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High academic standards help all students succeed

Publication date: Feb 23, 2017

by Cheryl Corpus

High academic standards are needed now more than ever.

Growing up in a rural, blue-collar town here in Michigan, I often struggled to understand my place in the community.

Being half-Filipino—my mom came to the United States from the Philippines when she was 18—I didn’t look like most of the kids around me. I wanted to honor my culture and also connect with those around me, but I didn’t always feel accepted or valued in our small, not-so-diverse town.

However, this changed during my junior year of high school, thanks to my literature teacher, Mr. Jacques. By introducing me to books like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, he helped me understand that I wasn’t the only one struggling to fit in. And by holding me to the same high standards to which he held all of his students, he inspired me to believe that I had the potential and capability to succeed—in my own, unique ways. The color of my skin and the place I called home wouldn’t determine where I went and what I could do.

Everyone has value and potential: This belief lies at the heart of education, and it’s why I’ve devoted my career to it. I’ve spent more than 15 years teaching in classrooms, helping other teachers leverage their strengths to better support their students, and working to ensure that all teachers have a say in the policies that have an impact on their schools.

Throughout my career, I’ve been driven by the idea that every single student deserves to have great teachers who hold them to high standards and believe they can succeed, just like Mr. Jacques believed in me—and encouraged me to value myself.

Now, at a time when our nation is fraught with divisions, it’s more important than ever that every person feels valued, safe, and accepted in their community. In the schools where I work around Grand Rapids, we have many students who are English language learners or students of color, and I know that some of them are uncertain about their place in the community and the country right now.

We need to reassure these young people that we are together a nation of immigrants who are capable of contributing to the community, and who all deserve opportunities to achieve our dreams.

Michigan’s high academic standards are one way we show our students that we value them and believe they can succeed. The standards are challenging and ask students to apply their knowledge and skills in new ways. If students meet the standards, they’ll be more prepared to succeed in college, careers, and the community.

Truly cementing students’ progress and success takes time. Students need time to think more deeply and critically, and teachers need time to reflect on their practice and adjust it so that they’re fully supporting students in meeting higher standards. Teachers also need time to collaborate with each other so that they can glean best practices from around the state and the country—a big benefit of having consistent, high standards.

And all of us—parents, policymakers, community members—need time to be sure that the standards are working and students are making progress. With more time and support for high standards, we can show our students we believe they have potential and can succeed, regardless of where they come from.

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