The Business Case for Common Core

Steering students towards success after graduation benefits everyone. Employers are able to depend on a well-educated workforce to maintain and grow their businesses, universities spend less money on remedial education and individuals are smarter, more capable, more employable and will likely earn more. As job creators, employers and business leaders, we need to make sure that the students in today’s classrooms are prepared as tomorrow’s skilled workforce.

Employers today are looking to the next generation of their workers, colleagues, suppliers and leaders. And those future workers are getting primed in the classrooms today. Ensuring that Nevada’s workforce is adequately prepared – for college, career and life beyond high school – is paramount to ensuring that Nevada has the workforce it needs to be competitive in the global economy. The steps the business community take now towards economic diversification, industry development and startup innovation can only be sustained in the long term if the next generation of employees are prepared to enter the workforce.

It all starts with academic standards in the classroom. That is why a set of standards known nationally as Common Core, and in Nevada called the Nevada Academic Content Standards, has been implemented to create a more rigorous academic experience in our public schools. Defined as a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts, Common Core Standards outline a series of clear, consistent guidelines for what a student should know and be able to execute in respective subjects at the end of each grade year. Its overall objectives are to ensure that U.S. high school students graduate with the knowledge and skill set necessary to succeed in college and career, create consistent learning goals across the U.S., and maintain and advance the nation’s place as a leader of innovation and growth in the competitive global economy. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core Standards. “Nevada is raising its academic standards to help our students receive a world-class education and ensure all Nevadans are ready for success in the 21st Century,” says Dale Erquiaga, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Nevada. “Since 2011, our schools have been implementing new Nevada Academic Content Standards, which are the Nevada version of the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics.” The science standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in February of 2014, and will soon be taught across the state.

Common Core Standards change what a student is expected to know at various stages of their academic advancementandalsoinfluencesthemethodsthatare used to teach subject material. It aims to set a realistic baseline for student achievement and give teachers and parents more opportunities to recognize areas of improvement before they become major gaps that could seriously hinder a student’s progress. School districts continue to have power over determining their own curriculum. “Districts continue to develop their own curricula, and classroom teachers will tailor instruction to the new standards and the needs of their students,” Erquiaga says.

State Senator Joyce Woodhouse (D), chairwoman of the Nevada Senate Committee on Education and a former program administrator for the Clark County School District with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and educational administration, believes that the content standards represent a major improvement. “I believe the Nevada Academic Content Standards are more rigorous than our previous standards and are designed to prepare students for college and careers,” Woodhouse says. “Students, through classroom instruction and experiences provided by their highly qualified teachers, will understand the content and processes involved in their English language arts and mathematics curricula.”

“A lot has changed since we were kids,” says President of the State Board of Education and well- known education advocate and philanthropist Elaine Wynn. “To succeed in today’s world, our children require skills and experience to think critically, communicate effectively and accomplish real-world achievements.” She believes that the new curriculum will help students achieve those goals and give them increased opportunities by improving the quality of education they receive.

“Our more rigorous Academic Content Standards (based on Common Core) are raising the bar for what kids will learn and know at every grade level. We have been at it for a while. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Education, which I co-chaired with [Nevada System of Higher Education] Chancellor Dan Klaich almost five years ago, developed a blueprint for education reform that included a recommendation to adopt the Common Core State Standards,” Wynn says.

The campaign to educate students, peers, and community stakeholders about the new standards and their implementation is known as Nevada Ready! Wynn believes that the Common Core curriculum is the best way to equip students properly and prepare them to be a part of a highly educated workforce.

Erquiaga agrees with Wynn’s assessment. “New academic standards, along with high quality and well-supported educators, have the potential to transform outcomes for Nevada students and for our state,” he says. “Nevada’s new standards are expected to drastically reduce the need for remedial classes. The standards will also strengthen the state’s workforceandeconomyasmorestudentsgraduatefrom high school ready to succeed in a new economy.”

They are not alone in their support of the new curriculum. A 2010 review of state-based curriculums done by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-focused think tank, found that the Common Core Standards were “clearly superior” to standards found in Nevada, which received a “C” grade along with 32 other states for math and reading. Common Core Standards were found to be clearer and more rigorous than the pre-existing curriculum.

Las Vegas is a community well- known for its growing population, and many of the students who are now enrolled in Clark County schools did not begin their education locally. Common Core Standards are especially important in areas of the country (like Southern Nevada) that are more prone to transiency and transplanted residents, as it regiments the type of materials students are expected to know and when they are expected to know it across districts, counties and even states. A high school junior who moves from New Mexico will not have to repeat American History because of discordant state standards; he or she will be taught similar material at similar times throughout their education.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which formally backed the adoption of Common Core Standards, notes on its website, BusinessForCore.com, that students in the United States are lagging behind other students in developed economies. U.S. students rank 17th in reading literacy, 21st in science, and 26th in math according to the site. The shortfall extends beyond the national scope into the local, as the U.S. Chamber also predicts that by 2020, 62 percent of jobs in Nevada will require some postsecondary education credential, but only 28 percent of adults in the state currently have a postsecondary credential. This leaves a critical gap in workforce needs and poses a real threat to our economy. The higher guidelines Common Core Standards bring to public schools will help close the skills gap that will make a substantial difference in the United States’ place in the global economy.

Some of the most vocal criticism of the standards come from individuals who oppose a standardization of curriculum across the states, but advocates are quick to point out that adoption of Common Core Standards is voluntary, even arguing that because the standards are focused, it allows even greater innovation at local levels to teach complex ideas and topics to students.

Common Core Standards are the brainchild of individual state governors who sought to tackle declining test scores relative to other industrialized nations. In an Op-Ed piece published in the Cincinnati Enquirer in July 2014, Gary Standafer, a former classroom teacher who has worked in textbook publishing and test development, notes that the curriculum wasn’t designed by bureaucrats. He points out that the standards were authored “by scholars who represent the best base of knowledge of how students learn and what they need to know in order to be prepared for college and careers.” Standafer writes that the standards “are research-based and represent what is known about learning progressions and how students’ mathematical knowledge and skills develop over time,” citing that the standards for science and English language arts are likewise rooted in educational research.

Brian McAnallen, vice president of government affairs at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, believes the academic standards are pivotal to improving the education and workforce in Southern Nevada and closing the skills gap. “The Metro Chamber fully supports the Common Core Standards,” he says. “They are a key component of the work we are doing to improve the schools in Southern Nevada and make our community a more attractive place to live and do business. We are working with state and local stakeholders to make sure they know the Metro Chamber supports the new standards.”

Erquiaga believes the backing of community organizations like the Metro Chamber is an important part of the new curriculum’s implementation and success. “It is critical that educators have the support of their communities to implement these new standards successfully. Nevada Ready! aims to build public awareness and engagement regarding key issues impacting Nevada education,” he explains. “As business and civic leaders, your support is critical if our local schools are to reach even greater heights than before.”

Learn More About Common Core and the Nevada Ready! Campaign by visiting nevadaready.org on the web, @NevadaReady on Twitter and on the Nevada Ready! Facebook page. You can also find out more information at BusinessForCore.com.