Democrats miss the point of Common Core standards

The state Democratic Party’s resolution opposing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) could not be more ill-timed, and the stance is tragically ironic (TNT, 1-28). The party that presents itself as the champion for the historically disenfranchised now rejects a major initiative designed specifically to arrest educational inequities.

The Common Core Standards initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards were developed to improve the overall quality of education for our nation’s public school children by increasing the rigor, focus and coherence of instructional content in English and mathematics, to ensure that students graduating from American high schools are truly college and career ready.

More important, the standards were designed to ensure greater equality for all students by providing an equal opportunity to learn at a higher level. This would reduce excessive college remediation and drop-out rates, and prepare all students for living-wage jobs in an era of increasing economic competitiveness.

The rationale for national standards is in part the need to mediate the negative impact of high rates of student mobility, particularly among low-income students. The students in our nation and state who would benefit most from the attainment of these goals are those who have historically been the least served – disproportionately low-income, African-American and Latino. These students are hurt by the appalling achievement gap in public education, a gap very much related to gaps in expectations and opportunity.

In the University Place School District, teachers have been working diligently to implement the critical instructional shifts required by the Common Core standards. These include a focused effort to build students’ capacity to read and learn from complex text. The CCSS are the first standards to require content-area teachers – in social studies, science, technology and the arts – to guide students in reading a wide range of material relevant to their disciplines.

For historically underserved students, wide reading helps level the playing field by building the background knowledge that many advantaged students acquire by virtue of their many out-of-school opportunities – a major contributor to the opportunity gap.

Our teachers and administrators have invested many hours attending training, reworking curriculum maps, and developing new and better instructional activities for students. It’s been hard work, but it is the right work to be doing for the benefit of our students.

The Democrats’ resolution mentions neither quality nor equality of educational outcomes. Instead, the opening statements of the resolution object that the standards “…were promulgated by wealthy private interests” and that the National Governors Association and state school officers “… received millions of dollars in funding from the Gates Foundation” to assist in developing the CCSS.

This is the weakest of rationales upon which to reject any initiative. Applying this logic, the state Democratic Party should adopt resolutions objecting to the Gates Foundation’s multibillion-dollar investments in vaccines to prevent such infectious diseases as HIV, polio and malaria.

In 2000, the Gates Foundation’s Small Schools Initiative invested more than $2 billion in restructuring high schools; this grant money was lauded by politicians in Washington and eagerly pursued by many school districts across the state. When did philanthropic investment in improving educational outcomes for students become a negative?

There is no doubt that implementation of the Common Core requires much from schools, teachers and students; any effort to meaningfully raise standards is demanding work. Time, resources, persistence and the will to stay the course are required to realize the aspirations reflected in the standards.

Yes, the first round of test results will likely produce lower initial test scores, reflecting the higher expectations of the standards. However, I’m very proud of the hard work and commitment our teachers and administrators have invested in greater rigor and opportunity for all our students.

These educators deserve praise, support and encouragement for their work, and not the confusion and discouragement fostered by this ill-crafted and very poorly timed resolution. The Washington State Democratic Party should be penalized for a late hit, not only on the schools but also on the underserved students of Washington.

Patti Banks is superintendent of the University Place School District.