Ford: Common Core – A Path To Success

The Tennessean
Common Core: a path to success
October 11, 2014
By Harold Ford Jr.

In Tennessee, the growing and unfortunate disconnect between workers and job readiness is causing some of the state’s biggest employers — Volkswagen, Nissan and Bridgestone, to name a few — to set up and pay for their own education programs to help employees get the basic skills they need to work.

According to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, by 2021 Nashville is estimated to have more than 35,000 job openings that will be hard to fill — even though there are more than 220,000 Tennesseans unemployed today. And why? you might ask. Simply put, there won’t be enough skilled or credentialed workers in the area to fill them.

The problem of not educating enough skilled and career-ready workers isn’t Tennessee’s alone.

Across the nation, far too many high school graduates are not adequately prepared for college or the workforce. According to the most recent global education survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. now ranks 29th in math proficiency, having fallen behind Vietnam and Russia. In reading proficiency, we dropped from 10th to 20th. Equally astounding, in the face of these declines, the U.S. spends more today on education than any other developed nation. We deserve better results.

At a time when the collective focus should be squarely on doing all we can to make Tennessee students and workers college- and career-ready, the worst kind of politics is at work. A loud and politically motivated chorus is urging Gov. Bill Haslam and the legislature to abandon a set of state-designed and implemented education standards, based on the Common Core, that have helped produce enormous gains in ACT scores among high school juniors.

Last year alone, Tennessee’s fourth- and eighth-graders made the biggest improvements in math and reading in the country. It is hard to quarrel with that. But as of late, opponents across Tennessee of Common Core are not only quarreling, but also distorting the facts.

First, Common Core isn’t a federally mandated program. Common Core was started in 2007 through a state-led effort from the National Governors Association. Common Core establishes a floor of uniform standards that must be met regardless of the curriculum a state decides to adopt. Tennessee adopted the standards in 2010 and since then has been writing curriculum based on the standards and working with teachers through professional development to introduce the Common Core into classrooms, with obvious success.

Second, the standards aren’t unfair to teachers. If the standards are unfair to teachers, it raises the question: What is unfair about helping teachers improve classroom outcomes so that students learn multiplication, read Shakespeare and can explain the difference between the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence? What is unfair about making sure our kids know decimals, learn the Gettysburg Address and are familiar with the works of Mark Twain, including the great American classic “Huckleberry Finn”?

I would hope nothing.

Finally, by better equipping students for the workforce — and life — the standards will help reduce costs for remedial education, especially for Tennessee employers. And while the transition to the standards may be challenging, our classrooms have never had the clarity, coherence, depth and academic rigor the Common Core offers. The continued adoption of these standards is the first step in returning our education system to the envy of the world — and in making Tennessee graduates among the best business and workforce leaders in the nation.

Harold Ford Jr. is a former U.S. representative from Tennessee’s 9th District.

Ford: Don’t Fear Common Core Standards — Embrace Them

The Commercial Appeal: Guest Column
Don’t fear Common Core standards — embrace them
October 12, 2014
By Harold Ford Jr.

Novelist William Faulkner once wrote, “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do.” His words are fitting for the education system today.

For too long we have let expectations in the classroom languish and now face the reality that an unacceptable rate of students are graduating from high school unprepared for college or a career. It’s time we make high education standards a priority to help students achieve to their full potential.

Nothing better equips a young person to live a full and productive life than access to a quality education, and nothing benefits society as much as an education system that caters equally to individuals of every race, religion and upbringing.

Sadly, disparities across America’s classrooms, including those in Memphis, often predetermine a child’s chances of receiving a first-rate education. Even worse, one of the strongest tools we have to address this reality, high education standards, has become so embroiled in political gamesmanship nationally that it has taken a back seat to the political tides of the moment.

Common Core standards, which are being implemented in Tennessee schools with impressive results, have experienced an unusual push-back in recent months, led by a small but vocal group of activists from the extremes of both political parties.

Those on the right conjure up concerns about federal overreach; on the left, teachers unions worry about the level of accountability to which the standards will hold them. Both fears are misplaced.

