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COMMUNITY VOICE

Don't press pause on Common Core standards and our children's future

Monday, November 25, 2013 - 8:41 am

Across Indiana, the odds that you’ll graduate from high school if you are African American or Latino are only about as good as a coin toss — a modest 50-50. For those who persevere and earn a high school diploma, the likelihood of enrolling in college is just one in 10. College completion rates are even lower.

At a time when nearly 60 percent of Indiana jobs require an education beyond high school, our public schools are inexcusably failing low-income and minority families. Yet incredibly, because of political games, the very students most underserved by the current system are at risk of being isolated even further.

Three years ago, the Indiana State Board of Education — fully in compliance with state law — adopted the Common Core State Standards. These new, higher standards are the product of extensive research on the skills and knowledge students need to succeed in life, college and careers in the 21st century. Indiana educators developed these standards in collaboration with experts and with input from the business community.

These higher standards were then voluntarily adopted by almost every state — and even the schools that serve our military families overseas.

Yet today, with districts and teachers already implementing our state’s new standards, and despite support from the higher education community and the Chamber of Commerce, some lawmakers are trying to isolate Indiana educationally and economically. While the standards have been years in the making, these lawmakers have been completely uninterested in them until now. So let’s call this what it is: politicizing our children’s education.

These legislators want to override the judgment of Indiana’s educators. Adopting these standards doesn’t mean abandoning local control. These are Hoosier standards for Hoosier students. They also happen to be rigorous enough to be recognized by 45 other states, the District of Columbia, the business community and the Department of Defense schools.

Contrary to extreme rhetoric, Common Core standards are constitutional and do not jeopardize the safety of student data. Detractors also argue that assessments will be too expensive, when in fact they are projected to cost $13 million less than ISTEP.

Lawmakers need only review data from the SAT, ACT, NAEP and NWEA to see that ISTEP overstates student proficiency. Hoosiers deserve the truth. The truth is that “pausing” implementation of these standards would accomplish only one thing: to unnecessarily put Indiana at least one year behind most other states. If these legislators are allowed to impose their political agenda, it will be our children who pay the price.

We can’t afford to let that happen. Already, one-third of college-going students in Indiana require remediation in math or English before they can take credit-bearing classes. Among minority students, the remediation rate is even higher — 40 percent for Hispanic students and 55 percent for African- American students.

At the same time, only 36 percent of Indiana adults have an associate’s degree or higher. That means most students in our state lack the very skills — including critical thinking and the ability to work cooperatively and solve problems creatively — that both the 21st- century economy and our nation’s military readiness demand. Hitting pause now means Hoosiers — especially those who are black and Latino — get left behind. Bottom line: More work needs to be done, but meeting the challenges ahead is too important to let progress be derailed by politics.

The commission reviewing the new academic standards is scheduled to make a recommendation to the State Board of Education. Each of us should call our education representatives and tell them to protect the future of Indiana’s students — by staying the course on the Common Core.

Each commission member, meanwhile, should keep in mind that reneging on the commitment to Indiana’s students also means hindering the future of the entire state. They should remember that higher standards and lofty expectations for students need not be political — and they certainly should not be controversial.

The authors are the presidents and CEOs of Indiana’s Urban League affiliates: Jonathan Ray of the Fort Wayne Urban League, Joseph Slash of the Indianapolis Urban League, Vanessa Allen of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana and Lindsay Brown of the Urban League of Madison County.