Common Core essential to student growth

September 29, 2013 

Over the centuries, public education has been a great equalizer, serving as the foundation upon which we’ve built an upwardly mobile society that is a melting pot of diverse people from every part of the world.

Today our nation is engaged in a debate focused on how best to educate every American child. As educational leaders, our delight at seeing this national conversation take place is tempered by the knowledge that it is often waged with misinformation and factual distortions, even though all sides of the debate are passionately committed to what they believe is in the best interest of our children.

Parents, public officials, legislators, educators, businesspeople, citizens and taxpayers alike recognize the increasing sense of urgency that we must do a better job of preparing our children to succeed. Few generations of Americans have faced as much economic and job prospect uncertainty as the current one. As the challenge increases for every successive generation, so must we continue to improve how we educate every generation of students.

Historically, public education was locally controlled, with every community in America organizing into school districts that autonomously determined not just what that community’s children would learn, but how they would learn.

In today’s world, where a child in Mooresville or Charlotte is likely to compete for a job with a child in Madrid, Spain, or Chandigarh, India, it is imperative that we set a minimum standard of education.

The Common Core standards – which have been adopted in our state and around the country following years of public debate among educational leaders and policymakers – bring an essential level of rigor into our public schools, setting the bar high for all our children. These standards will ensure that our students master not just the basic skills but also higher-level competencies such as problem-solving and critical thinking.

North Carolina must remain committed to the Common Core standards, which are supported by national business and education leaders. As with all changes, these more rigorous standards will no doubt bring initial discomfort in schools and in homes, and may well result in a temporary drop in test scores. With deliberate urgency, our teachers and students will rise to the challenge.

High quality is no accident. It comes as a result of defining proper standards and then painstakingly measuring how we are performing. That’s where tests come in. We need an assessment system that advances rather than impedes student learning. Effective assessments will help students learn and teachers improve by providing meaningful, appropriate data about academic growth. We need assessments that measure 21st century skills without cutting into time for classroom instruction.

Students learn best from teachers, not from tests, which is why we must ensure we’re hiring the best and the brightest educators. And to do that we must change the cultural value we place on teachers. We need to recognize the value of our teachers with better salaries, better training and more support in the classroom. Our state has a history of valuing education – we must value those who work in it as well. North Carolina can change the national conversation about teaching, making it the highly respected profession it is abroad and should be here.

Everyone can remember a teacher who made a critical difference in our lives. In today’s digital age, where information doubles every 15 minutes and social media can make information, accurate or not, go viral in seconds, we need highly effective and nurturing teachers in every classroom more than ever before.

In North Carolina we can value our teachers appropriately by investing in strong education departments at universities and providing top-quality professional development opportunities. Our public policy must provide the resources and back that commitment with funding so that we can successfully recruit and retain dedicated, top-flight teachers who can raise the level of rigor with the Common Core.

By focusing our efforts on the Common Core standards, effective assessments and passionate top-quality teachers, all of us in North Carolina can be proud of our strong education system, a system where innovation and creativity are taught in our schools and translated into a highly skilled workforce.

Our overarching goal is schools that can prepare our children for the exciting, fast-moving future that awaits them. Whether large or small, every district in North Carolina — and in America — can and must meet this challenge.

Dr. Mark Edwards, the 2013 National Superintendent of the Year, leads the Mooresville Graded School District. Dr. Heath Morrison, the 2012 National Superintendent of the Year, leads Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

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