(republished with permission of Kentucky School Boards Association)
Adoption of nationally-standardized learning targets is just one step in changing how America’s K-12 schools prepare students for college and the workforce, according to two players involved in Kentucky becoming the first state to adopt the new yardsticks in English and math.
Former Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit and past Kentucky Board of Education Chairman Joe Brothers shared that assessment of the Common Core Standards Initiative in Louisville on Saturday, addressing leaders of the National School Boards Association and the nine states in its Central Region.
“In 1970, society could take care of four types of workers: high school graduates for low-skilled jobs, not-so-skilled manual labor, routine category jobs and non-routine creative jobs,” said Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), an organization of the states’ top elementary and secondary education officials. CCSSO is one of the leading agencies in the development of the common core standards in English/language arts and math and the ongoing draft of science and social studies standards.
“Today, there is almost no opportunity for those in the bottom two categories,” he said. “A lot of people are unprepared for the jobs of the future. The big shift is that we have to prepare youngsters for that reality.”
Standards pose challenges
A starting point in the “big shift” is the move to the common core standards.
“The successful person today is the person who has enough depth of knowledge to use that as a basis for discussion to solve a problem,” Wilhoit said. “(In the past), we’ve had too many standards that were not deep enough and we’ve overloaded teachers.
“Every student should be on a pathway to somewhere else and that causes us to think about standards differently. We went out and searched standards in the states and the world and went into the tests and curriculum guides of all of the countries that were making rapid improvement in education.”
Wilhoit stressed that the new standards don’t represent a move to “federalism” nor should the shift leave local leaders sitting on the sideline.
“The nugget on the table for local boards of education is to have a serious conversation about learning progressions,” he said. “How are you going to give teachers the time to have to make adjustments? How do you take these new standards with the teaching force you have and get all kids graduating with a mastery of knowledge and skills? That’s the new north star.”
Changing the educational culture
Brothers told NSBA leaders that the common standards are necessary because “we have unacceptable student success by U.S. standards and by global metrics.
“Thirty percent of our students dropout. Fifty percent of those who go to college need remediation,” he said. “We must have culture change.
“We have islands of excellence in some schools and even some districts. But the culture change is to eliminate those (exceptions) and bring all up to the level of performance of those islands of excellence.”
And Brothers called for rejection of the historic solutions educators have turned to when challenged to change.
“If you think money will fix this problem, I beg to disagree. If we’ve proven anything, we’ve proven money won’t fix this problem,” he said. “The typical response is that we need more money and to do more professional development.
“Since 1987, I’ve been hearing about more professional development.’ What are we going to do this time than was done in the other 23 years I’ve been in education? That’s a discussion you have to have back in your home states,” he said.
Brothers, a former Elizabethtown Independent school board member and KSBA president, offered a check list for school boards to move their schools forward with “a sense of urgency and a will to win.”
The check list includes:
- Developing a comprehensive district kindergarten-through-college education plan
- Aligning academic standards with what is measured in assessments
- Establishing “common folks” metrics for measuring success so people can understand proficiency
- Implementing formative, summative and end of course assessments
- Linking teacher/administrator evaluations to student achievement
- Developing longitudinal student data tracking
- Engaging parents and the community, from classroom to homework to “you name it”
- Asking for money based on data reflecting achievement, or don’t ask
“Local control means accountability and responsibility,” Brothers said. “Quit talking about what the state needs to do and what the federal government needs to do. The question is what are you going in your community? I challenge you as local board members to exercise the leadership skill you have back at home and make these things happen.”
KSBA hosted the 2010 NSBA Central Region meeting Friday through Sunday. More than 90 school board members from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin as well as NSBA national officers and staff took part in the conference.
-Brad Hughes, Kentucky School Boards Association