Some facts are important to this discussion. First, Common Core Standards were written through a collaboration led by the National Governors Association along with local and national education experts from across the country. The process invited public participation and built in room for states to expand upon them further to ensure classrooms maintain their autonomy and local control. In short, this is not a federally written set of standards.

Second, teachers are rightly concerned about how the adjustment will affect performance evaluations. For that reason, many of the prominent backers of the standards have endorsed a two-year moratorium during which students’ performances on Common Core-aligned tests will not affect teacher reviews. Such an adjustment period makes sense for teachers and students alike. It should be adopted.

Now, in schools across our state, Common Core Standards are having a real and positive impact. This year Tennessee’s average ACT score made the biggest gains since the state began testing students. Our jump was tied for the largest in the country. Last year, Tennessee’s fourth- and eighth-grade students made the biggest improvement in the country in math and reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Tennessee education leaders, including the state’s education commissioner, attribute the success to the rigorous standards in place since transitioning to the Common Core in 2010.

Common Core has phased into classrooms in Tennessee for the past three years, but the legislature has delayed student testing based on Common Core standards.

There is still a long way to go. Less than 20 percent of students who took the ACT test in Tennessee were proficient in all four subject areas: English, math, reading and science. And while Latino and African-American graduation rates have steadily increased and the dropout rate among Hispanic students is at an all-time low, African-American and Hispanic students continue to face achievement challenges in classrooms across our state. And, higher standards and increased accountability in the classroom are important elements to improving proficiency for all students.

Further, the fact that Tennessee continues to fall in the back of the pack when it comes to K-12 reading and math scores and to trail national college-readiness scores is simply unacceptable. Our students and teachers are as talented as any in the country. There’s no reason we shouldn’t expect more from our schools and get more from our kids.

In fact, the benefits of better education outcomes reach far beyond the student; they have a ripple effect throughout communities. Better schools produce smarter graduates, who in turn earn and create higher-paying jobs.

Finally, I am not opposed to fixing Common Core where it needs to be fixed. But to those who wish to scrap the standards for pure political purposes, it’s time for this group to quiet down and step aside — unless you’re offering something to make our schools better and students more college- and job-ready.

Harold Ford Jr. is a former U.S. representative for Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District, which includes Memphis.

Ford: Raising Standards in New York’s Schools

New York Post
Raising Standards in New York’s Schools
June 27, 2014
By Harold Ford Jr.

Every so often a public-policy issue emerges in which the politics of the moment eclipses the substance of the issue itself.

So seems to be the case with Common Core State Standards, the state-led education reform initiative that has strong support in the broad political middle, but passionate opposition on the far left and the far right.

Providing every young American with an equal chance at a good education regardless of where she grows up shouldn’t be a partisan ideal. It should be a constant American pursuit.

Democrats and Republicans alike face fractures within their ranks between moderates and ideologues, and some of the most vocal criticism of Common Core has come from the party extremes. Tea Partiers elicit fears of a federal takeover; teachers unions warn of unmanageable classroom burdens.

In the middle, many parents raise legitimate concerns about what implementation of high, consistent standards will mean for their child, and about what the changes will mean in practice.

In fact, the answer to those questions is uniform and compellingly simple: Common Core adoption means better schools, smarter students and a stronger America.

The more than 40 states working to implement Common Core Standards and student assessments aligned with them need strong and steady leadership to stay focused on meaningful education reform amid all the partisan ­rancor.

And New York seems to have found it in John King, the state education commissioner.
This month, King reiterated his commitment to high education standards.

“We have an opportunity to move away from the political debates that have distracted us for the last year,” he recently told a group of community leaders.

He has mobilized moderates — the individuals whose voices often go unheard — and encouraged everyday parents to push back against the bold and false claims often advanced from the fringe.

Effectively, King has doubled down on Common Core.

In recent weeks, he set to touring the state, listening to teachers and students, talking with parents and engaging ­business owners.

He correctly pointed out the challenge is especially difficult, because it requires simultaneously raising the bar on education standards and implementing the reform in 700 districts across the state.

“It’s going to require adjustments along the way,” he points out.

