Common Core's Role in Building Global Competencies

By Edward Graham

As schools and districts across the country begin to implement the Common Core State Standards, experts say that a focus on global learning must be a key component in the continued advancement of America’s public schools.

“The Common Core is potentially a launching pad for developing global competence, and by the same token, developing global competence can be the way in which we actually enable kids to get to the Common Core,” explains Anthony Jackson, Vice President for Education at the Asia Society.

Jackson made the comments at a panel discussion held at the NEA Foundation’s recent two-day convening of union-district leadership teams from across the country to discuss positive and meaningful school reforms. The panel discussion, which focused on the intersection of Common Core and global learning competencies, was moderated by Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University, and also featured Fernando Reimers, Director of Global Education and International Policy at Harvard University.

One of the major educational hurdles that the experts discussed was the growing inequality between affluent and low-income students. With the number of poor students having grown by 32% nationwide since 2001, it’s becoming increasingly important for educators to take a more holistic approach in educating students for the 21st century world.

“When you disaggregate our data, poverty and inequality continue to be our major challenges in this country,” said Pedro Noguera, who cited the recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMMS) Study as a clear example of how poorer children are being disenfranchised in their educations. “We’re not so bad educating affluent kids, whether they live in Maine or Arizona. It’s poor kids that we have trouble educating in most places.”

As economic and societal factors continue to play a large role in influencing public education, it’s crucial that students are provided the necessary tools to meet the growing bevy of challenges. And as technological advances and global transformations define the modern world, students need to learn and apply their skills in a global context. One way of ensuring that students are globally competent learners is by utilizing the Common Core as an opportunity for a more rigorous examination of the modern world, Jackson said.

“If the achievement gap is one part of the equation, then the other imperative is the opportunity gap,” Jackson explained. “It’s the need to prepare students for jobs and for citizenship in a globalized environment where success really requires the complex thinking skills and communication skills and collaboration with people, particularly from other backgrounds, and really a fundamental understanding of today’s world and how it works. It’s about equity and excellence defined within a global context.”

Pedro Noguera, Anthony Jackson, and Fernando Reimers discuss global competencies and the Common Core at the NEA.

The experts agreed that global competence and civic engagement were important skills for students to develop within a core curriculum. By extending the focus within disciplines to include a greater global perspective, students would be taught to look at their lessons from a greater contextual vantage point. By growing their knowledge of the world through disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies, students would gain the well-rounded skills they need to adequately address and confront the global issues that will permeate their lives in the future.

“Global competence starts with paying attention to what’s going on in the world, and then identifying important issues worth examining closely,” said Jackson. “Globally competent students can then explain and identify and collect and weigh the credibility of information that they’re getting from not just US sources, but from around the world through digital technologies. And then to analyze that information and come back and put together a compelling evidence-based argument that looks at the position from multiple perspectives.”

Fernando Reimers addressed the positive aspects of a global education— such as improved civic engagement through students learning multiple languages and examining global issues — and he called attention how trends in the global workforce will directly affect American students.

“Over the next decade or two, about 50% of the jobs in this country will disappear because machines will be able to do them,” Reimers said. “And we’re going to have to figure out two things. A) How do we create new jobs and new industries? And B) How are we going to share the potential losses in our standard of living that would come from that, and how are we all going to participate in a democracy in coming up with solutions?”

Since no single nation will be able to solve global problems on their own, it becomes imperative for American students to be taught the skills necessary to communicate affectively on a global scale, while also having a solid understanding of the challenges facing other countries. Students would be able to view themselves as harbingers of change by taking on a global perspective. As a result, they could see other cultures, experiences, and issues through the lens of how to take meaningful action.

So how can schools work towards ensuring their students are globally competent learners? The advent and implementation of the Common Core curriculum presents a great opportunity for students to contextualize their lessons in a global setting. The more rigorous standards provide schools with the chance to incorporate a greater global component into their courses, which in turn would allow for new and innovative approaches for learning that could benefit all students in the future.

“I think the starting point is convening a conversation in buildings and districts about the end goal and what we’re trying to achieve,” said Reimers. “What are these competencies we want for our graduates? And I think the Common Core gives us a wonderful starting point. I don’t think it’s a magic bullet, but I think it’s a great step forward.”