Little League, Live Pitching and Education Standards

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This spring, my 9-year-old son decided he wanted to play Little League baseball, which means he'll now be facing a big transition in hitting expectations. At this level, all players are expected to hit live pitching. Throughout my son's youth baseball experience, he has advanced through a number of different skills stages - from hitting off the tee to coach pitching and now to live batting. And while these levels were designed to help players compete and play by the same rule book as major league players, anyone who has ever faced a live pitcher knows it will be an extremely tough transition.

We are also witnessing a similar change in our U.S. education system. A state-driven consensus led by Governors and State School Officers has coalesced on the conclusion that we must increase the learning expectations for our K-12 students to improve competitiveness. Some education reformers will even tell you that this is the biggest change in American education system in the last 40 years.

So how will they accomplish this?   Their plan is an upgrade of the basics, the English and math standards, commonly referred to as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  In other words, our students will be moving from t-ball to live pitching.

How did the Common Core State Standards Come to Be?

In 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School State Officers brought leading education experts, administrators, and parents together to design a consistent set of K-12 standards for mathematics and English language arts.  Their goal:  to achieve educational excellence through tougher expectations that move student learning to higher levels.  Prior to the Common Core State Standards initiative, school administrators in each state created 50 different sets of educational targets in K-12.  There was no single, common set of rigorous expectations for our children.  In a country that strives for fairness, equality and high achievement, the quality of education varied widely based largely on where students lived.

If that concept translated to Little League, then it's possible that kids in California would be required to play by a different rule book than kids in Kentucky.  Take strikeouts for example:  The California rules indicate that three strikes will result in a strikeout; in Kentucky, it's four.  Notice the challenge.

Following a more rigorous set of Common Core State Standards throughout America provides two direct benefits:  1) Providing clear and concise expectations for parents, teachers and students; and, 2) Raising student performance in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and mathematics.

With Change Comes Transition...

There will be a period of transition as the new Standards are implemented, understood, and assessed. Just as my son is learning to make contact and working on new hitting skills as a result of increased expectations in Little League, many students will also be asked to practice and demonstrate new skill sets. But it won't always be base hits and RBI's, occasionally my son will strike out. Similarly, many of our students may face new obstacles and challenges as the standards are introduced.

Depending on your home state and the curriculum being taught, some students won't have any trouble adjusting to the new Standards nor will teachers be forced to "dumb-down" their curriculum if it is already at a high level. For other students in other states, the new Standards might prove more challenging.

The Changes Impact Parents, too.

The kids aren't the only ones who will have to understand and adjust to the new changes in student expectations.  I would venture to guess that many parents with children in K-12 public schools haven't even heard about Common Core or are unfamiliar with the changes it will bring.  Intel recognizes this gap and has taken on the exciting challenge to host a series of open forums with our employees and educators in the states where we have sites.

 To date, we've held two open forums in California that have reached more than 750 employees with impressive results.  We asked audience participants to indicate their level of familiarity with Common Core and 52 percent of employees said they were not familiar with the initiative.  Furthermore, after the events we saw surge of support for Common Core increasing from 30 percent before the forum to 72 percent afterward.  Generally speaking, we've found that a majority of parents just don't know about CCSS, but, once they learn about it, they support it.

Additionally, we've developed communication resources for our parents.  We first audited local school district communication materials and concluded that language was not written in plain English, but rather in education jargon which most parents have never been exposed to.  So we reviewed over 30 additional documents including the PTA and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and found good source material to create a new set of parent tools, including an Intel Parent guide, list of local CCSS resources, and answers to frequently asked questions.

We know that the Common Core State Standards will bring about a big change for education and we also know that most parents are not aware of the changes that are coming. I fear that the lack of awareness will create additional and unnecessary challenges and a difficult environment for parents to work with schools.  The good news is that companies can help solve the awareness problem and contribute to the biggest change in American education in decades.  Therefore, I would like to ask ITI members to consider reaching out to their employees to help them understand the change.  Intel is willing to share resources, lessons learned and provide guidance.  The tech sector has nearly 6 million employees across the country; together, we can make a difference to help our children advance to new levels and succeed when faced with live pitching.

The author, Carlos Contreras, is the U.S. Education Director at the Intel Corporation.

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