The Common Core and Business

When asked about the common core standards by the local NPR affiliate some months ago, I thought I had the right response; now I am sure that I did not.  Some months ago, I praised the common core standards for raising the bar and establishing greater accountability in reading, math and writing. I also saw them as making the U.S. more globally competitive; after all I am President of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, an international business school.  I also made it clear in my comments that teachers deserved our support and additional training from their local districts for common core’s implementation.

What I said in my NPR response was inadequate.  Recently I served on an Arizona education panel for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.  As we panelists were asked about common core, I recognized the inadequacy of my earlier response to questions about common core.  My response should have included an additional element beyond common core’s implementation and training for teachers; I should have called for education for business leaders and more specific, alternative language for business leaders to use when talking about their support for common core.

Why education and alternative language for business leaders?  A little background: it was in 1996 that a group of business leaders and a bipartisan group of governors, not the Obama administration, took the initiative for common core.  They called for standards-based education across the states to make our economy more competitive, and they formed Achieve, an independent, bipartisan organization to lead the effort.  Because I know Craig Barrett, the Chair of Achieve’s Board, I learned about its direction and the initiative earlier than much of the public.

What has happened since 1996 is appreciated by many of us in education and business.  We have admiringly watched Achieve lead in raising standards, state by state, but within the context of a state’s own initiatives.  We have followed the development of standards that improve students’ readiness for college and work. Now almost two decades later, we are in the implementation stage of common core.

Why, then, are common core standards being labeled as driven by Obama or part of some “progressive movement.”  I confess that I never expected this outcome.  But the likes of it reminded me when I served on the local education panel that all of us who want to see better U.S. education have to focus far more of our effort on non-educators if we are to raise accountability in our schools and U.S. competitiveness of our labor force.

It is essential that we stop using vague labels like  “common core.”  Instead we must return to language that can be understood.  What we are really talking about is better preparation of K-12 students for work and college.  What we are talking about is raising school accountability.  What we are talking about is expecting more from our teachers.  I failed to say these things when I spoke to my local NPR affiliate.  I thought others understood that common core standards did not emanate from the Obama administration.  I thought the public understood the role of common core in raising standards and increasing college and work readiness.  I thought the public understood that common core standards would raise demands for what our teachers did. I was wrong.

Some states have gotten the message.  They are doing a better job than I did.  Tennessee, my home state, has created TNCore where the public can find out about common core and read the history and purpose of this important initiative.  Every state and community that hopes to be successful in raising the bar on expectation for students in reading, writing and math must develop a plan for educating the public and training business leaders in talking – not about common core – but about accountability, expectations for teachers, and readiness of graduates for work and college.  This is what I should have said.



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