There's nothing like a good-looking suit.
Putting one on before work or before church on Sunday is second nature. You don't even have to think about it.
But think about when you were little, and had to learn how to lace your strings, tie your tie and tuck in your shirt. You might not have learned it all at once, but you eventually learned how to put it together.
Just like you had to learn to get dressed up when you needed to look sharp, there's a lot that our kids need to learn in school. To make sure they're learning what they need to know to get a job, Tennessee is rolling out a new set of higher standards in our schools, called Common Core.
Policy makers from around the country have been working on Common Core with parents and teachers for years now, but you may just now be hearing about these new standards. There are a lot of misconceptions out there, and I'd like to talk about how these new standards will improve our schools.
A suit is almost the same anywhere you go, but schools are different. Students in Tennessee were following standards that were lower than the standards in some other states. Back in 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee schools an "F" for truth in advertising, meaning that even though state tests showed students doing well, those tests weren't as challenging as what students in other states had to take. Our "A" students were doing only as well as their "B" students.
Common Core was developed with input from business leaders, principals and teachers. It gives us a set of standards so we know that what kids in Tennessee learn is up to the same standards as kids in other states, so we know that what kids in the inner city of Memphis learn is up to the same standards as kids in the suburbs. The standards were adopted in 2010, and full implementation started this school year, meaning some students will be tested on the standards.
As vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I recently visited Highland Rim Schools in Lincoln County, which is in its third year of using the Common Core standards. Students at that school are meeting the standards. Here are some examples:
• For kindergarten, they should know the names and sequence of numbers.
• For third grade, they should solve problems involving multiplication and division.
• For sixth grade, they should be able to solve simple equations.
As you can see, these standards set a benchmark for our kids at every age, and every school in our state will be judged on the same standards. They're set to be relevant to the real world and set up our kids for success when they graduate and look for jobs.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about Common Core. One of the most common misconceptions is that it's a national curriculum and takes freedom away from our schools.
The truth is, teachers can meet these standards however they see fit. It's like your suit. We're not telling you what color tie to wear, just that you know how to tie it.
Another common misconception is that the standards are "dumbing down" what kids learn in schools. The truth is Common Core is a tougher set of skills than Tennessee's old standards. It puts more emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, and focuses on deeper understanding, instead of basic memorization.
Finally, you might have heard Common Core is a national takeover of education, when in fact our Shelby County schools have taken the lead in implementing the standards here in Memphis. The county has been training teachers since 2012 to prepare, and the district is updating its technology to support the online tests they will use to assess how well our kids are learning. Students will take their first assessments this spring.
Schools within the Achievement School District have taken similar steps and will have the Common Core standards fully implemented next school year.
As our kids rise up through school with these standards in place, I am confident that we will see more kids graduating with the skills they need to suit up and succeed in the workforce.
(State Sen. Reginald Tate represents part of Shelby County in the General Assembly. He serves as vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.)