New Common Core standards are right for California

August 18, 2013

Michael Kirst
Professor Emeritus of Education, Stanford University
President of the California State Board Of Education

It is perhaps the worst-kept secret in public education: Too many students leave school with a diploma in their hands, but without the knowledge in their heads they need to start college or pursue a meaningful career.

We pay a steep price for the skills gap. More than 72 percent of our graduating students go to postsecondary institutions, but many are funneled into remedial, non-credit classes. Employers spend time and money training new workers. But it's students who suffer most, finding themselves unprepared for the challenging world outside the classroom. The Common Core State Standards represent a big part of what California — and 44 other states — are doing to address the problem.

But adopting the standards, as the State Board of Education did in 2010, was the easy part. The challenge is bringing these standards to life in our schools, work that will require significant effort from every part of our education system - and key decisions from everyone from the statehouse to the schoolhouse. Academic content standards are simply a list of the things we want students to know and be able to do, like drawing the yard lines on a football field. We put the goal line in the right place, at career and college readiness. And we've set out, step by step, the progress each student needs to make in each grade and subject to get there.

That's no small achievement. Before 1997, California had no grade-by-grade standards. A student moving from one school to another might find little in common between the old class and the new. The 1997 standards represented real progress at the time, but we've learned a lot since then.