The implementation in New York hasn’t been perfect. Nor would one expect it to be. There have been hiccups along the way, and there will be more.

But contrary to our opponents’ take, Common Core works.

Abandoning Common Core now would squander the progress that has been made over the past four years, and create even taller hurdles for students, teachers and parents.

There is too much riding on the success of Common Core implementation to return to a set of inferior standards.

This spring, new performance data found high-school graduation rates reached 80 percent nationally, marking a notable improvement.

Still and lamentably, almost one out of three graduates today cannot pass the basic military entrance exam, and 60 percent of first-year college students require remediation.

We have to do better if we want a workforce that can sustain the US economy as the envy of the world.

The purpose of the Standards is to pull up academics in underperforming school districts and create a level playing field to help ensure that all students have a fair chance to succeed, no matter where they grow up.

It is past time for reasonable and sober minds to come together, shelve the silliness and make Common Core work for our kids and their future.

Equal opportunity is an American ideal, not a partisan one.

Harold Ford Jr., a former Democratic congressman from Tennessee, is a professor of public policy at New York ­University.

Ford: This is the only way Democrats can hold onto the Senate

The Washington Post
This is the only way Democrats can hold onto the Senate
May 29, 2014
By Harold Ford Jr.

Halfway through President Obama’s first term, Democrats lost 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate, reaffirming the widely held belief that a sitting president’s party almost always suffers losses in Congress during midterm elections. But Democrats have an opportunity to defy history this time around.

If there is a single issue that can help Democrats avoid the midterm curse and even gain ground this election, it is the energy renaissance that the president has quietly helped engineer by supporting the most diverse energy portfolio in history. As a result of these efforts, millions of new jobs have been created across the energy sector, a trend that allows Democrats to play offense in the upcoming election instead of simply having to deflect Republican criticism over the state of the economy.

Yes, there are factions within our party that have long been wary of the energy industry. But Democrats would be wise to avoid the all-or-nothing approach of ideologues. Instead, Democrats should take the lead in championing strategies that attempt to build upon the energy sector’s successes, including long-overdue policies that would help transform America into a major global energy supplier.

Consider what is happening in the area of natural gas development. Since 2007, there has been a 50 percent increase in U.S. shale oil and gas production. Prices have dropped and stockpiles have grown; and entire regions of the country have been revitalized. It has shored up the U.S. economy at a critical moment, putting Americans back to work, powering industry and drawing manufacturing back to domestic soil.

Hundreds of American companies—including household names like Ford, GE, and Whirlpool—whose business was once considered lost to more competitive markets have begun to re-shore their operations here at home. Now as we look to broaden the benefits of our energy renaissance, exporting excess supplies of natural gas would help continue this streak of innovation and expansive job growth.

But sadly, this growth threatens to stall, largely because of the bureaucratic apathy of regulators in Washington. Only seven permits to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) have been approved by the Department of Energy; and of them, only one site has received the green light to begin construction. Twenty-four applications still await review at the agency, where they have sat for months—and in some cases years. If we simply expand our access to export markets, this abundant resource can help the United States create more jobs, incentivize additional growth and even foster greater stability in global markets.

Why hold back on this historic moment? The jobs that natural gas has already created—1.7 million, by some estimates—are reviving the heart of small town America. States like Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are rapidly expanding production. Industries like steel and shipbuilding, dormant only a few years ago, are growing again. Experts predict LNG exports will generate as much as $73 billion in GDP, which, under the right policies, can be sustained for decades.

Domestically, we are relying less and less on the whim of other nations for energy. The United States was 87 percent self-sufficient for energy needs in the first half of 2013. President Obama said himself that energy independence is within reach, thanks to natural gas. There is no lack of global demand. In the wake of the turmoil in Ukraine, for example, many of our European allies have pleaded for increased energy support. We should not bottle up these resources at home when we can use them as strong diplomatic leverage abroad, where Russia’s thinly veiled regional ambitions have put this issue center stage.

Democrats should take the lead in driving legislation that has already been introduced in Congress to expedite energy exports.

