Common standards are the words of the week. On Monday and Tuesday, President Obama and U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan laid out how they would change the primary vehicle for federal education funding in this country -- the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Their plan for ESEA would fundamentally alter Title I, the section of the law that provides funding for schools serving high populations of low-income students.
Under this proposal, if states want Title I funding, they would have to “adopt and certify” that they have “college- and career-ready standards in reading and math.” (The fact sheet from the White House is available here
Already, we see that one of the bullet points in the fact sheet could be particularly pertinent to those who want to improve early education:
- Encourage states, schools districts, and other institutions to better align teacher preparation practices and programs to teaching of college and career-ready standards.
Alignment, if done right, could be a boon for models like the PreK-3rd approach – in which teachers from pre-K through the third grades know exactly what students are learning in each grade, therefore avoiding redundancy and building on students’ knowledge. In a preK-3rd model, teachers are part of continual, professional-development programs that sync up with expectations for what children should learn in the classroom. Even more importantly, these teachers across grade levels are working as a team to ensure that what children learn one year can be harnessed and built upon in the next year, and so on.
But is that what the administration means? It’s not yet clear.
As Mead pointed out, this initiative applies to the grades K-12, not pre-K-12. She also notes that the strength of the grade-by-grade standards – which have not yet been released by the Common Core coalition – will determine whether they lead to any real improvements in early education.
To quote: “This will be especially important in the early grades, which are often an area of particular weakness
in existing state standards. Many states’ early elementary standards are too vague to provide useful guidance to teachers and repeat the same standard over multiple grades (NOT helpful for alignment!). In a few states, the expectations for grades K-3 or K-2 are clustered into a single standard (even less helpful!).”
Don’t forget, too, that there is still so much we don’t know about the administration’s proposal for ESEA:
- Since we don’t know what the Common Core’s grade-by-grade standards will look like, we don’t know what this standards push means to kindergarten, or first grade, or second grade, etc.
- We don’t know how “college-and-career ready” is being defined and if the Obama administration intends to meaningfully connect this to early education. We don’t know if preschool settings are on their mind when officials say “college and career ready."
- We don’t know if Congress would even embrace these ideas enough to consider them or, more importantly, write them into law.
One thing that should be clear, however, is that college readiness is incumbent on helping children attain a strong foundation for learning from the very beginning. If “college and career ready” is going to become the term of art, it behooves us to remember that this journey depends on what happens from birth to age 18 – not just in those last few years of public schooling.
P.S. Those of you here in Washington, D.C., may want to check out an upcoming event
that will tackle some of these issues. On Thursday, March 11, 2010, from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m., the think tank Education Sector will host an event on ESEA to ask questions such as: “What will ‘college- and career-ready’ mean? How would such a mandate look in federal law, and how would it be implemented by local educators?” The event is the first in a series of "Race to Reauthorization" forums Education Sector is convening on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.