I’m no stranger to the full-contact sport of politics. But to this day, it still irks me to see how easily a thoughtful and painstaking approach to fixing real problems can be hijacked by shortsighted, sometimes cynical decisions made for nothing more than political gain. Our political system has an amazing and at times frustrating tolerance for this kind of trade-off, which is rooted in the assumption that given enough time and information, voters will eventually make the right choice. There are some issues, though, that demand more urgent attention, especially when the remedy is within our grasp. Fixing this problem is too important to be sacrificed on the altar of politics. The remedy to this country’s longstanding problem of unequal education is the Common Core state standards. The standards set rigorous goals for what students should know at each grade level, regardless of where they live. That’s why it’s time for those of us who recognize the Common Core’s promise to stand up and be counted. The quality of a child’s education is too important to be determined by their zip code, as it is now. This is particularly true in areas with large populations of low-income students of color and English-language learners. These are the same communities that have historically been shortchanged by our public education system because of a toxic combination of low expectations, under-investment and inertia. But the winds of change have started to blow. Thanks to the Common Core, which is now being implemented in more than 40 states, the opportunity for a high-quality education is being expanded to more students than from any shift in education policy since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kentucky’s recently released test scores, for example, prove that the standards are working. Does it take time and patience to fully implement the standards and see change? Yes. But most worthwhile changes do. There is wide agreement that in the overwhelming majority of states where it is being implemented, the Common Core represents a significant improvement over the education standards they are replacing. And the new, more sophisticated tests aligned to the Common Core will do a better job of measuring student learning and giving teachers the information they need to tailor their teaching to meet the educational needs of individual students in their classrooms. These are exactly the kinds of improvements needed to improve the life prospects of so many low-income students of color across the country. Ensuring that these students and their schools and teachers have the support they need as Common Core is implemented can put them on an equal educational footing with their peers and unleash the potential that goes untapped in far too many of our children. Imagine the benefits to the businesses, government, social institutions and the economy of a state like New Mexico if they could draw on more of the energy and understanding that homegrown talent with an excellent education can provide. Is Common Core perfect? No, and no solution ever will be. So we should always work to improve education for our children. The most persuasive endorsements of these standards are the more than 40 states who are hard at work implementing them, the millions of students who are already embracing the challenge and the promise of higher expectations and the tens of thousands of teachers who show up to work every day determined to do right by their kids and empowered by clear, rigorous learning goals for every child, in every classroom. As a country, we need to support those millions of teachers, students and others whose unsung and unseen efforts are bringing the promise of an excellent education to life every day with the help of the Common Core. Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and secretary of Energy, is an adviser to Collaborative for Student Success, a grant-making initiative created of regional and national education foundations.
This piece originally appeared in USA Today. Click here for more. Photo credit: Flickr user Roger H. Goun.