Building the Quality Education System Our Children Deserve

This is a reaction piece to Joy Pullmann’s “Common Core’s Big Mistake: Messing with Moms,” published by Human Events on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.




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As a mother of two, the education of my children is one of my highest priorities. Like every parent, I want the best for my kids. I want them in good classrooms with good teachers where they will flourish, and by the time they graduate high school, will be prepared for the challenges the future will bring them.

But, as an education reformer, I also know all too well that we parents are often misled by the system – given the delusion of a high quality education, when in reality, academic expectations for students have declined over the years. Too often, high school degrees are rendered meaningless when applied to the skills needed to succeed in college or in the workforce.

Existing state standards across our country are deceiving our children. They allow functionally illiterate students to earn high school diplomas and they are not aligned to what the real world expects and requires of individuals, especially in the competitive 21st century economy.

Take Kentucky as an example. Before adopting Common Core State Standards, 76 percent of fourth graders were considered “Proficient” or higher on the 2011 state exam. An impressive number, but the reality is much more sobering. When measured against standards that actually lead to college and career readiness, only 47 percent of fourth graders achieved the same threshold of “Proficient.” Nearly a third of Kentucky fourth graders were previously being misled, being told they were performing at grade level when they were not.  

Transforming the quality of education in states across the nation takes work, and there is a lot of encouraging reform work being done by governors and education leaders today. While there is no one silver bullet to righting our education crisis, dramatically raising academic standards in our schools is part of the solution. That’s why 45 states across the nation have voluntarily adopted the Common Core State Standards – a state-led initiative to introduce higher, more rigorous standards for our students.

Joy Pullmann with The Heartland Institute recently penned a piece for Human Events that is greatly misleading on this important initiative. Let’s set the record straight. Common Core State Standards were developed by states for states. States adopted them voluntarily and decisions were made by state leaders who are accountable to their constituents. The standards don’t set curriculum – states and local districts retain complete authority for how teachers teach, how students learn in the classroom and the materials, such as textbooks or literature and nonfiction reading assignments, used for instruction. These standards don’t intrude on the privacy of students or their families. And, when it comes to the education marketplace, these new standards will allow for more competition and innovation, not less.

Research has shown that higher educational achievement leads to higher wages, better health, longer life and a reduced chance of relying on government aid or ending up in the correctional system. As one component of broader education-reform efforts, these higher standards will help put our country’s economy back on track. In addition to saving taxpayer money, our children will be better prepared for the jobs of the future, especially in emerging industries that require more highly skilled, better trained workers than ever before.

 I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Pullmann that parents have indeed ignored for too long the mediocrity of even our top public schools, especially in light of the education gains made by our international competitors. But opposing bold reform of our schools based on misinformation and myths is not the solution.

We need to raise expectations for students, hold schools accountable for better results and ensure we are seeing a better return on the taxpayer dollars devoted to education.  As a nation, we have so much unrealized potential, in part, because we have asked too little of our students and not given them the tools they need to succeed. Raising our standards through the Common Core State Standards initiative will help us achieve that potential – a win for my children and millions of other parents’ children in states across the nation.

Patricia Levesque is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an education reform group founded and chaired by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. She is the mother of two.