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The bloom is surely off the rose of Common Core, the new English and math standards pushed by Washington, D.C. education trade organizations and the Obama administration. In the last few months, a number of states have paused or de-funded implementation of the standards; others have pulled out of the consortia developing tests tied to them.

States dropping common core
Charles Chieppo, left, and Jamie Gass.

In recent years, the Obama administration has made a number of federal goodies, such as Race to the Top grants and No Child Left Behind waivers, contingent on states’ adoption of Common Core standards and assessments. But now that Race to the Top money has been spent, states are belatedly taking a clear-eyed look at Common Core. High-performing states in particular won’t like what they see.

In a recent Boston Globe op-ed marking the 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts education reform law that triggered dramatic improvements in the performance of Bay State students, Tom Birmingham, one of the law’s principal authors, wrote: “the political vectors will all tend to push the new standards to a race to the middle … In implementing the Common Core, there will be natural pressure to set the national standards at levels that are realistically achievable by students in all states. This marks a retreat from Massachusetts’ current high standards.”

Birmingham, a Rhodes Scholar and former president of the Massachusetts Senate, may well be among the least calculating or self-serving people ever to have attained high elective office, but it doesn’t take Machiavelli to know how these politics are likely to play out.

Most high-performing states also had rigorous standards prior to Common Core. For them, the new standards represent a significant step down from the academic rigor that was the foundation of their success.

Compared to Massachusetts’ previous standards, Common Core reduces the amount of classic literature, poetry and drama taught in English classes by 60 percent. Goodbye Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and Edith Wharton.

In math, the new common standards delay the progression to all-important Algebra I—the gateway to higher math study—by two years. Stanford University emeritus mathematics professor James Milgram, the only academic mathematician on Common Core’s validation committee, refused to sign off on the final draft. Milgram described the standards as having “extremely serious failings” and reflecting “very low expectations.”

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The scores of U.S. students are already mediocre at best compared to their counterparts in other industrialized nations. It is a condition that could become permanent if scores in the highest-performing states revert to the mean. In contrast with their peers in other states, Massachusetts’ eighth-graders tied for best in the world in science in the 2007 Trends in International Math and Science Study.

Common Core poses a different problem for lower-performing states. In his Globe op-ed, Birmingham wrote that “for all its complexity, the Education Reform Act can be reduced, in essence, to two propositions: We will make a massive infusion of progressively distributed dollars into our public schools, and in return, we demand high standards and accountability from all education stakeholders.”

The massive infusion of new money is proving to be the Achilles’ heel for an increasing number of low-performing states that have adopted Common Core. A 2012 Pioneer Institute study estimated that transitioning to the new standards will cost states about $16 billion over seven years. Technology upgrades, new textbooks and instructional materials, and teacher training and support account for most of the expense.

The costs of implementing the standards, or costs associated with the two consortia of states developing assessments tied to Common Core, have caused a number of states to drop out. Within the last year, Alabama and Utah pulled out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. In recent weeks, Georgia and Oklahoma dropped out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium.

Meanwhile, state legislative leaders in Florida asked Tony Bennett, former state education commissioner, to withdraw from PARCC last month after determining that the new exams would double per-pupil testing costs. And Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania have put Common Core standards and testing on “pause” or frozen state funding for implementation.

When 45 states and the District of Columbia quickly adopted Common Core in their pursuit of federal largesse, it seemed the common standards and tests would take the country by storm. Fast-forward three years, and the nation is split between higher-performing states chafing at the prospect of less rigorous standards leading to declining student performance, and their lower-performing counterparts that are unwilling or unable to fund the transition to Common Core tests.

Charles Chieppo is a senior fellow, and Jamie Gass directs the Center for School Reform, at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based public policy think tank.

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Letters to the Editor

9 Letters

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  1. Like those ads on late night television that hock cure all devices for whatever domestic problem you have, the proponents of common core have promised everyone that standards (and tests to make sure everyone is teaching the standards) will produce these amazing student outcomes. There simply is no evidence for this claim. When these standards fail to produce the claimed effects, I think the only response will be more products developed by the likes of Pearson to help struggling students, not a reconsideration of the standards themselves. Meanwhile, only school districts with actively involved parents who demand special gifted programs, will see any continued challenge for our highest performing students.

  2. Like many articles regarding the Common Core State Standards, this one contains important pieces of misinformation.

    There are states who received Race to the Top funds and/or waivers to exempt them from No Child Left Behind that did not adopt CCSS. Receiving these funds or a waiver from the unrealistic expectations of No Child Left Behind are/were not contingent on adopting CCSS. They were contingent upon havng college and career-readiness standards in place at every grade level (something many of these states did not have, having standards in place only for grades 4, 8, and 12, for example). States could have chosen to revise and/or add to existing standards.

    The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts does not diminsh the amount of literature taught in English language arts classrooms. In fact, it is silent about which texts/authors should be used at all, leaving that up to local school boards to decide. The CCSS ELA does, however, make clear that students should be reading more informational text over the entire course of a student’s day – meaning that the CCSS ELA actually direct teachers of other content areas to use text in their classes; science teachers should be asking their students to read relevant and appropriate scientific texts and analyses, social sciences teachers should be asking their students to read primary source historical documents, and industrial arts teachers should be asking their students to read blueprints and technical manuals. Knowledge should be gained by accessing key texts/documents/works rather than by lecture.

