The forty plus states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have committed to an agenda to prepare all students for success after graduation whether in college or careers. For most of them, the CCSS represent a significant boost from their previous standards. Consequently, school districts in these states are busy re-examining curriculum, designing lesson plans, field-testing new assessments, adjusting school schedules and providing professional development to educators to help them make the shift to deeper learning experiences for their students aligned to the new, higher standards.
I should add that this is happening on an incredibly tight deadline: most states are on schedule to begin testing students on the CCSS in 2014-15. So state and local school leaders have a very full plate right now. But there is one critical step that should not get lost in the hustle. Common core states need graduation requirements that reflect the new college and career-ready demands. If there’s a mismatch, students cannot be assured their diploma will carry them into postsecondary education or good jobs.
My colleagues and I at NSBA’s Center for Public Education and Change the Equation recently looked at current state high school graduation requirements in math in Common Core states to see how well they measure up to the math CCSS. As recommended by the CCSS authors, this would mean math in each year of high school and include Algebra II or courses with similar content. We found 11 states where graduation aligns with the new demands, and 13 states that are partially aligned. This leaves 22 states that have adopted the college-career ready standards but have not yet defined a standard diploma that will meet them.
Clearly, there is a lot states need to consider before changing graduation requirements, especially for students who are in middle and high school now and may lack the math foundation for success in higher level courses they were not necessarily expected to take. At the same time, schools still have a responsibility to prepare their current graduates for life after high school. Fortunately, school districts don’t need to wait for the state. Nothing precludes them from defining graduation requirements beyond those the state has set.
Indeed, launching a community conversation about the diploma they award could present a good opportunity for engaging parents, students, local businesses and civic leaders in Common Core implementation. While non-educators may not feel they have much to contribute to curriculum design and professional development plans, the entire community is nonetheless invested in preparing young people for adult life and thus will have a lot to say about what that should mean.
Business leaders can play a particularly important role by making the case to the public why they need better prepared graduates to fill their jobs and contribute to a vibrant local economy. They can also assist through meaningful partnerships with public schools by sharing resources, serving as mentors to teachers and students, and even running for school board.
To be sure, this is a heavy lift. Courses will need to be both higher level and look different from traditional math through the emphasis on application alongside key math concepts. Many students will need extra help to earn a Common Core aligned diploma. The support of the community and businesses will provide the best assurance this critical next step will land on solid ground.
Patte Barth is Director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association.
Check out our guest post by Claus von Zastrow over at the Center for Public Education's blog, The Edifier.