It’s no Super Bowl, but this weekend’s Masters golf coverage featured a few exciting, innovative ads of its own. And this time they weren’t for Chrysler, M&Ms, or Doritos. It seems Exxon Mobil, one of the event’s three major corporate sponsors, chose to use its ad time to promote its education agenda: the National Math and Science Initiative, the Common Core State Standards, and, for good measure, America’s teachers.
This all seemed novel – maybe even revolutionary – to me. People outside of the small, insular edu-world really care about the Common Core? And they’re running a national commercial on it? And not just one: throughout the 5+ hours it took Bubba Watson to earn the green jacket, six different 30-second spots aired, each entitled “Let’s Solve This.” I saw them so many times, they must have been on a loop.
According to a press release: “This year the advertisements highlight how U.S. students underperform in math and science compared to their international counterparts and present some of the solutions that address this challenge.” The spots also “focus on the theme of supporting teachers and inspiring students.”
The commercials were inspiring. Not their content, per se, but the fact that they were aired at all. Building public awareness and support of the Common Core is a huge lift for states – and one of the challenges Education Sector tackled a few weeks ago at our event, “Getting to 2014”. 78 percent of teachers have heard about Common Core, yet awareness among the general public is low. Only 19 percent of voters “have seen, read and/or heard anything about the Common Core.”
The Common Core standards and tests promise to be more rigorous than current state standards, measuring college and career readiness instead of basic proficiency. This means that in the short-term, the percentage of students “passing” state assessments will likely fall dramatically when Common Core-aligned assessments are administered. States need to get in front of this impending cliff by educating and preparing the public for what’s in store – while also making the case for why change is needed.
And they can learn from Tennessee’s experience in raising standards and cut scores, as Mike Cohen writes in an essay we released in conjunction with “Getting to 2014”:
Tennessee saw proficiency on eighth-grade math drop from 90 percent to 26 percent… What it did not see was perhaps the most dramatic part of the story: because it had been preparing educators, policymakers, parents, and the public for this change through two years of intense public outreach, the state experienced little backlash. Most importantly, the following year educators, parents, and leaders could celebrate that Tennessee eighth-graders improved from 26 percent to 35 percent proficient.”
Implementation of the Common Core will present this same communications challenge. Without understanding and buy-in from educators, parents, and the public, the Common Core endeavor could stall, or worse, fail. As Cohen notes, “engagement and communication are the only ways to mitigate the very real risk that any dramatic shifts in the system will inspire a backlash.” Apparently, Exxon Mobil is here to help.
Here are the six “Let’s Solve This” ads: