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Getting Real on the Common Core State Standards: A Conversation with NY State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch

merrylTischNewsImageThreeFrom state legislatures to classrooms to kitchen tables, everyone involved in education is discussing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Our evening on April 9 with NY State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was no exception. Among an intimate gathering of Classroom, Inc. Board members, donors, teachers, principals, and nonprofit leaders we talked about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Lisa Holton, president, opened the talk by sharing why Classroom, Inc. is such a proponent of the college- and career-ready standards: “By setting the bar high, the Common Core Standards reject the belief that we should hold some students to lower expectations.” Instead, she explained that Classroom, Inc. believes the CCSS challenge us to expect more from students and teachers, and require us to help them meet the new high bar.

Why the move to higher standards with such urgency? Chancellor Tisch quoted staggering statistics of what’s happening to our graduates upon leaving high school: “What does it mean to graduate? It used to mean you were ready for college or a job. Now, 75 percent of New York City high school graduates go on to remediate in English or math, and sometimes both. It’s clear the standards that kids were being asked to meet were not up to snuff.” One principal added the astute reminder that students must be engaged in their learning much in the way that Classroom, Inc.’s blended learning programs connect students to decision-making roles in the workforce. Students need to understand the world they are entering upon graduation—a world where creative thinking and problem solving are fundamental skills—and why the new expectations matter so much.

merrylTischNewsImageFourAn increasingly mobile country. Parents should not only believe their children are being prepared for college and career, but they should also have
certainty that educational standards are the same across states. Ms. Tisch spoke passionately that each and every student deserves the opportunity to “participate in the greatest democracy in the world.” She noted that governors and chief state school officers had this very idea in mind when they came together to create the standards—students should not be hindered simply because they move to a new state in the midst of their schooling. Unequal expectations for students across states—and expectations that don’t challenge students to be the best they can be—do not ensure all kids have a fair chance to succeed in school, work, and life.

Tests. Tests. Tests. Naturally, a discussion about assessments ensued. As Smarter Balanced and PARCC field tests continue, access to technology—both hardware and software—is receiving increasing exposure. One principal asked what was being done to address the digital divide in the context of schools’ tech-readiness for the new computer-based standardized tests. That conversation raised larger issues around equity and access. Ms. Tisch remarked, “I’ve been in enough schools to see the disparity in opportunity. Access to free breakfast matters. Teacher quality, resources, and where we place teachers matter. Pre-K matters.” The standards play an enormous role in addressing opportunity and achievement gaps, which remain the biggest hurdles in education today.

6014_fullRoomReaffirming a commitment to educators. Teachers have never needed more help and support than they do now. Implementing the new standards and integrating technology into innovative teaching methods—all while adjusting to newevaluations—require an immense amount of training and support. Ms. Holton spoke about Classroom, Inc.’s recent experiences with teachers in the classroom, and how those experiences have led to a greater focus on professional development and ongoing teacher coaching within the organization. Chancellor Tisch underscored that funds must be spent on high-quality training to assist schools with navigating the standards: “I know and love teachers. I know and love school administrators. This isn’t about firing teachers; this is about supporting them with effective professional development.”

The road ahead is a long one. Despite the tenor of the debates and the vitriol in the media, there is real momentum from coast to coast for the Common Core. This is a unique moment to transform education, and Classroom, Inc. is committed to helping drive this change. Students and teachers deserve each of us to put our best efforts forward in supporting the implementation of the CCSS.