This would allow the party to achieve a notable accomplishment in advance of the elections: a sound strategy for job growth, energy development, and foreign policy. After all, many Democrats, primarily electorally vulnerable ones from energy-producing states, are under pressure to demonstrate that they can deliver energy projects that produce jobs, particularly after the administration delayed its decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

America is now an energy power player. However, we have yet to fully realize the expansive benefits of this new reality. But we can place ourselves on that path. We can start with energy exports—for the good of our party and, more important, our country.

Harold served five terms in the U.S. Congress representing the 9th district of Tennessee. First elected in 1996, Harold served on the House Financial Services, Budget and Education Committees while in Congress. In addition, Harold was a member and leader of the Blue Dog Democrats in Congress, and was active with the Democratic Leadership Council. Currently, Harold teaches part-time at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service, and is a frequent contributor to NBC News. Ford is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ford: U.S. Economic Growth Requires Vision, Leadership

Huffington Post Politics: The Blog
U.S. Economic Growth Requires Vision, Leadership
July 26, 2013
By Harold Ford Jr.

It’s been five years since the height of the Great Recession, yet America, in many ways, is still trying to regain its footing. Americans are searching for a vision to rise above what has become a divided and dysfunctional government that doesn’t seem capable of addressing our challenges and giving us confidence in our future. All is not lost.

Our past is replete with examples of leaders who articulated a bigger vision that moved us forward. JFK did it when he challenged the country to send a man to the moon in a decade. Reagan did it when he challenged Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate. In both instances, these men injected the country with confidence to reach a goal.

The most recent leader to articulate a vision is not in the U.S., but rather in Japan, our strongest ally in the Pacific. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who won a ringing parliamentary majority this weekend, is reversing more than a decade of deflation and decline in his country by abandoning that country’s incremental approach and instead calling for a strong dose of new fiscal and monetary policies.

Maintaining our position as the globe’s largest and most dynamic economy requires the same sort of go-big approach.

Balancing the budget or reducing student loan interest rates are important policies but they will do little to galvanize public opinion in a meaningful way. We are confronted now — as a country — with an array of obstacles that can only be overcome if we address them together.

Although structural fissures have long been evident in the U.S. economy, America is now facing historic economic problems that far exceed any standard cyclical fluctuations. We have two million fewer jobs than we did when the Great Recession began five years ago. Labor-force participation — which dropped from 67.3 percent in 2000 to 63.4 percent in May 2013 — is at a 34-year low. Anemic investment, seismic demographic shifts, and a near-halt in productivity growth are like water in the fuel tank of our once-mighty engine of economic growth.

The old economy is gone. So, if we aren’t content to simply manage our decline — passively watching as we fall further and farther behind our international competitors, and our standard of living continues to regress — and I sure hope we are not, then our political class should embrace a “new economy,” one that features deep structural changes to accommodate our need to rely further upon innovation and higher value goods and services. And, we should demand they lead us there.

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the business and economics research division of McKinsey & Company, has just released a study — Game Changers: Five Opportunities for U.S. Growth and Renewal — that offers a smart and detailed plan for achieving sustained growth — a blueprint, if you will, for “that vision thing.”

Any politician willing to reject the petty, narrow focus so dominant in Washington these days could swiftly demonstrate seriousness and the courage to “go big” simply by adopting these five pillars upon which a new American economy could grow and prosper:

1) Embrace an energy plan that continues to aggressively utilize shale and natural gas production. Thanks to technological advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the production of domestic shale gas and oil has grown 51 percent annually since 2007. The result has been lower prices, more jobs, higher wages — and often for those who lack a college degree — economic growth not only for the oil and gas industry, but also for the businesses that rely upon it, and, renewed investment in geographic regions of America that haven’t had any in a long time. McKinsey estimates that natural gas development could add as much as $690 billion a year to our GDP, create as many as 1.7 million jobs across the economy by 2020, and potentially reduce net energy imports to zero.

2) Augment trade competitiveness in “knowledge-intensive goods,” like cars, commercial airliners, medical devises, electronics, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Despite having once been the undisputed world leader in technological innovation and scientific research, the U.S. is now “one of the only advanced economies in the world that runs a trade deficit” in this sector. Our political leaders need to commit to ensuring that America is once again the “best place to do business.” Reinvigorated streams of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will follow, and, McKinsey estimates, so will $590 billion in annual GDP growth and 1.8 million new jobs by 2020.

