By Dave Adkisson, James R. Allen and Stu Silberman (published in Louisville Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader)

Winning strong bipartisan support for a major initiative doesn’t happen all that often in Kentucky. But when it does, we can be certain that the matter at hand is of great significance.

That was the case in 2009, when Kentucky’s House and Senate – Democrats and Republicans – gave their support to legislation that set the state on a visionary course to become a leader in better preparing our students to succeed in college and career. Since then, Kentucky’s educators, advocates, students and community and business leaders have been working hard – and with considerable success – to implement and support the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.

While the state has finished its second round of testing on the new assessments developed to reflect the tougher standards, the college and career preparation of our students has shown measurable improvement, from 34 percent in 2009 to 47.2 percent in 2012.

And yet, some people would have Kentuckians believe that all of this has been bad news for our students and our state and now, three years after the fact, they are trying to politicize what Kentucky’s educators are teaching as they work to better prepare students to compete and succeed in life and the workplace.

Here are a couple of key questions: How many opponents of the standards have actually read them? Better yet, how many of them know what a standard is?

Simply put, a standard is just a sentence that specifies what a child should know and be able to do at the end of a school year. In kindergarten, for example, students are expected to be able to count to 100 and do basic addition and subtraction. By the end of grade 12, they should be able to read and comprehend literature that can be in the form of informational tests, history, social studies and other areas.

The state’s business community is no stranger to standards. Regardless of the type of industry or business, employees must meet certain expectations of performance and quality control to keep their jobs.

We also recognize what is good about the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, which is why we have been so vocal in our support of them and the teachers who are making them a reality in the state’s classrooms.

  • The standards reflect what students are expected to achieve in countries that have some of the world’s highest-performing education systems, meaning Kentucky students will be better equipped to compete in a global economy.
  • They establish the same expectations for academic mastery of subjects in the 40-plus states that have adopted them. This will let Kentucky parents truly know how their child is doing in comparison to other students in the same grade across the nation.
  • Perhaps one of the most significant facts about the standards – especially in view of the misinformation that is being spread about them – is they are not a curriculum. They are a set of common expectations for each grade. They do not dictate how teachers teach students to meet those expectations, what materials they must use or anything else about the local classroom. That is left up to local decision-making, as it should be.

As Conservatives for Higher Standards have noted, “The call – and need – for raising standards is not new. President Eisenhower called for clearer education standards in response to the Russians launching Sputnik. President Ronald Reagan oversaw the landmark ‘Nation at Risk’ report that found school standards were too low. By 2008, consensus formed among governors and chief state school officers that raising academic expectations was a shared imperative. The result was the Common Core State Standards initiative.” (The organization’s website includes an extensive list of supporters who provide a strong rationale for raising standards to ensure college and workforce readiness. http://highercorestandards.org/supporters/)

The standards were conceived by the states and for the states. The federal government wasn’t involved and, in fact, the effort began long before the current administration took office. Rather, it was the governor of a southern state – Jim Hunt of North Carolina – who started the discussion in 2006, engaging his colleagues through the National Governor’s Association to partner with the Council of Chief State School Officers. Kentucky was involved, and so were nearly four dozen other states.

Many of the arguments now being put forth by critics are based either on misinformation or manipulation of the facts. As partners in Business Leader Champions for Education and through our individual organizations, we urge Kentuckians to reject those arguments and join us in strongly supporting the continued efforts and excellent work of Kentucky educators to better prepare our students for the future.

Kentucky faces many challenges in the years ahead. We cannot afford to step away from the tougher academic standards and the opportunity they offer to create a world-class education system. That is exactly what Kentucky needs to give our students the strongest possible foundation for meeting those challenges and succeeding in life and work.

Dave Adkisson is president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. James R. Allen is CEO of Hilliard Lyons and chair of Business Leader Champions for Education. Stu Silberman is executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

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