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WHY? The most common question about the Common Core

Lillian M. Lowery, Ed.D. | State Superintendent of Schools | 11/8/2013, 6 a.m.

Educators and parents want the same thing for students. We want all children to be successful throughout their education so they are fully prepared for college and a career. The best way to prepare students for life after high school is to ensure that they graduate with a strong foundation in the core academic areas that will open doors in the future. That is why the more rigorous Common Core State Standards are being fully implemented this school year in Maryland, and 44 other states and the District of Columbia. These education standards provide a clear set of shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills in English language arts and mathematics that will help our students succeed.

Maryland public education has been ranked number one in the nation for the past five years. The most frequently asked question concerning Common Core is “WHY are we making this change if we are already leading the nation?”

Maryland did not reach its first-place national ranking by standing still, and we will not provide our students with a world-class education by resting on our prior achievements. Quite frankly, the way we taught students in the past simply does not prepare them for the higher demands of college and careers required for today’s workforce. That is why Maryland joined this nonpartisan effort, because it was— and remains— in the best interest of our students.

The world is changing— as are the expectations for what students need to be able to know and do in order to be successful in college, careers, and life. Our education system must change to meet these challenges and provide today’s students with the skills they need to be prepared for tomorrow.

Here is a reality check on the facts. Once a world leader in education, the U.S. has fallen behind other top performing countries. The U.S. now ranks 25th out of 34 top performing countries in math, and 17th in science. The U.S. has fallen from first to tenth in the number of students who graduate high school, and ranks 12th in the number of 24-36 year-olds with a college degree.

The new reality is that a high school diploma is just the starting point. Tomorrow’s jobs will require more education and training, and new skills. By 2018, 63 percent of all jobs will require some kind of post secondary education or training. And 60 percent of employers say that job applicants lack the necessary skills to fill open positions. It is estimated that the U.S. will fall short by at least 3 million middle and high skills workers by 2018.

Finally, American students are leaving school without the skills and education needed to succeed. Here are more hard facts— 66 percent of Maryland students in two-year colleges and 48 percent of those in four-year colleges require remediation. In addition, 34 percent of employers deem the preparation of newly hired employees with only a high school diploma as “deficient.”

We must do better for our students. I am confident in the benefits of the Common Core. Business leaders across the country, including the U.S Chamber of Commerce, recognize the importance of successful implementation of the Common Core. The Common Core simply frames what skills every student should master before graduating from high school. In this way, these standards will ensure that all students in Maryland public schools are prepared for their next step.

I encourage you to learn more about Common Core. Visit a classroom during American Education Week (November 18-22) and see first-hand the great teaching and engaged student learning that is taking place. A variety of resources are also available at MarylandPublicSchools.org. With the support of all stakeholders, we will build a better future for every child.