The Problem(s) with Common Core


Over the last year, we’ve seen a number of pro-Common Core publications that ask and purport to answer some variation of this question: “Will the Common Core State Standards best prepare students for success in college, career, and life?”

The answer is No.

Standards themselves can’t produce academic achievement and success for students. In fact, studies have shown that there is no correlation between an increase in rigor in a state’s standards and improved achievement. A study by Dr. Joshua Goodman of Harvard University showed that in an analysis of state standard variations from 1994 to 2011, “Within-state changes in standards quality have no statistically significant relationship to student achievement.”

He concludes: “Given the current transition by nearly all U.S. states to adopt Common Core State Standards, researchers and policymakers should be thinking quite carefully about the role that standards play in influencing student achievement. The results presented in this paper suggest that, over the last couple of decades, changes in the quality of state standards have had little impact on overall student achievement.”

And a 2012 report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute, finds  that “the quality of state standards as indicated by the well-known ratings from the Fordham Foundation, is not related to state achievement. The rigor of state standards, as measured by how high states place the cut point for students to be deemed proficient, is also unrelated to achievement … The ability of standards to reduce variation in achievement, in other words to reduce differences in achievement, is also weak.”

The reasoning behind these findings isn’t hard to grasp.

Consider: You can create a standard that all fifth graders must know pre-calculus before entering sixth grade, and you can task your most talented teachers with meeting that goal. But it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to teach average fifth graders to that standard. Moreover, the students would likely know less than they would under a lower standards because they wasted a year trying to learn concepts for which they were not suited or ready.

As for the details on the standards themselves, experts in this area – for instance those at the Pioneer Institute – have voiced grave concerns about the quality and implications of Common Core standards. Why, for instance, does Common Core emphasize informational texts over literary texts? “A diminished emphasis on literary study will … prevent students from acquiring a rich understanding and use of the English language, a development that requires exposure to the language and thinking of the most talented writers of English through the centuries,” the report contends. “The stress on more informational reading in the English class will also likely lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking in all students.”

What about math standards? Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal that Stanford University professor James Milgram, the only academic mathematician on Common Core’s validation committee, wouldn’t sign off on Common Core’s final draft, citing “extremely serious failings” and “very low expectations.”

As for South Carolina, the State Board/EOC comparative report found that “concepts included in South Carolina’s standards but not emphasized in the CCSS in this grade band (K-2) include the following: making inferences, recognizing environmental print, distinguishing between fact and opinion, alphabetical order, following directions, and generating ideas for writing. In addition, cause and effect is included only in informational text.” As for math, there are 55 concepts that “can be deleted in order to devote time to other concepts.”

And although it’s too early to analyze results with a high degree of accuracy, a recent Brookings study (the latest Brown Center Report: How Well are American Students Learning?) found that over past five years, states using education standards most dissimilar to Common Core tended to score highest on Math (using NAEP scores). States that followed a hybrid approach to standards –  using some aspects of the Common Core and some aspects of their own standards – fared worse than both full-Common Core states and non-Common Core states.

In any case, there’s nothing to suggest Common Core is significantly improving outcomes, while some data suggests the reverse.

Another problem with Common Core – one that has received little discussion – is that it will make it even more difficult than it already is for parents to have any say in their children’s education. Presently, if parents are concerned about their children’s education, they can take their concerns to the local school board. If the decision is made at the state level, parents can contact their state lawmaker, education committee member, State Board member, or officials at the state Department of Education. Under Common Core, it’s not clear where parents can go. If the concern has to do with standards, concerned parents are very likely out of luck.

Interestingly, when Common Core was first implemented in South Carolina, parents were left entirely out of the decision-making process – in violation of state law. The law requires a task force of parents to be involved when changing standards, but this procedure was “modified” –without legislative approval – to accommodate the timeline of Common Core adoption.

In short, Common Core isn’t the system that will best prepare students for success. Nor is any other standards-obsessed, federally-funded one-size-fits-all educational regime.

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Category: Education · Tags: ,