Guest column: Ratcheting up expectations

Results from Massachusetts and Connecticut tell us our children can compete with the rest of the world, writes Debu Majumdar.

In the last International PISA test for 15-year-olds, Massachusetts paid to receive its own ratings as if it were a country. As I mentioned in my last column, it was fourth in the world in reading, seventh in science and 10th in math. The U.S. average was 17th in reading, 21st in science and 26th in math.

Massachusetts achieved this excellence through high academic standards, accountability for students and teachers to meet those standards and consistently pushing over many years to raise the educational level of all students in the state. Its two requirements drew my attention:

(1) High school graduation requires a competency determination. Students must pass a test covering English, math and science - developed with input from teachers and school and district leaders with an emphasis on input from teachers on what they think students should know and be able to do. This ensures a uniform standard across the state and assures that the graduates will have the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and at work.

(2) Educators are required to pass a test for educator licensure and meet other requirements. The test concentrates less on pedagogy and skills such as establishing self-esteem and focuses almost exclusively on content knowledge. Does the teacher know the content he or she will be teaching?

Connecticut also achieved similar scores. The achievements of these two states prove that U.S. students can succeed if high standards for students and teachers are enforced.

In Idaho, the standards (and expectations) have gradually gone down. Many of our graduates need college remediation classes. If students are not ready, we shouldn’t simply pass them to higher grades and graduate them.

The standards must be raised, starting with elementary schools. It will take time, but like President Kennedy’s 10-year goal of reaching the moon, there has to be a determined push for improvement.

Some in Idaho do not like the high expectations of Common Core standards; indeed you cannot suddenly expect high school students to acquire the required expertise when standards have been low for so long. However, raising the standard is necessary so our children are competitively educated and have the knowledge and skills expected of students from other states. Otherwise, they will not succeed in college or at work.

There is no boundary in education. That is why people from other states, even other countries, can do the jobs at Idaho National Laboratory. If Idahoans are afraid of the Common Core standards, they have much more to fear from the world. The PISA results give us clear signals. If two states can achieve the world standard, we should also aim for that. What future will Idaho children have if they can’t even compete with children from other states?