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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Published: 3/15/2010

21st-century education

A PROPOSAL unveiled last week to create education standards that would be shared across the nation should get careful consideration in every state interested in preparing its children for life and work in the 21st century.

The proposed standards are the product of a collective effort by the governors and chief education officers of 48 states, including Ohio and Michigan. They seek to develop a set of "common core" skills students should have mastered in each grade from kindergarten through grade 12 in English and math.

The idea undoubtedly will run into opposition from people who are afraid of losing local control of education, leery of more unfunded mandates, and skeptical of yet another one-size-fits-all education fix. But none of those reservations appears to be justified.

The educators, researchers, content experts, and others who worked on the proposal evaluated the best standards-related work available. They came up with a rigorous plan that identifies what students need to know at each grade level to be prepared to enter college or the workplace by the time they graduate from high school. The standards are available for viewing and public comment at www.corestandards.org.

The strength of the skill-based proposal is that it leaves decisions about content and methods to teachers, administrators, and state education departments. For example, the standards expect third graders to distinguish their point of view from that of characters in a text; fourth graders to describe the differences between first and third-person narratives, and fifth graders to identify how point of view influences how events are described. But they don't dictate what texts to use to develop these intellectual skills, so parents need not fear that their children will be forced to read material they find objectionable.

The proposal also recognizes the challenges faced by students who aren't native English speakers and those with disabilities, as well as the fact that in real classrooms, some students will achieve beyond the standards, while others will lag behind. It leaves up to teachers and school districts how to identify the methods and materials needed to respond to the individual differences that exist in every classroom.

The standards are not a federal mandate. In fact, the Obama Administration, while supportive, took no part in preparing the plan. And instead of prescribing more tests for already overtested students, the framers of the proposal say a common skill core will make it easier for states to share information to develop better rather than more tests. Also, a set of common expectations will make it easier for students in our mobile society to move from school to school without fear of falling behind.

The world is growing more complex every year. Work that once needed little more than a high school education now requires a college diploma. American students have to begin developing skills earlier if they hope to succeed in a global economy.

The common core initiative appears to have what America's children need to compete on the world stage, while recognizing differences in learning and teaching styles and maintaining a high degree of local control.



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