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Building Common Ground for the Common Core

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This is a guest post by Debbie Wesslund. Debbie is in her second term as a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education - Louisville, KY. It is one of the largest school districts in the nation with more than 100,000 students.

Jefferson County Schools just finished a week of state tests based on new standards developed to ensure students meet the requirements for full participation in a global, knowledge-based economy.

Kentucky was the first state to implement the Common Core State Standards, and this round of testing in math and English language arts is the first assessment that will tell us how we are progressing during the early implementation phase.

It has been a stressful run-up to this testing week because of the time and effort teachers and administrators have put in to learn and integrate these learning goals - and do it in a compressed schedule. Most states are not fully implementing and testing until the 2014-15 school year.

There are many things about these standards to applaud: they are firm on rigorous, internationally benchmarked goals, while allowing school districts flexibility in choosing curriculum and teaching methods.

I believe the best feature of the standards initiatives is that leaders from a variety of perspectives came together around high expectations for our kids, researched and developed the standards and are unified in staying the course.

They approached a big issue, put aside political ideology, and found common ground. We don't see much of this kind of collaboration these days, but we are in clear need of it, and we should recognize this accomplishment.

Recently groups of naysayers have surfaced. One element wants to define common core as a sinister and destructive conspiracy. Another element is questioning content on climate change and biological sciences. Others advocate putting the brakes on because of the fear that standards are moving too fast.

Few things enjoy uniform support, but with the most recent news of Indiana's Governor and a Kentucky Senator opening the door to moving backwards, and conspiracy voices growing louder, it is clear that it is time to resolve to stick with the plan.

The loudest are charging that adhering to these new standards adds up to a "federal takeover" of state education systems.

In fact the federal government was not involved in writing theses standards. They were drafted under the leadership of the nation's governors (Republican and Democrat) and chief state school officers, along with teachers, business groups and other educational organizations. States have the option of adopting the standards or not - to date, 45 state legislatures and D.C. have signed on.

I think there are very few conspiracies in this world, and high education expectations are surely not a conspiracy.

Let's define the common core standards initiative this way - a distinctly American way to remain a world leader in strength, freedom and opportunity. That's how high the stakes are for our educational system, and for our children. Whether our graduates stay in Kentucky or not, they will surely be competing with the best educated in the world because of the way we are connected.

Our Jefferson County 15th District PTA has won grants to educate parents about what the new standards mean, and has been recognized for its exemplary work. And our school system has been proud to lead the way in embracing the goals.

Staying the course on the common core is essential. There will undoubtedly be a need for changes along with way, but we need to maintain the resolve evident at the beginning of this effort to see it through.

It is a fact that strategies in education have changed often. But high standards should remain a common thread throughout a child's education. And, teachers need certainty and clarity about the objective of their work, rather than another possible major change of course.

This time let's not fear those who promote fear. There's too much catering to the fringe in the public arena. Instead, let's honor the work of those who have shared a common vision for excellence in education and have provided us a way forward.

Common ground is where progress is always made. Choose progress.

For more information on Common Core Standards in Kentucky, visit Commissioner Terry Holliday's May blog posts on the subject. http://education.ky.gov/CommOfEd/blog/Pages/default.aspx

On the common core and JCPS, visit http://www.raisethebarlouisville.org.

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