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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: New Expectations in Education

As Arkansas students in grades 9 through 12 begin a new school year, their teachers have new expectations for their academic achievements. This is a pivotal time for education in Arkansas, as the Common Core State Standards are now being implemented in our high schools. In Arkansas, Common Core was first put into practice in kindergarten classes through second grade during the 2011-2012 school year. This past school year, these standards were phased in for students in grades 3 through 8.

Common Core Standards help teachers by clearly outlining the necessary skills and knowledge students are expected to gain by the completion of each grade level. Parents, teachers, and students will be aware of the goals set for mathematics and for English language arts and literacy. Instead of encouraging rote memorization and test-taking skills, Common Core emphasizes the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills needed for success in higher education and in today’s workforce.

The standards are the latest step in Arkansas’s ongoing effort to improve education, but we are far from alone in this initiative. Forty-five other states, plus the District of Columbia, have also chosen to implement Common Core. In fact, the standards were born out of a states-led effort to ensure that the skills necessary for real-world success are taught in all of our schools. Noticing discrepancies in college readiness from state to state, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers worked together to create a single set of standards and common grading criteria.

Although most states are implementing the standards, it is important to remember that they are doing so voluntarily. The Common Core State Standards are not federally mandated, and the federal government was not involved in their development. Arkansas teachers, parents, and community and business leaders played an important role in the development of Common Core Standards. Their input and feedback helped lead to Arkansas’s official adoption of the Standards in July of 2010. While the standards define expectations, they in no way dictate curriculum or prescribe a particular method of instruction. The lessons, strategies and materials used in the classroom are still left up to the local school districts and their teachers and administration officials.

In Arkansas, the need for new educational standards was apparent. Although we are continuing to improve, far too many Arkansas students who go to college are not prepared for the coursework. And Arkansas still has an unacceptably low number of college graduates per capita. To change that, we must make certain that students have the skills they need to succeed in college and careers. I believe that the Common Core Standards are a good way to do that.

With the Common Core State Standards guiding our teachers, our schools will be more effective. By providing for advances in academic rigor and content, the standards enable students to graduate from high school better prepared for college. This can help lessen the financial burden for the students themselves and for their families, and will certainly help our young people to thrive independently as they set their paths toward successful lives.