Last week, New York education officials released scores from the first Common Core-aligned standardized state tests. Student scores showed a dramatic drop in performance from previous years. Statewide, just 31.1 percent of students tested proficient in English Language Arts, and 31 percent tested proficient in math.
We can’t be surprised by the results, as New York leaders and many state decision-makers across the country have failed to recognize that new standards alone won’t drive students to succeed. Standards must be matched with common core supports for students, parents, teachers and principals. The challenge the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign is trying to address with organizations like the Alliance for Quality Education and A+ NYC is about more than closing the achievement gap on state tests. We’re working to rectify the ever-present opportunity gap that underlies the achievement gap and perpetuates disparities between students who attend school in well-resourced communities and those who do not.
Following the release of A Nation at Risk 30 years ago, district, state and federal policies have focused primarily on efforts to raise standards, improve assessments, and evaluate teachers. While each of these issues warrants attention in the landscape of education policy, they are not effective drivers for significantly changing the learning conditions for students across the country. This “standards-based” reform agenda has made it virtually impossible for educators to give the individualized attention and resources our children deserve. This push for standards has been happening in the wake of a record number of children living in poverty (1 in 5) and a rapidly changing student population in which students of color represent more than 40 percent of students. It’s time for a different vision of public education for the 21st century.
We recognize the need for a different path in education and are joining forces with educators, parents, community and state leaders across the country to build a new “supports-based” vision, promoting policy change built around the needs of our students and families in seven areas:
- Early Education and Grade Level Reading: Guaranteed access to high quality early education for all, including full-day kindergarten and universal access to pre-K services, to help ensure students can read at grade level.
- Equitable Funding and Resources: Fair and sufficient school funding freed from over-reliance on locally targeted property taxes, so those who face the toughest hurdles receive the greatest resources. Investments are also needed in out-of-school factors affecting students, such as supports for nutrition and health services, public libraries, after school and summer programs, and adult remedial education — along with better data systems and technology.
- Student-Centered Supports: Personalized plans or approaches that provide students with the academic, social, emotional, health, and mental health supports they need for individualized and deeper learning time.
- Teaching & Leadership Quality: Recruitment, training, and retention of well-prepared, well-resourced, and effective educators and principals, who can provide extended learning time and deeper learning approaches, and are empowered to collaborate with and learn from their colleagues.
- Better Assessments: High quality diagnostic assessments that go beyond test-driven mandates and help teachers strengthen the classroom experience for each student.
- Effective Discipline: An end to ineffective and discriminatory discipline practices including inappropriate out-of-school suspensions, replaced with policies and supports that keep all students in quality educational settings.
- Meaningful Engagement: Parent and community engagement in determining the policies of schools and the delivery of education services to students.
Learning First Alliance members like the National School Boards Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals partnered with us in April to release a policy guide for school board members, highlighting strategies for ending the school-to-prison pipeline. But we need more practitioners, parents and policymakers who can advocate for a supports-based reform agenda. It’s time to focus on creating the learning environments and conditions in which all children will have an opportunity to learn and succeed. Will you join us?
This post originally appeared on the Learning First Alliance website.