Dr. GEARL LODEN: The most important game of all

There has been a lot of conversation lately, both at the national and state level, about whether or not Common Core will be the silver bullet to raise student achievement.

Officially known as the Common Core State Standards, these standards have been adopted by 46 states and are aimed at helping students across the nation acquire sophisticated reasoning skills.

Additionally, they are internationally benchmarked to help our students compete with students from highly academically competitive countries like Korea, Singapore, Canada, and Finland.

When the standards are fully implemented in 2014-2015, our children will be taught fewer topics but the content will be taught in much greater depth.

It will be less about what is taught and more about what students need to be able to do.

These standards are indeed a step in the right direction, however, Common Core is similar to a playbook.

Critically important is the process in which we put the standards to work.

A playbook is most useful when a team’s coaches hone their skills constantly and players are consistently growing.

Now imagine a football game on a crisp fall day with an unusual scenario. Coach Gold is meeting his rival, Coach Blue.

Let’s assume it took 15 years for these coaches and their respective teams to arrive at this game taking two very different paths.

Coach Gold formed his team with 4-year old players. He stayed focused by efficiently using practice time and making sure it was instructive.

Gold’s players understood the playbook, yet were allowed some freedom in accomplishing plays. Throughout the years, he made adjustments based on continuous assessment and player talent.

They practice nearly all year round with periodic breaks. He mentored his coaching staff on an ongoing basis and ensured they were growing professionally as coaches and as leaders.

About the same time, Coach Blue formed his team with energetic 5-year old players.

He did not like deviating from his playbook and struggled with adapting to change. The team was given long breaks from practice during the summer.

Blue cared deeply for his assistant coaches though he didn’t necessarily have a well-defined plan for developing them.

The salary and benefits that Blue could offer to prospective coaches did not allow him to hire the very best.

Let’s fast-forward 15 years and it’s now game day. Team Gold vs. Team Blue. By starting at age 4, Coach Gold’s steady and incremental approach has yielded him 20 additional practice days per year resulting in a well-rounded and well-prepared team of players and coaches. This is equivalent to about three additional years of perfecting the game – a clear advantage over Coach Blue’s team.

Blue’s team gives a valiant effort but by third quarter, they are outclassed. Gold’s players stay in a commanding lead and win the game.

Over time, one can see how quality combined with quantity has a cumulative effect. The same is true for our students.

Improvements in student achievement take patience and considerable stamina over the course of multiple years. It takes a playbook like the Common Core to give teachers a clear vision of what students are supposed to know and be able to do.

It takes carving out more time for direct and focused instruction.

It involves looking at data and assessments with expertise to make adjustments so we can reach students’ needs with more precision.

It also requires a long-term plan on giving teachers the best professional development possible.

The school calendar, teacher and administrator development and retention, and beginning the learning process in the very early years are proven strategies for success.

These, combined with Common Core, will allow our nation to prosper economically and guarantee a bright future for our children.

There are powerhouse football teams out there with serious plans to be successful, year after year.

In education, there are academic powerhouse districts across our nation and across the globe with Coach Gold’s philosophy.

Our students are vying for colleges and careers beside these ‘powerhouse’ students.

Here in Tupelo, we intend to harness our best resources to play our best game.

Contact GEARL LODEN, Ph. D., superintendent of the Tupelo Public Schools, by contacting Mary Plasencia at MAPLASENCIA@tupeloschools.com.