Anita Barksdale, right, helps her daughter Nicole Barksdale, 5, left, and her son Christopher Barksdale, 9, as they figure out the cost of ingredients for their sesame shrimp stir-fry recipe at a Kroger grocery store in Lake Orion, Michigan October 21, 2014. (Getty Images/Washington Post)
According to the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measured 65 countries, 29 countries outperformed the United States in math and 22 in science. The city of Shanghai was two full years ahead of Massachusetts, our top-ranking state. There is an opportunity for Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to enhance education in science, technology, engineering & mathematics (STEM) subjects, just when it is most needed. However, there aren’t enough graduates to fill the nearly 1 million job openings predicted for 2020. These findings are a call to action.
The numbers are more troubling when broken down by racial background. While the National Assessment Educational Progress (NAEP) finds that only 26% of American 12th graders are proficient in math, of those, 33% of whites meet standards, while only 7% of African-Americans and 12% of Latinos attain that same proficiency.
There is concern that the new CCSS assessments may exacerbate the tensions children already have about tests, and in particular, increase the achievement gap. This is a valid consideration, as the exams are a work in progress. However, it is important to remember that CCSS aims to raise the bar for all children, regardless of class. This means that no matter the state, city, or neighborhood schools are in, they should be expected to be provided the same high level of standards and should receive resources to make that possible.
While there have been some folks who decry the CCSS math standards as too rigorous, it’s important to note that they are attainable with sound instruction, resources, and study. The standards provide a solid structure for learning and a greater emphasis on conceptual understanding, directing instruction in multiple ways to solve problems. Such a capacity is ever more urgently needed, even for those who aren’t in a STEM-related career, as mathematical thinking and problem solving skills factor into much of modern life. The standards are, and are best considered as, a foundation and when we give our children a solid start, there truly is no telling just how far they can go.
One of our PSAs, Full Potential, shows a young student imagining future careers, such as an astronaut and physician, both professional paths that demand mastery of math and science. Through equitable implementation of Common Core, our children will have the opportunity to receive the education necessary for success in college, life, and career in STEM fields.