Current Research and Practice
Nearly all state standards and performance expectations are inadequate relative to what students should know and be able to do in today’s global economy. Each time an international assessment is released—such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)—countless news stories and analysts point out the number of countries whose students outscore the United States.
Even the widely accepted NAEP, used since 1969, demonstrates an example of the stark differences in achievement on states’ tests used for NCLB accountability with NAEP. This example, using the state of Tennessee, shows a 67% difference in reading proficiencies and a 65% gap in math proficiencies. Tennessee is not unique in this instance. The Center for American Progress and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for a Competitive Workforce issued the 2007 report, Leaders and Laggards, with similar findings for many states. In May 2011, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce published The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, a 50-state snapshot comparing education in nine categories. In the “student achievement” category, all 50 states were rated “ugly,” based on the fact that no state had more than 60% of its students proficient on the 2009 NAEP fourth and eighth grade reading and math exams.
Education research has consistently shown that high expectations and rigorous standards are critical to achieving positive academic achievement outcomes. Studies have confirmed that if students aren't challenged in what they are expected to know and how well they demonstrate this knowledge, they will not achieve the levels necessary to be college-and career-ready. The variability in the quality of state standards puts some students at a disadvantage.
Increasingly, experts are concerned that students are either not prepared for or are not pursuing postsecondary education. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, two-thirds of new jobs over the next decade are expected to be filled by workers with at least some postsecondary education.
Or as the U.S. Department of Education puts it, “60 percent of the new jobs that will emerge in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20 percent of the current workforce.”
Students held to different goals in different states may be hindered in pursuing employment or college admission in states with higher expectations. Or once they are admitted to college, students who thought they were prepared may struggle and require costly remediation. The Harvard Graduate School of Education recently published Pathways to Prosperity, which argues for a shift in how schools prepare students for the future. It notes that 7 in 10 Americans don’t earn a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s. Only slightly more than 20% of students who enroll in community colleges obtain a two-year associate degree after three years.
Eighty-seven percent of new high-wage jobs will require more than a high school diploma. CCSS is intended to help ensure that all students are held to a set of uniform high standards tied to college and career readiness and are prepared to fill the high-wage jobs of the future.
The economic impact of denying today’s students adequate preparation to be tomorrow’s workforce can be devastating not only for our nation but also for our communities. For example, if America’s low-performing states performed on par with high-performing states on NAEP, in 2008 the United States would have had $425 billion to $700 billion in higher economic output, or 3% to 5% of GDP. At a local level, if half of the estimated 70,900 students who dropped out in the Los Angeles metropolitan area had graduated in 2008, they would have earned an additional annual combined income of $389 million. This increased income would have likely produced an increase of $273 million in spending and $103 million in investment. CCSS, if implemented as designed, is intended to respond to these challenges by holding students to the higher expectations needed to reverse these negative trends and boost the economy while ensuring that all students in our nation benefit from these high expectations.