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Higher Education Leaders Form Coalition in Support of Common Core

At a time when the Common Core State Standards have increasingly come under fire, they have some new allies from higher education in their corner.

More than 200 college presidents and state higher education leaders from 33 states have formed Higher Ed for Higher Standards, a coalition endorsing the common-core standards. Institutions represented include Cornell University, the University of Kentucky, North Carolina State University, Des Moines Area Community College, and multiple campuses of California State University. Click here for a full list of supporters.

"Recently, with so much pushback and misinformation, these leaders were getting frustrated and concerned that a good idea could get undercut if they didn't make their voices clear," said Mark Gandal, the president of Education Strategy Group, a Washington nonprofit that has been consulting with the group, said in a phone interview.

The higher education initiative comes as just this month, two states—Oklahoma and South Carolina—finalized legislation that mandates that the common core be replaced. Indiana took similar action earlier this spring (though it's worth noting that the "new" Indiana standards has since adopted bear a striking resemblance to the common core.) Despite the recent exodus, 43 states and the District of Columbia are still on board with the common core.

In a June 10 conference call with reporters, higher education officials said the common-core standards are needed to improve the college- and career-readiness of incoming students, many of whom now need remedial help upon entering their institutions. 

"Remediation slows down student progress and, in some cases, puts a halt to the college experience," said John Morgan, the chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents and a vice chair of National Association of System Heads, in a press release. "Colleges and universities have been working hard to address remediation challenges. We believe the common-core standards, with their focus on critical thinking and problem solving, can help improve student success."

Nearly half of freshmen entering two-year community colleges need to start with some remedial courses and 20 percent of those attending four-year institutions, according to the press materials provided by the coalition. Graduation rates are significantly lower for students who start their college career with these non-credit-bearing classes.

The coalition's work is a project of the Collaborative for Student Success, a grantmaking initiative funded by several education foundations, including the Lumina Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It provides resources to educators, businesses, and the communities to support implementation of the common core. (All three foundations also support news coverage in Education Week.)

The coalition will continue to seek supporters. While the effort started with college presidents, Gandal said faculty members and college deans are expressing interest in getting involved. These advocates plan to get work at the state level to focus the debate more on student learning and less on issues of federal intrusion and testing, he said.

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