Mississippi First has been following the development of the Common Core State Standards since 2009. We advocated that the State Board of Education adopt Common Core in 2010 based on the knowledge that the standards were clearer, higher, and better than the abysmal standards Mississippi had in place at the time. We still advocate for the Common Core State Standards today for the same reasons. This point—that the Common Core State Standards are clearer, higher, and better than Mississippi’s previous standards—has never been refuted with any evidence. In fact, objective analyses by the Fordham Institute show the substantial difference between the bad standards that Mississippi formerly foisted upon its students and the clarity, coherence, and rigor of the Common Core State Standards.
As former classroom teachers, we know the importance of clear, coherent, and rigorous standards in guiding the instruction that takes place in classrooms. We also know the tremendous amount of work that teachers must do to turn standards into curriculum and curriculum into learning. It is this hard work that teachers have been engaged in for the last four years in school districts across Mississippi.
The transition to higher standards has been challenging for students, parents, and teachers. “A” and “B” students who coasted through school are now finding they have to work much harder to make the grade. Parents who were themselves taught to low standards find the new work hard to explain to their children and understandably are concerned as their children’s grades lag. Those teachers who were not prepared to teach Common Core by teacher preparation programs now struggle in adjusting lesson plans and communicating concepts that they may lack the foundation to teach.
Despite the obstacles, teachers have been doing heroic work to improve learning for children in Mississippi. Those teachers who have embraced Common Core tell us how the shift from rote memorization to critical thinking has breathed new life into their practice. The work is harder, yes, but as teachers watch children succeed, they cannot imagine returning to the old kill-and-drill, plug-and-chug, brain-dead method of instruction that had crept into classrooms. This is the promise of Common Core—better instruction by teachers and better outcomes for students.
Instead of focusing on how to better support teachers, parents, and students through the rocky implementation process, politicians and an entire cottage industry of conspiracy theorists have politicized the standards and left a cloud of uncertainty over the everyday lives of the most important people in this drama—teachers, parents, and children. This hullabaloo has confused the issue of higher versus lower standards with sound bites about data privacy, federal involvement in education, and—at the extreme—plenty of scary-sounding canard about what the standards say.
Let us be clear: abandoning Common Core in favor of lower standards is out of the question for Mississippi if we ever want to improve education. We have tried lower standards. They got us exactly where one might expect—at the bottom.
No state has crafted better standards than the Common Core after the meddling of politicians. No less than three states—Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina—have tried with no success. In Indiana, the first state to get rid of the standards, politicians thrust teachers and students into a year of instructional turmoil while new standards were cobbled together. The result was a set of new standards that are inferior to the carefully crafted Common Core, which took years to develop. Likewise, South Carolina very recently had public hearings on their new and hastily designed standards mandated by the legislature. The feedback from the expert review committee was terrible: the replacement standards were so bad that the committee recommended a complete rewrite of both English and math standards at nearly every grade level.
Indiana’s risky move away from the Common Core has not been the political savior politicians hoped. Public debate regarding the standards is still polarized, the state’s efforts towards successful implementation of any standards (let alone rigorous ones) have been reset to zero, and Indiana students will be taught to a lower standard than before Common Core become a political football.
Common Core is worth fighting for because standards speak to the very heart of a quality education. Teacher quality improvements, accountability policies, graduation pathways, and a host of other important reforms take a blow if the foundation upon which they are built—the learning standards that we hold our students to—is weak. More importantly, if we do not expect great things from our students, how can we ever expect them to compete in the dog-eat-dog economy of the twenty-first century?
Four-and-a-half years ago, Mississippi chose excellence in its learning standards for the first time. The state is finally moving in the right direction. Letting the political winds of the day dictate a bad decision that adversely affects the futures of thousands of Mississippi children is neither wise nor warranted. We support Common Core, and Mississippi should, too.