- The Washington Times - Monday, October 19, 2009

On the first day of their freshman year, some students are already in the back of the class. Each state has its own standard of what constitutes college readiness, meaning preparedness for college-level studies can be determined by the luck of where a student graduates. The U.S. Department of Education wants to change that disparity through a federally recognized Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The effort is being championed by the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The NGA and CCSSO stress that the initiative will not involve curriculum development, but rather general benchmarks of what is important to be covered. The Common Core State Standards Initiative will provide expectations for students in math, arts and the English language.

These standards also will involve students with disabilities and those learning English as a second language. It will include an assessment system to measure student performance and provide “professional development” for educators.

Although the standards have been developed at the federal level to ensure homogeneity among states, the initiative will allow states to administrate the standards themselves.

The initiative aims to eliminate differences in state standards of education and create equally prepared students to compete on an international level.

The United States is lagging behind the 30 industrialized countries within the Programme for International Assessment (PISA). In a 2006 study, U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 25th in math.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “There is no work more important than preparing our students to compete and succeed in a global economy,” he said.

The proposal has been handed to the public for review and feedback before being solidified. Mr. Duncan calls this move toward engaging citizens in standards development “an important step forward.”

Kara Schlosser, a CCSS0 spokeswoman, says suggested citizen changes must be based on evidence to be considered seriously.

After the public feedback, a validation committee composed of national and international education scholars will review and develop the standards. Their central task will be making sure the standards are backed by up-to-date research and evidence. These experts have yet to be named, but the goal is to release the final draft of the standards this winter.

This movement is part of a $4.3 billion project titled with a sense of urgency, the Race to the Top Fund, and a branch of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provides about $100 billion for education, jobs preservation, support for school districts and the advancement of academic reforms.

Officially, the states will have the option of adopting the standards on their own timeline.

The right-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute blog said of the college standards initiative, “The governors and chiefs are pointing the nation in a promising direction.”

The Obama administration has proposed giving states that adopt the common standards an advantage in seeking federal aid. This potentially could widen the gaps in quality of education between different states. If some states don’t adopt the standards, they may fall even further behind those that have accepted the incentive funds.

The NGA and CCSSO are encouraging those interested in the college readiness standards to provide feedback, which must be supported by research and evidence, by Oct. 21 at www.core standards.org.

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