WAGUESPACK: Our Common Goals

“I feel your pain.”

I am reminded of these words spoken by a certain former president quite frequently as of late, as the deliberation about Common Core educational standards heats up. If you are not aware of this debate, it is the ongoing discussion in the legislative session about the educational standards our schools must meet and how we, as a state, must accurately assess the performance of our students against competitor states.

When I hear anyone’s opinion on these standards, I usually want to reply, “I feel your pain.”

That sentiment begins with those who are concerned about ensuring the privacy of our children’s information, protecting the rights of parents to have input on classroom materials, or preventing a national curriculum driven out of Washington D.C. I am first and foremost a parent to three school-aged children, and I can tell you, without a doubt, I want to guard against all of those challenges as much as anyone else. Every business owner I talk to feels the same way. We are well served to search for sensible solutions to those potential pitfalls.

The Louisiana people are aware of the ever-increasing creep into our daily lives coming out of Washington D.C., and we don’t like it one bit. I think most of us long for the day when the era of big government is replaced by the era of big economic growth driven by the innovation of the American people rather than regulation by American bureaucrats.

As we stand strong against that type of action, we must also recognize the challenge at hand: we compete in a global economy and our ability to prepare our kids for that battle will determine our future growth potential as a state and country.

Through the hard work and strength of many elected officials and dedicated citizens, Louisiana has made great strides in educational policies in the last few years. We know these policies are new, tough and require time to take root and produce fruit. We must not only stand strong against any effort to roll back our previous reforms, but also show strong resolve going forward to always strive to improve our ability to educate our kids.

Louisiana is ranked 48th in reading and 50th in math compared to other states, and the United States is ranked 17th and 26th, respectively. This means we are one of the lowest performing states in a country that is middle of the pack at best when compared to its industrialized peers.

All of Louisiana’s students take the ACT or SAT upon high school graduation and many try to qualify for TOPS and go to college. Without those tests, neither option is available. This annual ritual has happened for decades here in Louisiana and in other states. Since those national exams are going to now be aligned with common core standards, we know our kids need appropriate preparation to achieve the level of performance of which they are capable. The better they do on those tests, the more options they will have in choosing colleges and receiving TOPS and other financial aid eligibility.

For students going straight to the workforce, we know that the jobs of tomorrow will require increasingly more critical thinking skills. In fact, a study from a group called “The Partnership for 21st Century Skills” showed that 80 percent of the jobs of tomorrow will require critical thinking for success. The clear takeaway is that our children’s potential and the future economy of our state and country depend on better performance in reading and math.

As we compete in a global economy more and more every day, we know deep down that our history of poor results in reading and math will not cut it. We know we must do better. We know we can do better. We know our kids have no chance to compete for the jobs in the new economy without our ability to show improved results in these categories.

I feel the pain not only of those employers looking to fill vacant Louisiana jobs with qualified workers but also for the young adults entering the workforce unprepared for the challenges they will face.

As we debate Common Core and the need for high standards, let’s not lose sight of our reality. We cannot turn back the clock on global economic realities facing our kids. We cannot turn our back on previous reforms. We must always strive to prepare our kids to meet the expectations the world has waiting for them. We must work to responsibly address concerns raised by concerned citizens on issues such as privacy and federal intrusion. All of these things are our reality and the sooner we get down to smart solutions for all of them, the better off we will be.

Similar to that sentiment once expressed by President Clinton, I really do feel everyone’s pain on this issue. But, just like Clinton had to face reality at some point, so do we. Our kids need skills to compete that we do not adequately provide for them today. Holding strong on standards, assessing our performance against other states, ensuring our parents have protections from bureaucrats and helping our teachers successfully teach these skills to our kids will help us get there.

That IS our core mission…no matter how you define “is.”

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