How is it possible that our educational standards are so low? During Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia’s Monday visit to Steamboat, we heard that 30 percent of children finishing third grade in Colorado can’t read proficiently. Granted, that is a problem at the state level. That is not, however, our problem here in Steamboat, where our test results show we are well ahead of the state standards for reading and math. We have done a great job meeting the bar of proficiency; kudos to our local teachers and administrators. Our problem is accepting this standard as good enough.
The world is turning quickly now, and it seems the public school system in Colorado is being left behind. We continue to look for ways to close gaps between underachieving groups like English Language Learners when we should be looking at the gap in skills between our public schools and those in China, Korea, India or even the private school next door. If we are accepting of merely proficient in the basics as our standard of excellence, we will watch sadly as our children fail to get into college. Almost 30 percent of college applicants are now foreign born, and they are becoming a tough crowd to beat in terms of academic achievement.
Proficiency in reading and math alone as a standard is like saying my child is a great skier because he/she knows how to put his boots on. Yes, it is a requirement, but it is only the first step toward real achievement and being a well-rounded student.
Twenty-first Century Skills offer a set of tools that will help us craft well-rounded students who can compete with global standards. Thankfully, these skill sets are becoming part of the discussion in public schools with 17 states formally adopting this initiative (Colorado is not one of them). Unfortunately, the awareness is happening almost 10 years late, and we need to catch up. I am hopeful that the new director of curriculum to be hired is aware of these new skill sets.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills (www.ps21.org) provides an easy framework for those interested. These skills include the 4 C’s of critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, collaboration and communication (written and oral). They include technology and media skills, global and environmental awareness, leadership and organizational skills. When do we start these subjects and programming? The first day of first grade.
If the state of Colorado is stuck on working toward proficiency in reading by the end of third grade, we’re going to have to raise the bar ourselves in our community, with our own leadership, our own money and our own effort. Our schools can reflect the excellence that our Steamboat community represents, but we need to set our standards a lot higher first.
Parent, Steamboat Springs