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At its core, a political and practical ideal

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush opened his national education conference in San Francisco today with an impassioned plea for national Common Core Standards, reminding us of both their relevance and broad political acceptance.

Bush’s conference, the National Summit on Education Reform, has become one of the country’s top venues for education reform and a place where ideas are increasingly attracting bipartisan attention. His support of national standards is hardly new, of course, and reflects the foundation on which he built his A+ Education Plan in Florida. There, he employed “Sunshine State Standards” to drive a plan that then used tests not only to assure the progress of students but also to grade the performance of public schools. “What gets measured,” he often says, “gets done.”

Among the examples Bush used was that of writing. Most states now teach and test writing in strikingly superficial ways. They ask students to write about personal experiences, their family, their travel, their likes and dislikes. But the Common Core Standards, now adopted by 46 states, aspire to do much more. Even fifth-graders are required to “support a point of view with reasons and information, to introduce a topic or text clearly …. to provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.” By high school, a student is expected to “introduce a topic and organize complex ideas, concepts and information so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole” and to use “relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.”

These are skills that will help a student succeed not only in college but also in a work world that increasingly depends on people who can synthesize and communicate complex information. Bush certainly knows that.

These standards give some federalists heartburn, of course, which is why it is so important to see a prominent Republican conservative make the case so forcefully. Bush also makes the distinction in how standards are implemented that should provide common ground for common standards. “It is good for our nation to embrace these kinds of standards,” he said. “But for the solutions we need to let states determine their own path.”

Politicos may call that threading the needle, but educators should embrace it for its practicality.

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BY Jon East

Jon East is special projects director for Step Up For Students. Previously, he was a member of the editorial board and the Sunday commentary editor at the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest daily newspaper, where he wrote about education issues for most of his 28 years at the paper. He was also a reporter and editor at the Evening Independent and Ocala Star-Banner. He earned a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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