By Richard Barth, KIPP Foundation Chief Executive Officer
As the leader of a national network of 141 charter schools serving over 50,000 students—88 percent of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch—the most frequent question I have gotten this year is: “Are you supportive of the Common Core?”
I get these questions when I travel to urban as well as rural communities across the country. I also get these questions when I am home in New York watching my children play soccer. There are legitimate concerns around Common Core’s implementation, and we will need to address them. But I want to share with our community why KIPP remains a firm believer in Common Core, and how we’re embracing it across our network of schools.
The Common Core establishes a consistently high bar of expectations early on in a student’s enrollment. It explicitly focuses on college readiness, and it provides an opportunity to get a clear-eyed look at how prepared our students really are for college. Teachers, students, and families should know what it takes to be on track to go to and be successful in college. And they should have that understanding early enough to do something about it.
The Common Core unifies state standards, so that a child we are educating in Illinois is held to the same standard as a child with whom we are working in Georgia. Up until this point, we have watched as students in one state have been recognized for their academic achievement while knowing that, had they lived in another state, they might have been considered performing below grade level. This way of doing business makes no sense. It makes no sense for the students here at KIPP. And it makes no sense for the students in our country.
Some of the people who approach me with questions about the Common Core ask me if I am concerned about what it might reveal about the academic preparedness of our students. I am not. What I am concerned about is the disparity in college attainment between students in lower-income communities and their higher-income peers. More than 70 percent of children growing up in a higher-income community will graduate from college, while less than 10 percent of children growing up in the bottom-income quartile will. Closing this gap is both an economic and a moral imperative, and it’s at the heart of KIPP’s mission. And if the Common Core helps us all understand where we are relative to college readiness—and does so early on—then it is going to help us achieve our mission.
Of course, any change brings with it some trepidation, and we want to understand how our teachers really feel about Common Core. In my interactions with teachers throughout the KIPP network, the overwhelming reaction I’ve seen is optimism. And while preparing to implement a curriculum rigorous enough to meet the demands of the Common Core will be a lot of work, our teachers know it is the right thing to do, and they are up for the challenge.
And they certainly won’t be doing it alone. We are working to encourage the sharing of best practices and new ideas among KIPP educators across the country. KIPP is developing a comprehensive teaching and learning program to help teachers and school principals incorporate Common Core into their work. And with KIPP’s Featured Teacher program, veteran KIPP teachers make available Common Core–aligned lesson plans, assessment materials, and teaching tips for use by their fellow educators across the country. And finally, KIPP is working to identify and partner with groups that are creating effective Common Core curricula and assessments, starting with K–8 math and literacy.
Will Common Core solve all that ails our education system? Of course not; it’s a key part of a much larger solution. Is the transition to Common Core going to be effortless? No; a transition this major never is. Will the first wave of test scores be where we want them to be? Probably not, but it will give us an honest picture of where our kids really are. The key in all of this is not having perfection be the enemy of progress.
We know the world in which we live today—one in which each state has its own standard of college readiness—makes it virtually impossible to get a clear picture of how US students perform overall. And we know that a seven-fold gap in college completion rates between high-income and underserved students just isn’t right. What is right, and what is so American, is not sitting back and accepting that what is true today must be true in the future. Our kids want more for themselves. Our teachers want more for their students. Let’s get to work. And when we see what works and what doesn’t, let’s make course corrections and keep moving forward.
To learn more about KIPP’s approach, click here >