When it comes to baseball, George Will knows his stuff. Unfortunately, he has missed the mark in his recent piece on the movement to increase the rigor of K-12 education in 45 states, including in Arizona.
George does get one part of this right: Academic standards are a state issue. This is why our primary concern should be whether Arizona’s new state standards are better than our old ones.
And we know, our old standards weren’t working. Less than 20 percent of Arizona students graduate from a four-year institution within six years. Sixty percent of students who attend community college require remedial coursework. Forty-two percent of Arizona employers report that newly hired high school graduates are deficient in writing, math and reading.
In 2010, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute analyzed Arizona’s previous standards and graded them a B in math and B in English. Compare this with the B+ and A- that the new Arizona College and Career Ready Standards received, and it’s clear we are headed in the right direction. This is not to say that we shouldn’t continuously be looking to improve the Standards, but we are on the right track.
Someone with George’s national platform should also reconsider his criticism of the process that resulted in the Common Core State Standards. The idea of state academic standards began during the Reagan administration. After the release of the Nation at Risk report, states started developing academic standards and assessments designed to measure progress against those standards. The process was expensive and the results disappointing.
In the early 2000s, when state superintendents and governors recognized the need but lacked the resources to develop more rigorous standards, they innovated and collaborated. The outcome was a better overall product and a more efficient use of limited resources.
The federal government and the Obama administration got involved after the fact. Yes, there was Race to the Top money, which provided incentive (or coercion, depending who you talk to) for states to adopt a version of the Common Core State Standards. But the Standards themselves were developed in 2006, when President Obama was still a freshman senator. The facts support the idea that this was a state-led effort, developed voluntarily by state officials who, as George points out, are the best at developing creative solutions.
This is a good model. It is appropriate and resourceful for governors to collaborate on issues of national significance, and education is absolutely an issue of national significance. Americans are more mobile than ever (consider the fact that the president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce is a New York native) and children need to know English, math, science and history regardless of whether they are from Massachusetts or Mississippi. I would encourage our nation’s governors to continue to collaborate on these types of issues, to learn best practices from other states and adopt versions of these practices that best suit their individual states.
So, George, allow me to borrow from the game we both love and remind you to keep your eye on the ball. Arizona’s current standards are not preparing our kids to be college and career ready. We need to keep our focus on improving our system to better prepare our kids. This starts with getting away from our old standards that weren’t making the grade, and ensuring that the more rigorous Arizona College and Career Ready Standards are fully and properly implemented.