During the most recent legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly saw a heated debated over the implementation of the Common Core education standards for schools throughout the state. A cadre of high-powered state lawmakers championed a bill designed to halt Common Core implementation. They claimed the standards represent a federal takeover of local schools.
By TERRY RILEY
Special to The Star
Fortunately, that effort failed. Critics of these standards are misguided. Fully implementing the Common Core is the single most effective thing leaders in Jefferson City can do to improve student outcomes and ensure young Missourians have a real shot at landing the jobs of the future.
The Common Core is an ambitious attempt to arrest the academic slide U.S. students have experienced in recent decades. Created in 2010 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core is a collection of educational standards that focuses on math and language arts for K-12 students.
The initiative is not only designed to provide a uniform set of achievement goals for the entire nation, but also to see that American students keep up with their international peers. These goals are based on similar standards used in some of the worlds highest performing school systems.
To give just two examples, the Common Core requires that all third graders be able to describe how historical events relate to one another using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect. Seventh graders, meanwhile, need to demonstrate that they can recognize and represent proportional relationships between quantities.
By putting in place a single set of goals for all American schools, the Common Core would do away with the under-performing state standards that have stymied national educational progress for too long. Such a reform would also be an enormous help to students who move often and are frequently forced to adapt to a new educational model every time they change states.
Despite what some critics have claimed, the Common Core is not an attempt to impose a rigid curriculum on all American schools. Rather, the initiative provides a broad but uniform set of goals for all students and educators in the U.S. to work toward. State and local policymakers, administrators and teachers would be given significant freedom to decide the best way to implement these standards.
Adopting the Common Core would go a long way toward improving Missouris education problems. Less than a third of local eighth-graders are proficient in math. That puts our state in the bottom half of the national rankings. Only about a third of fourth-graders are reading proficient. And just 36 percent of eighth graders are proficient in science.
If Missouri students dont begin making significant educational gains especially in subjects like math and science they will soon find their professional prospects dwindling.
The demand for skilled labor in industries dealing with science, technology, engineering, and math the so-called STEM professions is growing by the day. In the next few years, average job growth in STEM occupations in Missouri is expected to be greater than in all other fields combined. And college graduates who enter a STEM field can expect to earn, on average, 27 percent more than those in other industries.
However, while well-paying positions in the STEM fields will abound in the coming years, many of todays young people wont be qualified for them. For years, American students have been falling far behind their international peers in STEM subjects.
As a business owner, I know that if companies cant find the STEM workers they need here, they will have no choice but to hire from abroad.
Leaders in Jefferson City should take every step necessary to see that young Missourians arent at a disadvantage when it comes to creating prosperous, satisfying careers for themselves. Adopting the Common Core standards would ensure that students in the Show-Me State can compete in the modern economy.
Terry Riley, a Democrat, served as state representative from 1997-2000 and a City Council member in Kansas City from 2000-2011. From 1996-2000, he served on the Kansas City school board.