    If a student has mastered the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics in grades K-7, that student is more than prepared to take Algebra I as an 8th-grader. The CCSSM infuse algebraic concepts into all grade levels in age-appropriate ways.

    We know that we have record numbers of students assigned to remedial classes in colleges and universities around the country. We know that business leaders say that they cannot find enough entry-level job seekers with the requisite skills and knowledge needed to perform the job. This means that a re-investment in our teachers and schools is necessary in order to provide our students and our society with the knowledge and experiences needed in order to be successful and productive.

  3. I support the rigor brought by stronger standards because the education reform of the Reagan/Clinton years did indeed gut rigor in education. The balance lies in both old school and new school. What I wanted Maryland citizens to see in this article is that well-prepared states think Common Core holds less rigor. Meanwhile, we are hearing media in Maryland using Common Core as the reason Maryland achievement stats are falling. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE BEEN SAYING……SO WHY ARE YOUR MEDIA OUTLETS ALLOWING O’MALLEY TO LIE?

    Most high-performing states also had rigorous standards prior to Common Core. For them, the new standards represent a significant step down from the academic rigor that was the foundation of their success.

    The problem in this reform is that the emphasis on performance in classrooms is more resources and funding and what we are seeing is most funds being spent on consultants and education businesses. It will take time to bring older students up to par….but the fact that the youngest students in Maryland…the ones with these few years of reform as still failing shows the people doing the reforming do not know what they are doing. THEIR GOALS ARE DIFFERENT FROM THEIR STATED MISSIONS!

  4. The flaw of the “common core” argument is that, in the US, there is no—no ‘common core’ that is. ‘Core’ of what? And, “Common to who?” Not in the sense that there is in far more homogenous populations constituting such countries as Ireland, Germany, Russia [but not the USSR] and China. The ‘US’ is an ‘invented’ country with an ‘invented’ ‘ethnicity’ [it is a social ‘fiction’ like those things called ‘legal fictions’ which are factual untruths that must be recognized, for political reasons, as unchallengeable ‘legal’ truths [think “Emperor’s new clothes”] and there is, of course, legal construct of “American”– as in US national– but no ‘ethnicity’ as that term is understood. If there was there’d be no need for the ‘melting’ of ‘melting pot’ and the sad, desperate, and doomed attempt to create ‘commonness’.

  5. “The scores of U.S. students are already mediocre at best compared to their counterparts in other industrialized nations.”

    I’m so tired of this canard. When controlled for poverty, U.S. students far outscore other industrialized nations. Maybe it’s poverty we need to fix, not education. Read Diane Ravitch’s new book.

  6. Not only are the standards flawed, and the testing expensive, Common Core Standards are copyrighted so states lose all control over their standards. Parental rights are removed from the entire equation as data is shared on student medical records, disciplinary records, family information on religion and political affiliation, and choice goes completely out the window as no matter what you teach, you will be graded to common core. All children will be forced into the same curriculum to take the GED and College Board tests which are now aligned to Common Core. This national education program shows us why our founding fathers specifically prohibited the Federal Government from involvement in education. The temptation is just too great to propagandize and control the public. In this case, those promoting Common Core stand to gain BILLIONS of dollars. Just “follow the money.” Pearson, the education materials company based in the UK, lists its 3rd largest shareholder as the government of Libya! No wonder the classroom texts promote Islam at the expense of Christianity. Pearson has purchased a very large share of most education companies in America.

  7. The common response from parents, mainly, and even from teachers is, “What IS this Common Core?” We just know that it is being implemented at our children’s school, and when we ask about this sudden change in educational methods/materials, even the teacher can’t give a confident, clear explanation…. only that they were told by their Administration that this would now be the program used across the district.” Also, as a result of a grant from the Bill Gates Foundation, teachers would be receiving about 50 hours of retraining in order to implement the methods and techniques of this program. This has been met with varying reactions, depending upon the level of experience a teacher already has in the classroom.

    Therefore, an INFORMATIONAL MEETING consisting of 4 nationally recognized speakers will be held, and open to the parents/teachers/concerned citizens re Common Core, on Tuesday, Oct. 29th, 6:30 PM, at Clovis Veterans Memorial Bldg. Two of the four speakers were members of the National Validation Committee for CCSS, one in Mathematics, the other in English/Language Arts. They are James Milgram and Dr. Sandra Stotsky, respectively, and can be “Googled” for more information and even YouTubes of previous presentations that they have made nation-wide, including before state Legislators

  8. As a society, we want all students to reach their fullest potential by implementing well-rounded curriculums that create productive and educated citizens. But, I just pose these questions that relate to testing:

    1) Do you really think that the children living in the slums throughout India, China, and Singapore are actually in schools completing state and government testing? Do you think special needs students in these countries are being tested?

    I don’t think so! Well, our U. S. students are regardless of socio-economic status, race, religion, and/ or special needs! We certainly are a more inclusive society in the United States than most. We truly feel that all children deserve an education. However, we certainly need to consider how these challenges may impact the validity of our test scores in the United States.

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