Put a bunch of West African immigrants in a room, let them get comfortable after a drink or two, and before long they begin to swap stories, the peals of laughter rising with recognition of shared experiences, the rigor and the rigidity of elementary and secondary education in their different corners of the British Commonwealth.
In one of those bouts of group nostalgia, someone let on that he harbored a fantasy of opening a private or charter school, preferably with boarding facilities. Wouldn’t it be great, he mused, to be able to blend the academic focus and discipline of the old British system with the flexible structure over here? If fantasies are ailments, this one, apparently, was prevalent. From the sound of it, the thought had flitted through quite a few minds. Others were toying with the idea of sending children back to high school in their home countries. One, and maybe more, actually did.
As I think back over those conversations, I am struck by what points of reference we were using to determine which school systems would better put our children in line for everything we hoped for them. There we were, immigrants second-guessing the most important decision we had ever made — to go where our children would have every advantage within our power to give them.
I think about those conversations when the discussion about reforming the school system mirrors, as it sometimes does, the fight over health-care reform. The companion piece to “socialized” medicine? “Nationalized” education. Each formulation evokes distrust and total disdain for any involvement by government and whatever is not “local,” the loaded labels often overshadowing urgent needs.
Take the latest reform effort to be tagged as “nationalized” education: the 3-year-old Common Core State Standards Initiative, which has developed standards for English language arts and mathematics. The goal is to provide a base of knowledge and skills sets of a high quality that would be common to students everywhere in the country. So far, 45 states, including Ohio, have adopted the Common Core Standards, initiated in 2009 by the bipartisan National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with help from Achieve, Inc.
For much of the past two decades, corporate executives in business and manufacturing, among others, complained about the high school diploma not being what it used to be, about graduates falling short of employer and college demands, of American teenagers losing academic ground to peers in other industrialized countries. In Ohio, Cincinnati-based Procter and Gamble, for example, took the lead to work with educators and policymakers, scouting for and promoting best practices to raise standards and achievement in public education.
The concern to lift up the game continues to inform a variety of reform efforts, from federal legislation such as President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, to voluntary initiatives like the Common Core Standards, developed by governors and state school superintendents.
But Common Core has been embraced by the Obama administration (with $360 million in stimulus funds to help develop the Common Core tests and as the stand-in for rigorous content in the Race to the Top competitive grants). In some quarters, that is enough to tag it a federal “takeover” of education and one more reason to neuter the Department of Education.
It would be a crying shame to wave that gory flag at Common Core in order to dismiss the need for a national baseline of what we need our children to know and be able to do to survive in a world technology is shrinking rapidly. It used to be that we could get away with local standards because we were educating students for the job across town or in the next city or state, maybe.
Not anymore. Not when we are educating children for the world, and your children’s next job might be in Akron or Australia, and the whole world is their competition.
Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at email@example.com.