Guest commentary: Common Core is for the common good

As a graduate of Louisiana public schools, I believe it is time to raise our academic standards. High K-12 standards ensure every child receives a quality education, no matter his or her neighborhood or socioeconomic background. High standards help give children the tools they need to succeed today so they may achieve all of their dreams tomorrow.

I graduated from a rural high school in Louisiana in 2009 with what I thought was a great grade point average and ACT score. However, when I applied to colleges as a first-generation student, I was denied or waitlisted because I could not compete with other applicants across the country. It did not seem to matter that I was a high-performing and curious student capable of much more than the “busy work” assigned to me in high school. Without a track record of success in college-level classes, admissions officers did not consider me college-ready. Ultimately accepted to Dillard University, I became one of the few from my class to attend college, while most of my peers either did not go at all or did not complete their undergraduate studies due to disinterest or unpreparedness.

This problem is widespread but solvable. In Louisiana, about 70 percent of students in two-year colleges arrive unprepared, take remedial classes and spend tuition dollars catching up on skills that they should have learned in high school. To address this, Louisiana — starting in 2014 — will align existing state education standards with a new set of standards called Common Core, developed to prepare students for college in the 21st century. Common Core emphasizes critical thinking and academic skills, not just facts. Adopting these standards will reduce the number of Louisiana graduates who enter college as remedial students.

As a student, I know that teachers feel frustrated when their lesson plans are constrained by top-down criteria. However, Common Core State Standards do not prescribe a curriculum, but instead outline defined goals that give educators much-needed direction and provide teachers and parents with guidance on how to prepare students for both college and careers. Furthermore, because standards are common across states, school districts and teachers everywhere can collaborate to advance learning and close achievement gaps.

Today, Louisiana’s children cannot compete with students from other states — our fourth-graders score 50th out of 50 states in math, and 48th in reading. Common Core allows teachers and students to go deeper into fewer topics, promoting an actual grasp of reading, writing, math, and science instead of rote memorization.

Tests should measure whether students are prepared, rather than their ability to fill in bubbles. We must decide as a state that meaningful education is essential to our future success. We’ve drifted away from the foundation of a great education: thinking critically and solving problems. Elementary and secondary education is not about doing just enough to pass to the next grade level and ultimately graduate high school (barely). These are precious years when students should gain skills in text-analysis, persuasive writing, numbers and operations, and critical thinking.

The state Department of Education’s plan for Louisiana schools to transition to Common Core standards demonstrates its commitment to effective implementation. I thank the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for its support so far, and I call on all of those who remain opposed to realize Common Core is for the common good.

It may be hard at first, as students may struggle initially with more difficult concepts, but one day they’ll discover that they are better prepared for challenges in the real world.

Johne’tra Trotter, a senior at Dillard University, is a member of Students for Education Reform Louisiana.