Common Core (“CC”) educational standards were launched by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009. Although the organizations have official, governmental-sounding names, they are actually private groups financed by the Gates Foundation (primarily), other foundations, and various corporations.
CC seeks to impose on all elementary and secondary school students a comprehensive national education system with a national curriculum. Students are then evaluated based upon tests, which in turn determine teachers’ evaluations. Thus, CC standards oblige teachers to teach students “to the test” (a major criticism of No Child Left Behind), and then teachers can get positive evaluations.
It is a truism to state that the process of education is complex because every student is different, each with a multitude of interests and a wide variety of aptitudes. As a result, no one teaching style or pedagogical methodology fits all. As our nation’s economy began to move from primarily agrarian to industrial in the 19th century, Horace Mann proposed that local government establish what he called “common schools,” funded by taxation. States began to see the advantages of creating an educated work force as the United States began to surpass other nations in economic competitiveness. By the end of World War I, every state had some mandatory education laws requiring students to attend school until at least the 8th grade, or the age of 16. With mandatory education laws, public education adopted an industrial model, which was reasonably adequate for the large number of Americans who left school after eight years and went to work in factories and offices.
As it has for more than a century, the public education system continues to operate in this model. Timea Kernacova, writing in “The Industrialization of Education,” described the absurdity of our present public education system, “Very much like the work day 9-5, no matter what a class is discussing and no matter how engaged the students are, a bell rings and the subject is dropped immediately and all of the students get up and move on to the next class.”
For those of us who know young people, we are acutely aware that the industrial-style, public education model today fails far too many, particularly among the poor and minorities. We see in many younger people, their general lack of basic knowledge, critical thought, and independence. (Please see the article by Ross Douhat, “The Truth about Harvard,” published in the March 2005 edition of The Atlantic, who noted that it may be hard to get into Harvard, and then goes on to describe how easy it is to get out without learning much of enduring value at all.)
CC continues in this tradition despite the fact that the world is changing rapidly. The stated intent of CC is to prepare students for college-level work. However, the so-called standards are set low enough for most students to pass the CC tests. In actuality, full disclosure would confirm that the graduation and testing standards for CC more accurately prepare students for non-selective two-year community colleges with open admission. Thus, we should not be under any illusion that CC will make students smarter or more competitive with their international peers. The academic level of CC is lower than what many states use now. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Jamie Gass and Charles Chieppo, entitled “Common Core Education Is Uncommonly Inadequate,” the authors wrote:
Massachusetts student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and SATs were unremarkable in the early 1990s. Then, after a landmark educational reform in 1993, state SAT scores rose for 13 consecutive years. In 2005, Bay State students became the first to score best in the nation in all grades and categories on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The students have repeated the feat each time the tests have been administered. How to explain this turnaround? The state’s educational success hinged on rigorous academic standards, teacher testing and high-quality tests that students must pass to graduate from high school. All locally developed, these three factors aligned to produce amazing results. Unfortunately, Massachusetts dropped its own standards in 2010 to join 44 other states (and the District of Columbia) in adopting the flawed standards of the Common Core. This is an educational program sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that has been championed by the Obama administration. . . . Compared with Massachusetts’ former standards, Common Core’s English standards reduce by 60% the amount of classic literature, poetry and drama that students will read. For example, the Common Core ignores the novels of Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton and Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” It also delays the point at which Bay State students reach Algebra I — the gateway to higher math study — from eighth to ninth grade or later. [Emphasis added.]
As parents find out about CC, many are beginning to ask hard questions. Although 45 states (and the District of Columbia) initially accepted the CC curriculum, there is now some pushback from parents and state legislatures. Even Randi Weingarten, president of the National Association of Teachers and a forceful proponent of CC, has now called for a moratorium on the implementation of CC. While I am unsure any delay will actually save us from CC, a number of states have proposed either repealing or delaying the implementation of CC. You can track these developments here.
I have sought to show in my recent series of blogs regarding CC that the educational standards are, at best, of mediocre quality, and for many of us who care deeply about education, disappointingly so. They rest on questionable philosophies, and are untested by empirical studies. (I would like to read the empirical peer-evaluated study that shows how reducing the study of classic literature helps students.) Professor Stotsky, one of the CC Validation Committee members who refused to sign on to the CC standards, succinctly concluded her criticism, “The [CC] standards require English teachers to emphasize skills, and not literary or cultural knowledge.” Moreover, given that the CC standards apply to students in parochial and private schools, and to homeschoolers, CC intrudes on student and family privacy.
And in addition to the weakness and academic illegitimacy of CC, this does not even consider the broader implication of its violation of various federal education statutes, the fact that CC eliminates state and local autonomy in educational matters, and forces states and their taxpayers to incur large costs to implement CC. Albert Einstein once observed, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
Having taught in universities at both the undergraduate and graduate level as a tenured full professor, and at law schools around the world, it has always seemed to me that the route to an excellent education goes in the opposite direction of national standards. In fact, it goes towards universal school choice that provides high standards, accountability, and flexibility. The Common Core “educational” standards will only make matters far worse to the detriment of our children and our nation’s future.