Educational leaders from six states representing 18 educational entities across the nation convened last week at an inaugural summit on the alignment of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with post-secondary education. The network aims to leverage CCSS to improve workforce development.
Skeptical balking at this new initiative is understandable; we have done reform before. But when Roy Romer, 39th governor of Colorado and former superintendent of Los Angeles School District, addressed us, I listened. Romer is lead spokesman for Strong American Schools.
"This country is not offering a path that voters have confidence in," argued Romer. "Neither party has a path, Republican or Democrat, but colleges do."
He challenged us to set aside political bickering and get down to the nuts and bolts of fixing American schools.
Romer and I agree. The Common Core movement "will make it or break it in the elementary grades." Attainment of knowledge and skills from pre-K to grade five forms the basis for life-changing trajectories with serious implications for future pathways for students.
Students who enter kindergarten with strong vocabulary outpace their peers just as college students trained in Latin decode meaning as counterparts fumble.
I do not want CCSS to hold back high achievers at the expense of nationalizing curriculum. I do not believe in schooling that levels perceived playing fields, rather one that guides students into high interest, relevant programs of study where students develop necessary acumen to move seamlessly to post-secondary training and into a lifetime of meaningful work.
America's strength depends on a workforce adept at problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, team work and research.
Liberals worry that inequitable gatekeepers have prevented college access, yet current data on who earns degrees fail to fully support them. The Right worries about nationalizing a curriculum and dumbing down. I want to see a curriculum representing access to important AP, IB and Early College programs. More than 70 percent of U.S. jobs demand post-secondary credentials. Post-secondary credentials are the 21st century gatekeeper to meaningful work. If you don't believe me ask Americans aged 18 to 34 seeking employment.
American business and industry share resounding sentiment: American education is not training young people to go the way of highly relevant, high interest curriculum pathways of study with any degree of measurable success.
The current absence of leverage to meet workforce demands is salient. A Savannah-based plant recently had to look outside of Georgia to hire welders. The mismatch of employee skill sets and workforce demands fuels unemployment, poverty, high crime, low intellectual capital, deficient emotional fortitude and an America characterized more by hot tubs, clowns, champagne chasers and the grounding of space exploration than a country of first world proportions graduating scientists, engineers, mathematicians and educators.
It is time for hard talk about making schools work for young people crying out for relevance and authenticity in America's schools.
It is the cry that wakes me in my sleep.
Jeff Meadors represents District 1 on the Newton County Board of Education. He may be reached at Jeffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org.