Photo credit: Alberto G. via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

“Nation’s Report Card” Shows More Failing Grades for Common Core


This article was originally posted at The Hill and co-authored by Emmett McGroarty, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.

Since the Common Core national standards were dumped on American schools beginning in 2010, national and state education officials have largely either ignored or belittled parental concerns about the resulting deterioration of education. The establishmentarians are now reaping what they’ve sown.

With a vested interest in the success of Common Core, these officials have been dreading release of the 2017 NAEP scores (the National Assessment of Educational Progress, AKA the “nation’s report card”). As of Tuesday, the bad news is here.

The best that can be said about the 2017 scores is that they could be worse – but they’re generally not getting any better. Among the four categories tested by NAEP (4th-grade reading and math, and 8th-grade reading and math), three showed flat scores from the last assessment in 2015. The only category that showed a slight increase — one point, which according to NAEP is statistically significant — was 8th-grade reading. In every other dimension the nation’s students appear to be treading water.

“Treading water” in this situation is worse than it might seem, since these scores come in the wake of dismal NAEP results in 2015. For the first time since the early 1990’s, scores from 2015 assessment showed declines in math performance across the board, and either flatlining or decline in reading scores.

The 2015 NAEP scores of high-school seniors were similarly disappointing. Those scores showed a decline in math performance, stagnation in reading performance, and decline in college preparation in both areas.

Commenting on the 2015 4th- and 8th-grade scores, NAEP governing board chairman Terry Mazany told The New York Times the results were “worrisome.” The Los Angeles Times quoted the “bottom line” offered by a former NAEP official: “We’re stalled. We’re not making any progress.”

As shown by the 2017 scores, we’re still not.

It’s unfortunate that no one warned education bureaucrats about the probable outcome of Common Core.  Oh wait, someone did — not only the multitudes of parents who were living the consequences around the dinner table every night, but renowned scholars who have spent years publicly opposing the standards.

English language arts expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a member of the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the standards because she recognized they “would not prepare students for authentic college-level coursework.” Another Validation Committee dissenter, Stanford mathematician Dr. James Milgram, has repeatedly warned that the math standards cannot prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies in college. (Although they’ve tried to backtrack, the math-standards drafters have conceded the point.)  And Dr. Marina Ratner, another world-renowned mathematician, stated in a 2014 Wall Street Journal piece that the Common Core:

Represent lower expectations (than the previous California standards), and that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.

No one can say for sure that Common Core is the sole reason for declining academic performance. But remember what the Common Core proponents trumpeted at the outset of this grand experiment: The standards and aligned assessments were about “dramatically improving teaching and learning” and, indeed, “transforming education for every child.” Seven years later, those giddy promises are ringing hollow.

Common Core proponents also proclaimed their confidence that the standards would narrow the “achievement gap” between white/Asian and other minority students. But in fact, the NAEP results show the achievement gap is actually growing. According to John Engler, chairman of NAEP’s governing board, “We are seeing troubling gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students.”

It’s logical to attribute this decline directly in part to Common Core. The standards embrace student-centered “discovery” learning, where the teacher acts as more facilitator than instructor. Especially for disadvantaged students, that pedagogy doesn’t work. Project Follow Through, the largest and most extensive government education study in history, proved this by following tens of thousands participant children for years to determine the best means of educating them. The answer was direct instruction — an approach disfavored in Common Core.

A second handicap to low-income students is their lesser access to “workarounds” that enable them to grasp the material taught poorly, if at all, in Common Core. Higher-income families can use tutors or their own educational background to help their children compensate; lower-income families are stuck.

Our Founders understood that, in most areas, the best policy comes not from centralized control but from the knowledge and participation of millions of American citizens acting in their local communities and states. The Common Core experiment denied that reality. Education policy was to be determined by a small cadre of elites, disconnected from citizens and their elected representatives; it was to be implemented by experts who cared not what the untutored masses wanted for their children.

It turns out the masses were right. Under the suffocating hand of Common Core, true academic achievement is withering. We shall see if the education establishment has the integrity to admit that Common Core was a ghastly error in both substance and procedure. Or maybe the 2019 NAEP scores will be better.

Photo credit: Alberto G. via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Jane Robbins

Jane Robbins is an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project.

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