Nevada Ready for Common Core

Written By:

Elaine Wynn, President, State Board of Education

Remember Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future? Sometimes, my experience with academic standards feels like Marty’s – it seems a little difficult to get back to the future.

First, a little history – In 1996, Governor Miller invited me to join him at a special convening of the National Governor’s Association – a summit on education, at IBM’s headquarters in New York. Every Governor brought one business representative. One conclusion crystallized that day: our nation’s Governors and every businessperson in the room believed that we needed a concentrated and coordinated effort to create standards that could be common across all states. We resolved to ensure children in Las Vegas learned the same things as youngsters in Los Angeles, Lubbock, Lansing and Lexington. We returned to our respective states inspired and motivated yet unsure as to how to get it done.

Fast forward to 1997. As a member of Nevada’s newly-created Council for Establishment of Academic Standards, our charge was to define what Nevada’s children needed to learn at every grade level to succeed in the 21st century. It was laborious and important work. Frankly, it was daunting. How could we know our standards were relevant for a global marketplace, while working only in Nevada?

It was, for me, a relief when the federal government stepped up to coordinate, compile and compel the important work being done by states. Their push for innovation encouraged states to aim high – to define standards common across all states and calibrated to standards of nations around the globe.

Our nation’s Governors were the impetus for Common Core. From my ringside seat, their effort demonstrates the best of States’ rights in action. It is anything but a federal conspiracy, as a few persistently argue. Folks, it’s time to move on, follow Marty and get back to the future. There’s real work to be done!

The new standards set a high bar of expectation. They emphasize process, not just content. They move us from rote learning to developing capabilities in children. They ask students to think, apply knowledge, infer, develop strength in analyzing technical text and defend opinions with supporting evidence. Yes, they are rigorous. Yes, they are challenging. And, yes, they will equip youngsters with skills and experience to think critically, communicate effectively and accomplish real-world achievements – which certainly appeals to me as a businessperson.

In my role as national board chair of Communities in Schools (CIS), I was particularly sensitive to the implications of Common Core for at-risk children. We lose too many poor and minority children already. Would raising the bar mean losing more? After exhaustive evaluation, CIS believes that at-risk youngsters can and will meet higher expectations, as long as adults find ways to scale the integrated and focused supports they will need to clear the bar. (The recent results we saw in CCSD’s ZOOM Schools make the point. Although preliminary, the gains were impressive and show us what is possible.)

Look, I am a realist. Any major change creates short-term pain. Re-defining expectations in K-12 education is a sea change for our state and nation. There will be confusion, turbulence and fear. There always is.

I am also an optimist. The long term gain is worth it. The possibility of what we can become keeps me going. So, let’s get back to the future, keep moving forward and make Nevada Ready!