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Core of the Matter: What Students Want and Need from Their Communities: High Expectations, Support, and Accountability (#CoreMatters)

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June 03, 2014 11:23 am


When a young, African American man—speaking as a panelist at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans Summit at Jackson State University in April 2014—was asked what young men of color need from their community in order to be successful in life, he replied, “Have high expectations for us, give us the support we need to meet those expectations, and hold us accountable.” For me, his words resonated as clearly as a bell. Often times, we adults don’t believe that our young people want to be pushed harder. But here, sitting among five other young men, this scholar asked us to go against our conventional wisdom and demand more of him and his peers.

His profound request stuck to me, especially as I contemplate how the Common Core State Standards can be best used as a means of closing opportunity, achievement, and equity gaps. In his Core of the Matter blog entry from May 20, 2014, Dr. Christopher Edley wrote, “[Common Core State Standards] provide a baseline or foundation with which we can build advocacy and accountability for narrowing disparities in opportunity and achievement.” But he adds that the way in which the Common Core is implemented will be a significant factor (or potential deterrent) in achieving our excellence and equity goals.

With the creation and subsequent adoption of the Common Core, more than forty states increased the expectations for their young people, saying they want them to be college and career ready, with an increased sense of ownership over their learning, and a stronger command of both academic content and its practical application.

How then do states go about the business of giving them (and those charged with educating them) the proper support and resources they need in order to be successful while holding them accountable for meeting the goals in a way that best assures our collective success? Already, several states and school districts are leading the way by providing students with well-trained teachers and educational leaders who are knowledgeable about the standards and who have the pedagogical and content expertise necessary to teach our students effectively as well as relevant learning opportunities and non-academic support essential for their success.

  • Kentucky plans to connect its teacher professional development with the Common Core by using its teacher effectiveness evaluation system as a guide for the individual teacher’s professional growth plan.
  • Maryland is providing its educators with the professional learning opportunities and the time to share and become competent in the best practices necessary to meet the learning needs of its students through state-wide educator effectiveness academies and its Blackboard Learn website.
  • Sanger Unified School District in California is at the beginning stages of implementing Linked Learning in an effort to provide its students with robust, relevant learning opportunities where they can see their classroom-based learning applied in the context of real life.
  • Recognizing that the best curriculum and highest standards in the world cannot possibly fill the gaps created by mental or physical illness, a lack of stability at home or within the community, food insecurity or other issues related to poverty, the Long Beach Unified School District in California is working to provide students with non-academic support that speaks to their social-emotional needs as well as their overall health and wellness. The plan, called the North Long Beach Initiative, will include a partnership between governmental and non-governmental entities to provide health care services on school campuses; promote healthy eating practices and options for students; focus attention on providing a safe school environment; and increasing counseling opportunities and mentoring programs for ALL students.

Going back to the young scholar at Jackson State University, the nation must hold its young people accountable for their learning. Only they can show up to school, pay attention in class, do their assignments, and engage in their own learning. Educators must also be held to account for their role in students’ academic success. But accountability cannot end there. There must be shared accountability for everyone who touches a child’s life and education. Parents, community members, and policymakers (elected, appointed and career) must also take ownership of the collective responsibility to ensure that students and educators have everything that they need to build young scholars who are college- and career-ready.

The young scholar was bold and courageous in his candor. Will the nation’s response be as bold and courageous? His future—and that of his peers all across this country—relies on the answer to this question being a resounding YES!

Tina Dove is a senior policy associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Common Core Equity Series


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    Donique Reid
    Posted 7 years ago

    Too often students from low-income communities are held to lesser standards for a multitude of reasons. Though what cannot be overlooked is the power of setting high standards and what this means for improving the academic performance of these students. The young men mentioned above echo a lot of the feedback I received from my students while I was still in the classroom. Students looked to me to challenge their thinking and hold them accountable for their own learning. However, I felt I could have been a greater asset with stronger instructional support and opportunity to share best practices with other educators. During my time in the classroom, I spent a lot of my planning time visiting other classrooms and taking a piecemeal approach to my own development. Participating in a state-wide academy or professional learning opportunity, as mentioned above, would have been extremely beneficial to me. I found that it was not enough to be provided with the curriculum and corresponding standards, but I really needed time to collaborate on how to implement the curriculum and concrete examples of what successful implementation looks like within my content area.

  2. photo
    Ron Grogan
    Posted 7 years ago

    Found this article interesting, however, like many of the other good initiatives, the funding for enabling program for students and teachers is not available in many school districts. When we get serious about improving academic performance for all our students, we will put our money where our mouth is.
    Today we have politicians calling for the elimination of the Department of Education; who then will advocate for the millions of underserved students in America?

  3. photo
    Una maestra de español
    Posted 7 years ago

    I agree, Donique! I know I sure could use additional support and professional development–so long as it’s effective. I’ve experienced several new initiatives and systems, all under the same auspice of ‘raising standards and achievement. Then another is introduced, bringing new requirements with which my colleagues and I must comply, before we can truly understand or become invested in them [or the previous ones]. Much of it doesn’t truly help me become a better teacher.

    To be honest, as earnest as I am to learn and grow–to be better, like Donique mentioned she was—all this jargon (blah blah blah) about this new plan or that new solution—makes me feel so frustrated. Besides, what does it all mean anyway? You know why I think that young scholar’s plea was so thought provoking? Because it was simple! He gave it to us straight and that was refreshing, especially ona subject that people talk so much (Just look at me here. Haha.). How about we do the same? Sure, it (education system in the U.S. and all that ails it) is complicated–but the scholar’s comment also resonates the way it does because it brought us back to basics. To something we probably already know–that yes, students need to be held to high standards. Expect more of them.

    Now, can we apply that to everyone? Ms. Dove seems to agree, as she mentions ‘shared accountability’, starting with students, teachers and then ‘everyone’ else: “…Parents, community members, and policymakers (elected, appointed and career)”. I like her inclusiveness there! I have to admit, though, that as an educator I read that line and thought–wait, why aren’t parents BEFORE ME/teachers? Maybe it’s just a stylistic choice, and I’m just sensitive. Most of my after school commiserations come back to parental involvement (or lack thereof).

    Now, I don’t by any means absolve myself. You can best believe that as a teacher, I’ll have my share of ‘expect more’ pie as well. Already have been getting it. But remember, I told you –I’m hungry for it! (Let the effective PD rain down.) I just hope that we also expect more of our parents. Please! I’m not certain how much policy makers (cough, cough), can mandate that piece. I don’t know. I’ll leave it there. It’s all still conversation and words anyway. Hopefully there’ll be some action.

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