Today’s piece is third in a four-part report by the George Lucas Educational Foundation (yes, that George Lucas) that outlines steps to improving public education in the U.S. The report contends that states should avoid ratcheting down education standards to meet the level of their students – instead, they should move their students’ skill level up by any means necessary.
Especially crucial in today’s article is the mention of college dropout rates. In New Jersey, more than half of new college students drop out due to the fact that they are not mentally and personally prepared for the challenges that college presents. With huge numbers of college students needing remedial classes in order to keep up, this statistic raises an important point: are our current educational standards sufficient to create students who are successful in college and their career?
Clearly, educational standards need to incorporate life skills like problem solving, critical thinking, careful decision making, and financial literacy in order to fully prepare students for higher education. But with so much bandwidth focused on preparing students for tests and raising graduation rates, it is crucial to find ways to empower teachers to achieve these goals.
The movement to create national education standards, while still in its infancy, promises exciting new developments for our public schools. However, standards can be both a helpful benchmark and also a limiting factor. In order to adapt to these new standards, educators must develop the flexibility to make them work for the unique needs of their students. Teachers should avoid simply trying to help students meet standards and pass tests- they should be fostering their own creativity by looking for ways to develop 21st century skills, incorporate technology in their curricula and foster emotionally intelligent students prepared for college, career and life.
Education-Stimulus Priority: Improve Classroom Standards
Several states are modeling innovative efforts to determine what children should learn by the end of their senior year.
States aren’t too far behind the curve when it comes to raising standards. That has been part of No Child Left Behind, and 37 states are matching their standards with college and career demands, according to Achieve, a nonprofit group that works with states on standards. And though each state gets to set its own standards, there are some common guidelines for what students should know to be successful after high school.
The Administration’s Requirement
States need tougher guidelines for what students should know in subjects such as math, science, language arts, and history at specific points in their education. That means tougher classes, a broader list of courses, and strengthened graduation requirements.
But the Obama administration also wants all students to be ready for college. For states, that means closing gaps in achievement and making sure English-language learners and special education and low-income students have the same access to education as middle-class and upper-class college-bound kids.
How It Might Look
Federal standards don’t exist, but there’s a push to create a common core of standards that all states could use, says Scott Montgomery of the Council of Chief State School Officers. ACT, the College Board, and Achieve are collaborating on that common core of standards and hope to have much of it done this year, he says.
One recommendation for improving standards includes assessing how well state’s college-prep classes actually prepare students for college. States need to be specific about what’s required. For instance, instead of asking kids to take three years of math, state standards should specify courses such as algebra, geometry, and algebra II, according to the American Diplomacy Project, which works on college readiness.
To help close achievement gaps, schools also need to make accommodations for different learning styles. That might mean longer school days or new curricula that weave reading lessons into all subjects.