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Letter to the Editor

Greeneville Sun

July 29, 2013

The staff of the Niswonger Foundation has followed, with interest and concern, your recent coverage regarding Tennessee’s implementation of the new Common Core Standards. I am particularly appreciative of Tuesday’s (July 23) cover story in which leaders from Greene County Schools, Dr. Vicki Kirk and Kristi Wallin, clarified the basic principles for the implementation of these standards in Tennessee.  For those who missed the article, I encourage you to examine their thorough responses to some very concerning misperceptions regarding the Common Core. 

To understand the need for Tennessee’s Common Core Standards, It is important to consider the initial inspiration for this direction in our nation. For years now, we have watched as international rankings of educational systems continue to see the United States in decline. As an example, in one recent report of the 40 countries with the most developed educational systems in the world, the US ranked 17th.  

There are many reasons to be concerned about this fact. First and foremost, it should be that we want our children to receive the best education possible.  Secondly, we want there to be opportunities for them to make a living and lead productive lives. To achieve this, we need our businesses and industries to be guided by the best prepared leaders and employees possible.  Of course, this begs the point that we need business and industry to drive our economy. All of these goals have their foundation in our educational system.  We must improve in order to compete in a global economy.

So, what do countries as diverse as Finland, South Korea and Japan - just to name a few - apparently do better than we do?  A recent Pearson study notes that a culture supportive of learning is the most critical element for success. The key is “an environment where education is highly valued and parents have grand expectations.” The study notes that in the countries holding the top spots, there is a shared social belief in the importance of education and its underlying moral purpose.

How do we get from here to there?  I will not attempt to describe the elements of the Common Core Standards.  Dr. Kirk and Ms. Wallin have already done that exceedingly well.  I would, however, remind us of the basic mission of Common Core Standards. “The desire is to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them be successful.”  The goal is to prepare our children for college and career. The outcome will be to position our communities to be successful in a global economy.  How can we argue with that?

Although Tennessee has improved in academic performance for three years in a row, we still lag far behind the United States average.  This leads to a strong reason to continue our movement to Common Core Standards. They are informed by the best practices and experiences of our entire nation of educators.  A key to these standards is based on helping our students learn the real world skills of critical thinking and problem solving instead of just rote memorization and test taking. While these standards clearly establish benchmarks, they are, as noted by Dr. Kirk and Ms. Wallin, a “roadmap.” Local school systems will continue to have the autonomy to select textbooks and establish curriculum. 

Most importantly, the staff of the Niswonger Foundation wishes to thank our local teachers for their incredible dedication to preparing for these changes.  We have been involved in numerous continuing education efforts with our local teachers, providing us with the opportunity to see their sincerity and desire to understand these new standards and to prepare for the successful implementation.  As business and community leaders, it is important that we show our support for their work.  As parents and families, let’s work to be engaged in supporting our schools and being part of the success of this effort.  

We live in a diverse and changing world. I once heard it stated that in America we are only equal in one way -”our ability to be unequal.”  It may be a true statement, but unlike many other nations, every child in our country is equal in one important way; there is an opportunity for a free public education.  As an educator in the State of Tennessee for more 35 years, it is my belief that this is our one common dominator to make it possible for our children to achieve their biggest dreams.  It is, therefore, our responsibility to make our educational system “world class.” Our children deserve no less.

Dr. Nancy Dishner

Executive Vice President

Niswonger Foundation

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