Last month, education rankings were released by the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and students in the United States did not fare well. Administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) every three years, the rankings provide a snapshot of how students in 65 countries measure up to one another.
Among 65 countries and localities, students in the United States slipped from 11th to 21st in reading, 20th to 24th in science, and 25th to 31st in math. Similarly, among the OECD countries, the U.S. ranks 17th in reading, 21st in science, and 26th in math. The inference is that U.S. student achievement remains flat, while other countries continue to improve and pass us by.
What is unique about the PISA exams is that they do not measure student knowledge, but rather the application of knowledge to solve problems in the real world. Sound familiar? This is the basis of the Common Core State Standards - for students to become better problem solvers. Instead of rote memorization, Common Core is intended to challenge students to think critically, comprehend the "why," and gain a deeper understanding of material.
There has been a lot of information written about Common Core in recent weeks, particularly from those questioning the implementation of these new standards in our schools. Is it just another federal program that will mandate what we teach in our local schools and just cause more headaches and problems for our teachers and school administrators without really producing any results?
The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors recently voted to support the Common Core State Standards because we believe they will help to improve education outcomes in our schools and make our students more globally competitive. Having our students rank in the middle of 65 countries is not going to help make our children succeed in obtaining the kinds of careers we all want for our children.
The Chamber has been involved in education for many years in partnership with our region's four public school districts. Our focus has been and continues to be on linking the business community with public schools to ensure that high school students are prepared for careers - whether that means going directly into a career following high school or going into college first. We are involved because having a qualified, skilled workforce is the No. 1 concern of area employers - not only having the skills needed today but going into the future.
Thanks to the recent successes of Boeing, Benefitfocus, PeopleMatter, Clemson and others, as well as rankings by Conde Nast, our region is in direct competition with communities around the globe. We are becoming a world-class economy and in order to maintain our success, we have to transform education outcomes in our schools and prepare our children for success. The Common Core State Standards will help to do that.
Laura Varn, vice president of Santee Cooper, is chair of the Education Foundation Board of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.