A Question For Michael Cohen

What should boards know about the Common Core State Standards?

By AGB    //    Volume 19,  Number 1   //    January/February 2011

Starting in 2009, under the leadership of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), states convened to create K–12 academic standards in English and mathematics. Since then, 43 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Michael Cohen, whose organization, Achieve, was instrumental in the effort, talks about the standards and their implications for higher education.

Why do we need the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards are grounded in research about what it takes for high-school graduates to be fully prepared for postsecondary education or training without the need for remediation. The standards are also internationally benchmarked against top-performing countries.

Currently, over one-third of students at two- and four-year institutions must take remedial courses in math or English—or both. These students are far less likely to persist, much less earn degrees. With most middle-class jobs requiring at least some education or training after high school, we can no longer afford to under prepare so many of our students. Better preparation should improve postsecondary graduation rates.

Was higher education involved in the development of the standards?

Yes, higher education was a critical partner. Most states have worked with their postsecondary community in recent years to create college- and career-ready high-school standards, given that that only highereducation faculty can truly tell K–12 educators what high-school graduates need to know to succeed in first-year college courses. The standards built on these successful efforts. Professors from two- and four-year institutions participated in writing, feedback, and validation committees. Research from Achieve, the American College Testing Program (ACT), and other groups about college readiness was instrumental in the standards’ development. Finally, a number of organizations that represent content experts at the college level, as well as those representing administrators and leadership, were engaged in the process, including the American Council on Education (ACE) and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO). For the standards to be successful, higher education had to be at the table from the beginning.

What’s next for the standards?

Adopting the standards was the easy part; now begins the hard work of implementing them so that they make their way into every classroom and become the foundation for all student learning. This will require that states, districts, and teachers have the tools—e.g. curriculum, sample lesson plans, and other instructional tools—and the support they need. Most states that have adopted the standards are working together on new assessments. For the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers that Achieve is managing, higher education will be involved every step of the way. Over 200 institutions of higher education—representing nearly 1,000 individual campuses in the 25 participating states—have already committed to participate.

How can higher-education governing boards be supportive of implementing the standards?

As states implement the standards, colleges and universities can play a strategic role by:

• Collaborating on the development of college-ready assessments given in high school to signal whether students have acquired the knowledge and skills for credit-bearing postsecondary courses;

• Working with K–12 in their states to align their placement requirements to reflect the academic rigor of the standards;

• Partnering with K–12 to develop and implement high-school interventions to increase the number of college-ready students;

• Reviewing and reforming their teacher preparation programs to ensure that new teachers are prepared to teach the standards; and

• Creating professional-development programs for teachers already in classrooms to help them integrate the standards into their instruction.

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