GEARL LODEN: Higher expectations required for fully prepared students

LODEN

GEARL LODEN

The dialogue continues in Mississippi’s upcoming implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Sometimes, the discussion has been vigorous and constructive. At other times, it’s been rather confusing. These Standards will become a reality for Mississippi and 44 other states across our country this fall.

Four out of five children live in states that have voluntarily adopted them. Children will master standards that will prepare them for college, career success, and shape them to become productive citizens.

In light of the sobering Quality Counts data released last week ranking Mississippi with an F in ‘K-12 achievement,’ these standards are designed to significantly address our uncertain educational landscape. Though they are not a cure for all educational woes, they are certainly a part of the solution.

Common Core doesn’t tell teachers what to teach; it is not a curriculum. Rather, the Core represents academic goals that a student should attain by the end of each grade.

For example, a first grader will be expected to retell a story and demonstrate an understanding of the central message of the story.

An eleventh grader might be asked to estimate the amount of water and food needed in a disaster area using algebraic concepts. Thus, the curriculum offers the route and the Standards provide the destination. Local educators will continue to develop the curriculum and determine which resources, textbooks and materials will be most effective to reach these goals.

Blending real-world skills like critical thinking, problem solving and working in small groups is vital for the next generation of learners. Marc Tucker, President and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy and widely regarded as an educational expert, asserts that since we’ve shifted from a local labor market to a global labor market where overseas labor is cheaper, our nation’s students need to become creative thinkers and workers to set themselves apart.

Broad acquisition of reading and reasoning skills has worked in places like Finland, Singapore and Ontario where a creative and entrepreneurial workforce has emerged and continues to evolve.

The standards do not require all schools to have a standardized approach to instruction, but will allow for authentic learning, for fewer bubbling in of answers and for support of answers through writing and compelling discussions.

Our children will be asked to express their in-depth understanding and defend their positions.

This shift will not be easy, and as I’ve said before, these standards aren’t the silver bullet; they are one section of a much-needed comprehensive plan for our students. There are other equally important factors that have worked in high-performing nations. We must remain committed to attracting and retaining the best and brightest in the field of education.

This is complicated by the fact teachers across the state have not received a pay raise in seven years. State House Speaker Philip Gunn seems to understand this need and has been quite vocal to push for higher pay. The state’s base pay of $30,900 for a starting teacher is simply unacceptable.

I commend the Mississippi Department of Education and the State Board of Education for their serious consideration of practices that have worked elsewhere.

Using the ACT as an alternate means of determining student achievement and allowing another pathway for graduation should be an option for those not able to pass the state’s subject area tests.

And making a considerable investment to expand early education is funding used at its wisest. I also believe in exploring expansion of the school day or the school year as a means to giving students more individualized attention and reinforcing math and reading skills.

Although the standards are quickly approaching and will mean change, our commitment to providing the best for the children of Tupelo will not change.

Gearl Loden, Ph.D., is superintendent of the Tupelo Public Schools. Contact him through MAPLASENCIA@tupeloschools.com.