3) Utilize “big-data analytics” as a productivity tool. We now live in an overwhelmingly “wired” world where every commercial transaction, medical procedure, legal encounter, Internet journey, and social media interaction generates an enormous, and permanent, data record. And, of course, we have cameras, sensors, bar codes, microchips and transmitters embedded within the entire fabric of our life-scenery. Major advances in computing and analytics can “transform this sea of data into insights that create operational efficiencies,” says, McKinsey. They will also result in an increase in annual GDP by up to $325 billion and “save as much as $285 billion in the cost of health care and government services” by 2020.

We’ve seen how the Internet has transformed our economy over the past couple of decades. This is large part because of the light regulatory touch that the Clinton Administration had during the Internet’s formative years that unleashed private investment and innovation. That’s something we need to continue — just last week, the Progressive Policy Institute released a paper that outlined the importance of making sure regulation doesn’t get in the way of progress on the Internet to make sure we get everyone connected and maximize the Internet’s societal benefits in areas like health care, education and sustainability.

4) Investing In Infrastructure Now Will Pay Future Dividends for Decades. This was a common refrain during the last election, but has achieved very little attention since. The backlog of maintenance and upgrades for America’s roads, highways, bridges, transit and water systems is “reaching critical levels.” McKinsey estimates we must increase our annual infrastructure investment by one percentage point of GDP to “erase this competitive disadvantage.” By 2020, that could mean more than 1.8 million jobs, and a boost to annual GDP by up to $320 billion. That impact could grow to “$600 billion annually by 2030 if the selection, delivery, and operation of infrastructure investments improve.”

5) Commit to developing more home-grown talent. We can no longer accept the decades-decline of our educational system, and the loss of our skill advantages. We should expand “industry-specific training,” and produce more graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math to create a more competitive workforce. These measures, and others devoted to enhancing the K-12 experience, could raise GDP by as much as $265 billion by 2020 — and “achieve a dramatic ‘liftoff’ effect by 2030,” with an addition $1.7 trillion added to annual GDP.

McKinsey concludes that by 2030, the “economic impact of these five game changers could approach $2 trillion,” and that immediate, as well as longer-term positive economic impact will result. This plan can get us going now, and increase our competitiveness and productivity “well beyond 2020.”

Famed Notre Dame President Fr. Theodore Hesberg once said that when it comes to leadership and vision, “You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” We face a pivotal moment and the American people are ready to respond to a clarion call from our elected officials marshal resources in the new economy. The question now is are our leaders ready?

Ford: For Fiscal Health, Embrace Simpson-Bowles

The Wall Street Journal
A Symposium: Democratic Advice for Obama’s Second Term
September 4, 2012

With Barack Obama about to secure his party’s presidential nomination, we asked several Democrats—Andy Stern, Gavin Newsom, Frances Beinecke, Rob Andrews, Harold Ford, William Galston, Andrew Rotherham, Theda Skocpol and Michèle Flournoy—to outline their recommendations for an Obama second-term agenda.

Ford: For Fiscal Health, Embrace Simpson-Bowles
By Harold Ford, Jr.

President Obama should focus on three key priorities when re-elected:

First, he should offer Simpson-Bowles as a template for long-term deficit reduction and broad tax reform. This would entail compromising with Republicans and supporting a lower corporate tax rate that keeps marginal rates constant. It also means closing loopholes enjoyed by relatively few taxpayers (such as capping the mortgage-interest deduction at $500,000, and scaling back the charitable deduction) while standing firm to protect middle-class tax cuts and health care for the working poor. The president should call for raising the Social Security retirement age and means-testing Medicare benefits to bring entitlement spending under control.

Second, it’s time for a moratorium on new regulations. The business community—especially overregulated industries like broadband and energy—are poised to unleash a new era of American growth. But businesses fear what government might do to them. Fear is bad for the economy. Certainty is the antidote to fear. The president has the power to provide that confidence.

