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Editorial | Island Voices

Common set of academic standards needed

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    As school districts across the country, including Hawaii, move toward common standards for measuring student progress, debate has grown over shaping the curricula to help students meet those standards. Above, Waimalu Elementary School students participated in the Read Aloud America literacy program in 2008.

If you were to develop an educational system from scratch, more than likely one of the key components would be a common set of academic standards so that every student and teacher would know what is expected to be learned and taught. Unfortunately, in the U.S. this is not the case. We have a hodgepodge of varying standards among states that differ widely in focus, rigor and coherence. For example, the journal Education Next used 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress data to empirically evaluate each state’s proficiency standards. Only five states, including Hawaii, received an "A" rating for their standards.

Given that we are a highly mobile society and that globalization is an increasing trend, it’s critical that as a nation we adopt a common set of high academic standards that are shared across states to ensure that all of America’s students have the tools they need to succeed.

Talk about having common standards is nothing new.

In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for "national standards" in education. More than 50 years later, we are finally on the verge of taking action. Spearheaded by a number of organizations, including the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, the Common Core State Standard Initiative (CCSSI) establishes a single, clear set of K-12 mathematics and English language arts standards. Forty-eight states, including Hawaii, have signed on to share and voluntarily adopt the standards.

Why is this effort so important? Simply put, the U.S. is losing its competitive and educational edge.

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. led the world in college graduation rates; by 2006, it had dropped to 14th. While we have stagnated and fallen behind, countries such as Singapore, China, Finland and Brazil have aggressively moved to create knowledge-fueled innovation economies by investing in quality education.

Over the past 25 years, South Korea went from less than a quarter of its citizens finishing high school to more than 95 percent today. In 2003, Germany launched an ambitious education initiative including starting 10,000 all-day schools and investing an additional $4.6 billion in education. This is the equivalent of the U.S. investing more than $15 billion compared to the $4.35 billion available for the much-ballyhooed Race to the Top competitive grants.

But it’s not even the name-brand countries that are surpassing the U.S. On international benchmark tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment, countries such as the Slovak Republic, Hungary and Iceland outperform our students.

Recently, our state Board of Education officially adopted CCSSI, and as more states do so, we will have consistent high-quality academic benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live. It’s about time. After all, it shouldn’t matter if a student enters first grade in one state and graduates in another.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind H.L. Mencken’s observation, "For every complex problem there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong." It would be a mistake to conclude that common core standards will magically improve student achievement. It is just one component of a broader system that must also include assessments that measure performance, curriculum materials that are coherent and aligned, and professional development for teachers and principals. Fortunately, this can be done in a far more efficient and effective manner when states work together.

By doing so, our students, no matter where they live, stand a far better chance to achieve their hopes and dreams. Isn’t this what schools should be all about?

State Rep. Roy Takumi (D-Pearl City) chairs the House Education Committee.


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