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  1. Opinion

U.S. standards spur better schools

Published Feb. 18, 2013

We are being deluged with education reform proposals today. So which one has the potential to be the biggest game-changer?

How about value-added evaluations of teachers? Not in our view.

Or perhaps school choice? Not quite.

And what about assigning grades to schools and school takeovers? No, not these either.

The introduction of national standards is, we believe, the most significant innovation for public schools today. And Florida is poised to be a national leader in their implementation.

During the design phase of national standards, education officials in Florida recognized that a flat world, one in which students move through virtual, real and global learning environments dynamically, requires not only higher standards but common ones. From this recognition, and anchored in a commitment to prepare students at the highest levels for lifelong success and the state for economic competitiveness, Florida adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for all grades and subjects and at all levels.

This is not only a dramatic move for schools and teachers — we believe it is fundamentally a good one.

For the first time, teachers will know that the standards from which they are teaching represent the very best thinking in curricular design. Moreover, they build on standards — like those in Massachusetts — that have received international acclaim for their rigor and the results they produce.

More important, teachers will be able to collaborate with colleagues all over the country in designing lessons and building curricula aligned with the standards. We can envision a national database of lesson plans and units developing as a result — a Wikipedia for teaching and learning, if you will — that are aligned with the standards.

As common assessments like PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), which Florida has adopted, emerge from these standards, educational leaders will be able to have a legitimate and substantive national conversation comparing student achievement results — something sorely missing in the current educational reform debate.

Significantly, the CCSS do not dictate what teachers must teach or when to teach it, and school and district leaders would be mistaken to move too fast in that direction. Creating and/or requiring the use of prescriptive pacing guides, which serve as scripts for teachers — dictating by the minute what teachers should say or do — would be the wrong path forward. Teachers can and should have a central role in the effort to implement the standards, we believe, using an open source model. And the federal government should build incentives into this process.

As with manufacturing innovations which launched the Industrial Revolution and produced a burgeoning middle class in the late 19th century, and the technological revolution of the late 20th century, national educational standards have the potential to make the United States a global leader in education once again and broaden educational opportunities for all children.

CCSS will also help administrators and teachers recognize those who are truly making a daily difference in the education and intellectual development of students by providing data that can be compared across districts and states.

So Common Core State Standards are the "game changer" in our view and offer the best hope for Florida's and the nation's to reassert its global leadership in education.

David R. Colburn is the interim director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. He can be reached at drcolh@gmail.com. Brian Dassler is chief academic officer, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a public school serving students from across Louisiana. He can be reached at brian.dassler@gmail.com. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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