Finally, President Obama should establish a public-private Infrastructure Bank. From new airports and subway lines in places like New York to new school buildings, bridges and technology incubators in places like Memphis, Tenn., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we can achieve the twin goals of creating jobs and rebuilding the country’s dilapidated infrastructure. And by harnessing the best of the private sector alongside the investment of taxpayers, we can do this efficiently and quickly.

Mr. Ford, a former U.S. congressman from Tennessee, is a visiting professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.

Ford: The president’s achievements may be overshadowed by high gas prices

The Wall Street Journal
The president’s achievements may be overshadowed by high gas prices
March 20, 2012
By Harold Ford, Jr.

President Obama’s successes are unappreciated and his accomplishments are being ignored. Unemployment is down, manufacturing is up, and the stock market has nearly doubled since March 2009.

He ended our combat mission in Iraq, helped bring about an end to Libyan tyrant Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, and took out Osama bin Laden.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama won’t get the credit he deserves unless he wins his next big contest. Given a still fragile recovery and rising gas prices, that won’t be easy.

The president kicked off the year with a number of strong initiatives including a plan to cut the corporate tax rate. It was a great start, but it doesn’t go far enough and it could end up costing many American companies like FedEx, Apple and Caterpillar even more money. That’s because his plan eliminates many tax deductions on foreign-based income these companies currently receive.

Instead, the president should consider joining virtually every other industrialized nation by moving to a territorial tax system, which would tax income in the country in which it was earned and eliminate the threat of double taxation. This would help U.S. companies compete overseas and bring their profits home.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama also has correctly pointed out that developing our nation’s oil and gas resources is an important part of an “all of the above” energy strategy. This begins with developing the oil off our shores and the shale gas that is trapped in rocks deep below the Earth’s surface. States like North Dakota and Pennsylvania are at the epicenter of the shale boom that has brought tremendous job growth to these areas.

But in New York, residents are missing out on shale’s potential as environmentalists tie regulators in knots and use half-truths and hyperbole to convince local officials to ban hydraulic fracturing. These actions only undermine efforts that would bring jobs to rural communities and fund critical local needs like police officers and education. The president should make the promise—and safety—of natural gas a pillar of his energy stump speech as he campaigns nationwide, highlighting for concerned citizens the critical role this fuel must play in our economic future.

The United States is the world leader in refining crude oil into usable products like diesel, gasoline and jet fuel. Last year we were even a net exporter of petroleum products. Our strength here is unmistakable—and it brings us to the inescapable political issue for the campaign season: gas prices.

The price of gasoline at the pump is most acutely influenced by the price of crude oil on the world market. Current external forces, including unrest in the Middle East and a weaker U.S. dollar, are causing crude to hover over $100 a barrel. Consequently, gasoline prices are up and at their highest level ever for this time of year. And high gasoline prices have the ability to stop our economic recovery in its tracks.

The president has announced that he will open more of U.S. federal land and offshore areas to oil exploration and development. This is an important step, but he needs to do more—specifically, he should reconsider his Keystone pipeline decision.

Despite several years of study and a favorable State Department analysis, the administration has rejected Keystone XL’s application for a construction permit. This pipeline could bring an additional 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the U.S. Instead, the project is in limbo.

Mr. Obama should also work with our leading energy companies instead of fighting them. Domestic energy companies contribute to our economy, support millions of American jobs and retirement accounts, and some, like Exxon Mobil, are investing in the energy solutions of tomorrow like fuel from algae. Yet the president continues to use them as his rhetorical foil.

Calling for higher taxes may bring applause at partisan political events. But it won’t lower energy prices.

We can’t wave a magic wand to bring gasoline prices down. But increasing domestic crude oil development will reduce our reliance on energy from unstable parts of the world. That, and a healthy petroleum refining sector, will help mitigate price spikes that hurt our economy.

And these pro-growth policies will help Mr. Obama notch his second win.

Mr. Ford, a former Democratic congressman from Tennessee, is a professor of public policy at New York University.

More Davids Than Goliaths: A Political Education by Harold Ford, Jr.

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