teacher training, particularly in underperforming schools. We need nonprofit organizations to provide wraparound support and services, and we need corporations not only to demand a more skilled workforce but also to partner with educators and community members to fund and implement solutions.
In order to help all of our students meet the higher bar, we must push our city and state leaders to support work happening both in and out of the classroom. Parents and communities have a critical role to play and must be brought into the process and not isolated. With all of us holding our educators responsible and ourselves accountable, Common Core provides an opportunity to treat our children better.
Arva Rice is president and CEO of the New York Urban League, an organization whose mission is to enable African Americans and other underserved communities to secure a first-class education, economic self-reliance and equal respect of their civil rights through programs, services and advocacy.