A coalition of higher education institutions Tuesday waded into the national debate over Common Core education standards, arguing that the higher standards in math, reading and writing will help remedy the problem of too many unprepared students entering college and universities.
State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, who in recent months has become a highly visible advocate of the Common Core standards, joined others in announcing the creation of “Higher Ed for Higher Standards.”
The coalition of more than 200 colleges and universities from 33 states, including all of the SUNY colleges and universities, defended the need for the Common Core and will counter the “misinformation” about the state-based efforts to improve student achievement and learning, Zimpher said.
The new standards, which outline what students are expected to know by each grade level, will be a “huge tool” in efforts within post-secondary education in America “to educate more people and educate them better,” she said.
Some college administrators worry that without the Common Core fewer students will be prepared to do college-level work.
Studies already show that 50 percent of students enrolled in two-year colleges must take noncredit remedial programs to catch up. In four-year schools, the figure is 20 percent. Nationally, the annual cost of the remediation comes to $7 billion.
Within SUNY, more than 40 percent of students seeking an associate’s degree and about 10 percent of those seeking a bachelor’s degree enroll in remedial coursework.
SUNY community colleges spend about $70 million annually on remediation.
What’s more, the studies show that students diverted into remedial courses are less likely to earn a degree and more likely to take longer doing it.
SUNY students who need one remedial course have a 64 percent chance of continuing on to the second year of college. It drops to 52 percent when a student needs three or more remedial courses.
Zimpher described Common Core as “a pathway for . . . sealing the leaks in the educational pipeline.”
But the new standards have come under attack across New York and the rest of the nation.
Just last week, Oklahoma became the third state to repeal adoption of the new standards.
Tuesday, the Gates Foundation – which has said the “academic standards will provide a springboard for innovation in education” – called for a two-year moratorium in using the student standardized test scores for teacher evaluations and student promotion.
“No evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition,” Vicki Phillips, director of the U.S. education program at the Gates Foundation, wrote in a letter.
“The standards need time to work. Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests and offer their feedback.”
“Applying assessment scores to evaluations before these pieces are developed would be like measuring the speed of a runner based on her time – without knowing how far she ran, what obstacles were in the way, or whether the stopwatch worked!” Phillips wrote.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo earlier this year described the implementation of the standards in New York as flawed. Parents and educators across the state complained for months that the standards were rushed into classrooms without adequate preparation for teachers.
The state Board of Regents also has been re-examining the implementation with an eye toward making adjustments.
Zimpher acknowledged difficulties in how the standards were being put in place and concerns over how teachers will be evaluated.
She said those issues were separate from the standards themselves, which were developed thoughtfully over the course of years by educators, researchers and members of the business community to reflect what American students will need to know to compete in a rapidly changing world.
“We’re trying the manage the implementation. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath. We need the standards,” said Zimpher, who has written or co-written several op-ed pieces in recent weeks defending Common Core, including one that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s online edition Tuesday.
Zimpher was joined at a news conference Tuesday by Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan, who said that higher education leaders needed to counter inaccuracies and myths about Common Core.
The standards, for example, were not developed by the federal government, nor do they dictate a single curriculum for all school districts.
“There’s a belief on the part of some that this is a national curriculum. That is absolutely not true,” Morgan said.
Other local higher education officials echoed Zimpher and Morgan in defending the Common Core.
The School of Education at SUNY Buffalo State has been working for at least three years on incorporating the Common Core standards into its teacher education program, which trains hundreds of new teachers each year, said Wendy Paterson, dean of the school.
“The Common Core, if you read it, is all about thinking deeply, reading a number of different texts well, writing well, pushing the edge of the known into the unknown,” Paterson said. “More and more people have conflated the implementation policies in New York State with the Common Core itself and that is a big mistake.”
University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi issued a written statement saying it was important for higher education leaders nationwide to join together in support of stronger standards and curriculum in kindergarten through 12th grades.
“Strengthening the preparation of U.S. K-12 students will help them succeed on our nation’s college campuses, as well as prepare them for successful lives and careers after they graduate from college,” Tripathi said.