You don’t hear much from Christians in the national debate about public education. When you do, it isn’t always positive, which is why it is particularly gratifying to see Christianity Today publish a superb piece on Common Core State Standards by Liz Riggs, an educator.
Riggs shows how the promise of Common Core gets lost in the fear-driven rhetoric that misinforms and spooks parents, educators, community members—and, people of faith.
Are these new standards an attempt by the federal government to take over education? Will the Common Core cause test scores to fall for schools that are currently successful? Why change the way parents learned math so they can no longer help their children with homework?
For Riggs, the smarter focus is on how these standards will improve life for America’s vulnerable children—not on who created the standards, how they will temporarily reduce test scores, or how they feed our misplaced nostalgia for how things used to be done.
We owe our students a better, more effective education; and the Common Core Standards were designed to alight with skills needed for ACT and SAT testing, college classes, and careers—a stark difference from the easy requirements set by most current state standards. With exception to states such as Massachusetts or New York, the standards and the way in which they are tested—often just multiple choice in some grades— do not prepare students for the rigors of college and life after high school.
These low standards negatively affect the students who need to be pushed forward the most: low income students. Consider this: by 4th grade, nearly 80 percent of low-income students are reading below grade level. By college, nearly 80 percent of these students will need remedial coursework in order to be ready for college. Yet, the majority of these students will graduate from high school (perhaps as many as 79 percent—the statistic from just a few years ago.)
As we all do our best to obtain a great education for our children, Riggs reminds her readers, as Christians, to see beyond their own families.
But what about other people’s children? What about the poor, the downtrodden, the orphans that we as Christians are called to serve and to care about? What about those who are so deeply entrenched in systemic poverty that a high-quality education is the only way out? What if an educational shift in a more challenging and rigorous direction benefits those children more than our own?
These are the right questions, especially for people of faith who believe service to the poor is an ineludible part of walking the righteous path.