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Published: Thursday, 6/10/2010

Setting school standards

OHIO joined six other states this week in adopting common standards for what students should know in math and English at each grade level, to be prepared for college and beyond. In doing so, the state took an important first step toward preparing its young people for life and work in the 21st century.

Once upon a time, schools all were locally controlled and catered to the needs of the communities they served. That resulted in standards and curricula that varied widely from town to town and state to state.

The system worked well enough in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many people spent their entire lives in the places they were born and needed little education beyond reading, writing, and the ability to do basic computations.

Today, though, Americans are much more mobile. Most jobs require at least a high school education, if not an undergraduate or graduate degree. Those demands call for cohesive education standards that will prevent students who move from one school system to another from falling behind, while preparing every student for the challenges of a global economy.

For the past year, educators, researchers, content experts, and others have been working at the behest of 48 states - including Ohio - two territories, and the District of Columbia to develop common core state standards in English/language arts and math.

The resulting rigorous standards identify what skills students should have mastered at each grade level, while leaving decisions about content, material, and methods to state boards of educations, local school districts and classroom teachers. Work is under way to develop a similar set of standards for science and social studies.

The core standards are not a federal mandate and do not add the burden of more tests to already overtested students. Rather, they are an attempt to bring American education into the 21st century in a way that recognizes differences in learning and teaching styles and maintains a high level of local control.

Ohio's public schools already are among the best in the United States. But in education as in so many other fields, there's no such thing as good enough. If you're not constantly trying to improve, then you're falling behind.

By adopting the common core state standards, Ohio, along with Kentucky, Maryland, Hawaii, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, have made clear their commitment to leadership in education.

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