Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

Leaders, Laggards & the Long Haul: Grading States on Educational Effectiveness

Guest Post: Cheryl A. Oldham is vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is also vice president of the education and workforce program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Seven years ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation released Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness, a study that graded states on nine indicators based on national statistics and available rankings of state policy environments. The goal was to see which states were national leaders—and which were laggards—in K-12 educational performance. The report churned out its fair share of failing marks and illustrated several areas for concern. Chief among them was the low-quality and inconsistent standards found in most states. This provoked a simple—yet startling—fact: If the United States was to compete globally, we had to do a far better job of delivering a high-quality education to all children. Fast forward seven years to the 2014 release of the updated version of “Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness.” The new report measures 11 indicators including academic achievement, return on investment and international competitiveness. The report also shows the progress each state has—or has not—made over the past seven years. Spoiler alert: Not a single state received straight A’s—and truthfully, the vast majority of states are far from it. But that is not to say states haven’t made progress since 2007. In fact, we have a major achievement to celebrate. The widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia signals the first time in our history that every child will be expected to master the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college and the workplace. While progress made since Common Core implementation in states doesn’t inform the latest Leaders & Laggards report (that data are too new), the improvement in the rigor of state standards nationwide has been so great that it was dropped as one of the metrics for this report. There is much to applaud here. And if you’re skeptical that raising standards will result in academic gains for kids, look no further than the story of Tennessee’s education turnaround. However, we are far from declaring victory. It is important to note that even the top performing states in this year’s report are only good in comparison to other states. For example, Massachusetts, whose performance relative to academic achievement ranks at the top of the nation, has more than 40 percent of its students not reading and doing math on grade level. And, when our kids perform on the world stage, the results are dismal. Out of 34 countries, U.S. kids rank 20th in literacy, 23rd in science and 30th in math, and U.S. college-degree achievement rates remain flat. Sadly, educators who are working to fix this gap are being met with fierce opposition. During the past year, Common Core has become a lightning rod issue for both sides of the political aisle—and there is no sign of it letting up. However, the reality remains that to compete globally, we need to raise expectations for all children. Higher standards, like the Common Core State Standards, have a role to play in helping students gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly demanding workplace. Challenging the status quo in education and making reforms have never been a fast process; this is no different. The task of implementation is underway and has been for some time now. Allowing that process to continue is essential to realizing success in the classroom. When you pick up the 2014 Leaders & Laggards report and pour through the state ratings, ask yourself: Is your state in it for the long haul? We hope the answer is yes.

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