The Common Core, human capital, and Ohio's long-term prosperity

The Common Core—the state’s new academic content standards for math and English language arts—has lit a fiery debate across Ohio. Vocal skeptics raise questions such as: Will the state lose its sovereignty in how students are educated? Will curricula become too “narrow”? Will technical manuals replace literary stalwarts like Hawthorne and Twain? Will schools have to assess students ad infinitum?

These are certainly legitimate concerns to raise. But amidst these worries—and in each instance, I might add that the concern is probably exaggerated—a larger question looms: How can Ohio secure its long-term economic prosperity?

Simple. To invest in the development of our children’s knowledge and skills.

The Common Core standards are such an investment. The Common Core places Ohio’s K-12 schools on a firmer foundation to build up its supply of human capital—human knowledge, skills, habits, and creativity taken together—the sine qua non for a robust economy.

Consider the standards themselves. The English language arts standards expect students to read texts closely[1] and to understand the nuances of how authors’ use the English language.[2] They require high-school students to draw on multiple texts to support their written analyses.[3] I think most  would agree that diligent reading skills, a command of language and vocabulary, and using textual evident to support a written conclusion are fundamental abilities for success in college or a demanding job.

Meanwhile, the math standards expect students to be able to interpret the equation y = mx + b as a linear function and then compare it to a non-linear function by the end of eighth grade.[4] At the end of high school, the Common Core standards expect that students are able to construct and interpret scatterplots, interpret a correlation coefficient, and estimate a population mean from a survey sample.[5] Increasingly, America’s employers are looking for workers who are data literate, and it’s an imperative that students acquire these fundamental skills while in middle- and high-school.

Of course, these are only a few examples of the lofty expectations that the Common Core puts into place. One must really read the English language arts and math standards themselves to gain a better appreciation of their quality. (Consider that these are minimum expectations of what students are expected to know and do at the end of each grade level.) Of even greater value, one might want to compare them to the state’s old academic content standards in math and English. The old standards seem antiquated by comparison—and simply don’t provide the framework needed to develop “college and career ready” skills and abilities for the typical student.

If vigorously implemented —still a big “if”—the Common Core has the potential to synchronize the expectations of K-12 education with those of colleges and employers. And yes, many of Ohio’s schools are already gearing up for the higher expectations of the Common Core by changing instructional approaches, selecting rigorous curricula and materials, and readying themselves to administer brand-new assessments. Surely though, there remains much work ahead in the implementation of the new standards.

The Common Core is a long-term investment in the state’s future prosperity—and it gives all of its kids a puncher’s chance at having their slice in Ohio’s new economy. To be sure, the standards don’t solve the immediate problems of today. It won’t solve the state’s college remediation rate crisis overnight. In the present, it can’t do much for Ohio employers who struggle to find qualified applicants to fill skilled job vacancies. And it won’t do anything to help Ohio’s 400,000 or so adults who are unemployed.  

The Common Core, however, can kick-start the state’s vapid K-12 schools. It can help put a next generation of students on track to become college-ready freshman, and it can help employers find workers with more brain than brawn. That is why the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and some of the nation’sand Ohio’s—largest employers support the adoption and implementation of these more-rigorous standards. They understand that if America is to compete economically in a global environment, its children need a strong education—and that starts in our primary and secondary schools.

The Common Core rests in the hands of Ohio’s policymakers. Governor Kasich, who has used his bully-pulpit to promote economic growth, might do well to voice his support for the Core, as his Republican counterparts have openly done (e.g., Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bill Haslam of Tennessee). For the sake of Ohio’s future economic prosperity, here’s hoping that all of Ohio’s policymakers—from those in Columbus to our tiniest localities—take the long-view and embrace the Common Core.

 

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