A little over a week ago we participated in a conference convened by the National Urban League and Educational Testing Service.  The conference examined the new state-led Common Core State Standards and Assessments, which are supported by foundations and the federal government. The Common Core State Standards describe the new minimum mathematics and literacy knowledge and skills that children are expected to acquire and perform from kindergarten through 12th grade.


 Forty-six states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories have adopted the Common Core State Standards. These states and territories consider the standards to represent what students should know and be able to do in order to be ready for careers and for college when they graduate from high school. The Common Core State Standards are more rigorous than prior state educational standards and will soon be accompanied by new assessments that elicit a higher level of academic behavior and performance (i.e., less multiple choice questions in favor of more writing, problem solving, critical thinking, argumentation and explanation). The Common Core Assessments are currently being developed and pre-tested, and are scheduled to be administered to students in 2014.

What seems to be least developed in the new era of standards and assessments is a plan for raising the performance and achievement of disadvantaged children. Underserved students of color, especially black students, rank the lowest on all assessments of academic achievement in the United States. This fact is not because of a lack of talent and intellectual capacity, but rather the need for better quality teaching and learning experiences, better schools and out-of-school experiences, and some would argue different types of standards and assessments. Unless there is a strategy for improving the teaching and learning of this population of students, we are likely to squander the opportunity that new standards and assessments might offer to improve the educational lives of disadvantaged children.

Teachers who are currently in the workforce and college students who are training to become teachers will need to learn the new standards, participate in creating curricula to represent the standards, and learn how to teach and coach students to meet the new standards. This transition promises to present a challenge to all teachers, but especially for teachers whose students have been struggling and failing to meet previous state standards.

As a population group, African-American children and their teachers face the largest challenges to achieve the standards and may require the biggest investment of resources.  Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have produced nearly half of the African-American teachers for the United States and a large share of these are the teachers of African-American children. The teacher training curricula and faculty of HBCUs, like other colleges and universities, need to ensure that the teachers they are producing are prepared to achieve the new Common Core State Standards with K-12 students in the nation’s schools. This will require a renewed focus by HBCUs on their role in preparing and producing high quality K-12 teachers and, in some cases, this will necessitate new investments into the quality of teacher training programs at HBCUs.

As President Obama and Congress negotiate the next round of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), in addition to using assessments for ensuring that teaching is of high quality, they should consider investing in the quality of teacher education programs at HBCUs. HBCUs provide rich environments for producing black teachers, and we need to nurture and support these environments wholeheartedly. Without these investments, we will lose ground in producing high quality African American teachers.  Why would we waste our precious national resources?

Marybeth Gasman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of “Fundraising at HBCUs: An All Campus Approach” (Routledge, 2011) and “Understanding Minority-Serving Institutions” (State University of New York Press, 2008). Michael T. Nettles is a Senior Vice President and Edmund W. Gordon Chair at ETS.  Much of his research and scholarship are devoted to understanding and addressing the challenges of education access and quality, and their relationship to inequality and social mobility across racial and ethnic groups and social classes in the U.S. and abroad.

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