(Image: ThinkStock) We at Black Enterprise care about education. As a multimedia company that focuses on the needs and concerns of the black business community, we recognize that enterprises large and small need a knowledge-based workforce to meet the demands of the complex, hyper-competitive 21st-century marketplace. It starts with giving students—predominantly African American and Latino youth in urban school systems—a quality, expansive K-12 education. We have lost too many students to “dropout factories.” We must ask ourselves: In the world’s richest country, why aren’t all students receiving a first-rate K-12 education? We also recognize that black children in this country have historically been educated poorly, and that for most African American families, the neighborhood school is not where their children can hope to acquire a thorough, thoughtful, complete education that prepares them for college or for entry-level jobs. That’s why we’re introducing BE Smart, our multiplatform program in the education sphere and encouraging a dialogue among entrepreneurs, executives, civic leaders, policymakers and audience members like you to connect with educators and administrators to develop ideas and initiatives. BE Smart will not only report on what’s happening in this arena but will offer our analysis and interpretation of issues and new developments and what they mean for you as parents, caregivers, neighbors, business owners, and professionals. We also hope to inspire and equip you to take action in your local schools and communities. So we’re beginning by defining “eduspeak.” Over the next several weeks, in addition to the information we will post on BE Smart—items related to policy, legislation, programs, and newsmakers—we’ll define specific education terms, beginning with the Common Core State Standards. We will also direct you to useful and actionable resources. Interested in a particular topic you’d like to see us cover? Let us know in the Comments section below or send us a tweet at @blackenterprise. We’ll also host Twitter chats and Facebook chats in the near future so you can connect with the BE Smart community. —The Editors Common Core State Standards: Five Things You Need to Know 1. What is Common Core? The Common Core State Standards are a set of internationally benchmarked standards or goals in English language arts and math that were developed under the leadership of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards set forth what students should learn by the end of the school year. Although President Obama supports Common Core and has put in place incentives for states to adopt them, the standards are not a federal initiative, and states are free to adopt them or not. They are a clear set of expectations that teachers, parents, and students can aim at, but they do not prescribe how to get there. 2. What does “internationally benchmarked” mean? It’s no secret that American students score in the average range compared with their international peers. On the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), an exam that since 1997 has sought to evaluate educational systems around the world by assessing 15-year-old test-takers in reading, math, and science every three years, American students score in the average range, lower than scores of students in many Asian and European countries and Canada. Although disadvantaged students in all countries perform worse than their advantaged peers, the students in the U.S. from the highest social class do worse than their global peers. In light of this comparatively lackluster performance and concerns about whether our children are being prepared to meet the demands of the global economy, the standards were developed by building on the best state standards and by examining those of high-performing countries around the world. Some say that the U.S. is actually scoring higher than the U.S. PISA scores indicate; others find that U.S. scores have been average for years. But for most black families, “internationally benchmarked” means that their children will be held to higher, more rigorous standards. And that’s a good thing. 3. Will my child’s teacher be ready to teach to the new, higher standards? According to a survey of the American Federation of Teachers, 75% of teacher respondents approve of the Common Core State Standards, but only 43% have received adequate training in teaching to the new standards. As with any new development, especially if it’s more demanding, there will probably be a few hiccups in the beginning. The Common Core State Standards will be fully implemented by the 2014–2015 school year in all 45 states that have adopted them so far, but at least one teacher (in Arizona) has been quoted as saying, “Common Core is just good teaching.” 4. What will Common Core mean for me? According to Natasha Ushomirsky, author of a report by the Education Trust, the Common Core State Standards will require “a lot of work.” Teachers in areas where Common Core has already been implemented are sending home specific suggestions to parents to help them reinforce what their children learned in class. Although some have accused the Common Core State Standards of dumbing down what K-12 students learn, that isn’t the conclusion of the Education Trust. Ushomirsky believes that even high-performing states like Massachusetts will struggle to meet the demands of the new standards. On the other hand, being held to ambitious standards may invigorate teachers and inspire students. People often rise to the standards they’re held to. Clear, unambiguous standards usually lead to higher, better performance; murky, low, or no standards almost always lead to low performance. To help your child meet these new standards, the National Parent Teacher Association (http://www.pta.org/parents/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2910), the Council of the Great City Schools (http://www.cgcs.org/domain/36), and perhaps your state (if it is one of the 45 states that have adopted the new standards) have developed free, grade-specific, online publications to help you support your child’s school success. You may want to read those guides now so you’ll be prepared when school starts (if school hasn’t already started). 5. Will the Common Core State Standards make my child’s school better? Most would agree that a lot goes into a good school. Good schools offer an engaging, rigorous curriculum; they are adequately funded and offer access to technological resources; their teachers are creative, passionate, and well-prepared, and they are provided with ongoing professional development; such schools are often led by inspired, visionary principals and leaders. There is no one silver bullet, as Wendy Kopp of Teach for America says, and even the Common Core State Standards, which only cover English language arts and math, will not, on their own, transform poor schools into exemplary ones. But the standards are an important beginning, and implemented thoughtfully can help to guide teachers, parents, and students toward better educational outcomes. They should, in short, help to make your child’s school better. For more information about the standards and to read them for yourself, go to http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards.
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