In light of the Helios Education Foundation's commitment to improving education in Florida, listening to the contentious debate about higher standards and rigorous assessments is both difficult and frustrating.
For more than five years, leaders and educators within Florida and across our nation have worked hard to raise the academic bar for our students and to better position Florida for long-term prosperity in the development of the state-led Common Core Standards and rigorous assessments. Governors, education chiefs, teachers and parents came together to ensure higher expectations and greater alignment across states so that families moving from Massachusetts (arguably some of the best schools in the nation) to Florida, Arizona or any other state can expect consistent, high standards across our schools.
The writing is on the wall for Florida and our nation, and it's about more than students and families. It's about Florida's economy, competitiveness and overall quality of life. We must better prepare our students for college and career or our future is at risk. And, based on our current student performance, the threat is far too real.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a mere 35 percent of Florida fourth graders are proficient in reading. Only 28 percent of our eighth-graders are proficient in math. More than 176,000 of Florida's high school graduates require remediation upon entry into community college. If the bar isn't raised now, we are perpetuating a workforce pipeline that is undereducated, underskilled and underprepared to compete nationally and internationally.
Higher standards and rigorous assessments raise the bar and set Florida on a continued path to prosperity.
Those opposing the state-led Common Core Standards view them as the federal government interfering with local control. They are not. In fact, the standards provide teachers and schools incredible flexibility in their choice of curriculum as well as in how they engage students to meet the standards and master critical skills and knowledge.
There is a misconception that states were required to adopt the standards. They were not. Florida's state and education leaders voluntarily adopted them to ensure all students have access to an excellent education and graduate college and career ready.
What makes Florida great is that we shun complacency and continuously strive to ensure every student receives an excellent education. The Common Core State Standards and a more rigorous, aligned assessment move us closer to achieving a world-class educational system that is internationally benchmarked and prepares our students to compete in a knowledge-based global economy.
We must stop arguing over the voluntarily adopted standards and focus our attention on how best to support our schools, teachers, students and families through this transition to a more rigorous academic environment. This much-needed transformation in our classrooms challenges our teachers to engage students differently: facilitating discussion, fostering collaboration, cultivating curiosity, and developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It also requires teachers to improve their craft, which demands ongoing professional development, access to timely and relevant student performance data, and supportive, engaged communities.
Helios Education Foundation has championed and invested in education solutions that advance academic preparedness and foster college-going cultures for all students for nearly a decade. Through our partnerships, we have seen the powerful effect rigorous, high expectations academic environments have on student success. We have also witnessed the transformational power of rigorous, high-bar assessments on school cultures and the postsecondary aspirations of students. Together, they can change student trajectories, better preparing them for college and career and positioning Florida as a contender for world-class talent and economic opportunity.
As a state heralded for bold leadership in education, now more than ever, Florida needs our leaders, educators and families to stand firm in our commitment to implementing the Common Core State Standards and forthcoming rigorous and aligned assessments. By participating in the Florida Standards Public Meetings this week, this is our chance to state loud and clear that our commitment is to preparing our students for college and career, and positioning Florida for long-term economic prosperity. (The meetings are in Davie, Tallahassee and Tampa; the Tampa hearing is 5-8 p.m. Tuesday at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry Campus.)
Leadership often requires making tough decisions and the fortitude to stay the course. Our students are depending on us.
Vince Roig is founding chairman and Paul J. Luna is president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. Learn more about the foundation at helios.org. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.