New Evidence Shows Common Core Has Been a Total Disaster

November 28, 2018

by Jane Robbins


This article was originally posted at Townhall.

Most public schools are still afflicted with the Common Core national standards. Paid advocates such as the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation continue to push Common Core despite overwhelming evidence of the slow-motion train wreck that has resulted – reduced student achievement by almost every metric. Fordham refuses even to acknowledge the bad news, much less try to rationalize it.

That’s why it was refreshing to hear the blunt truth proclaimed at a Heritage Foundation event last week entitled “Rethinking Federal Intervention in K-12 Education.” At this program the authors of a new Pioneer Institute study, “Common Core, School Choice and Rethinking Standards-Based Reform,” explained how Common Core has not only damaged public education but also threatened the independence of private schools. How? By imposing government strings on the curricular autonomy of the schools that accept government funding via school-choice mechanisms such as vouchers.

Study authors Ted Rebarber of AccountabilityWorks and Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute advocate restoring genuine diversity in education models by removing centralized government control over K-12 school standards. But the prelude to that argument came from Rebarber, who minced no words in describing the doleful effect of Common Core on education.

“In my view,” Rebarber observed, “[Common Core] is really the worst large-scale educational failure in 40 years.”

Unlike Fordham and its allies, Rebarber offered actual evidence to support his thesis. He demonstrated that U.S. students’ math scores on the National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) had long been creeping up ever since reliable test results became available in the 1970s. But after release of Common Core in 2010 and full implementation in the fall of 2014, NAEP scores plateaued and then began to decline.

Rebarber focused on scores of the bottom quartile of students, those who were already behind – “the students that were touted as the target for improvement.” Under Common Core, these students’ performance has fallen.

According to Rebarber, “That’s never happened at a consistent multi-year scale [on] the best test instruments we’ve had since we’ve been able to measure in the 1970s. And so that is historic.”

Higher-performing students have been hurt as well. Rebarber’s graph of recent ACT scores showed that the modest upward trend line flattens upon Common Core release and then begins a decline which accelerates with full implementation.

What about U.S. students’ performance in comparison with students in other countries? Rebarber showed another graph illustrating the percentage of 8th-graders internationally who are sufficiently proficient in math to tackle a high-school curriculum that will prepare them for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) studies in college. The graph showed that high-performing Asian countries prepare about one-third to one-half of their 8th-graders to reach this level, while the U.S. prepares only about ten percent. That places the U.S. in the middle tier of tested nations, along with Kazakhstan, Russia, Hungary, and Great Britain.

“Middle of the pack doesn’t sound that bad,” Rebarber said, “but Singapore gets five times as many of its students at that level. So being in the middle of the pack is not really acceptable.” He also pointed out that the lower-tier countries are just a few percentage points below the U.S.

Why has Common Core math failed so abysmally? Rebarber observed that rather than increasing the rigor of the math standards as promised, Common Core “just calcified the existing [deficient] rigor of the math program” – teaching algebra I and geometry content two years later than do the top-achieving countries. In addition, the standards “ended up pushing some progressive educational methods or dogmas . . . delaying introduction of standard algorithms and other methods that are enforced through the tests.”

The deficiencies that have made Common Core math a punchline are, by this point, well known. But the Pioneer report goes back further in time, exploring the history of “standards-based reform” that led to Common Core. Rebarber explained that when Congress, in 1994, required states to develop so-called “standards,” that word wasn’t presented to conservatives as “very detailed government regulation of curriculum content, curriculum sequencing, and teaching methods.” But over the years, that’s exactly what happened. “Standards became the blueprint around which schools organize their teaching, their day-to-day academic operations. They’re effectively curriculum central planning by government.”

Rebarber showed that the incremental improvements in test scores predated standards-based reform by many years, and that the reform did nothing to accelerate the improvement. In fact, Common Core developers were able to leverage dissatisfaction with the state-level version of standards-based reform to, as Rebarber put it, “double down” on such reform with national standards.

And here we are – not only treading water, but actually sinking. Historic.


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

Archive: Jane Robbins

54 comments on “New Evidence Shows Common Core Has Been a Total Disaster”

  • Debra Porterfield says:

    TESTING & TEACHING a 5 YEAR old on MATERIAL that they are NOT yet OLD ENOUGH & MENTALLY DEVELOPED ENOUGH to UNDERSTAND=FAILURE & LOW SELF ESTEEM!!! I AM SO SICK of our PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM!!! IT NAUSEATES ME and I COULD LITERALLY THROW UP!!! MY CHILDREN ARE GROWN and OUT OF SCHOOL NOW but MY THREE GRANDCHILDREN ARE NOT!!! MY DAUGHTER & I HAVE DECIDED FOR ME TO QUIT MY JOB and I WILL HOME SCHOOL THEM WHILE SHE WORKS because IF WE DON’T, I TRULY DO BELIEVE THEY WILL BE ON SOME TYPE of MEDICINE for THEIR NERVES BEFORE THEY EVEN REACH JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL because at the AGES OF 9, 7 & 5 WE ARE ALREADY HELPING THEM TO GET THROUGH ANXIETY ATTACKS ABOUT THEIR SCHOOL WORK and THAT’S SAD TO SAY ALREADY ABOUT CHILDREN THAT YOUNG!!!

    • Jacky Goletsas says:

      When I went to kindergarten, it was only a half day. We learned how to write our full name, our colors, abcs, phonics, counting and simple math. We also had a rest period. Where I live they go a full day, spend a lot of time reading and writing not just words, multiple sentences. Have no rest period and just this past year are now required to have a scheduled science period with labs. I see their frustration on a daily basis. We are asking so much of them that they stop trying.

    • Dziadzi says:

      Let’s give the non-public schools even more money than they already get, and NOT hold them as accountable as the public schools {which they already have NOT been as accountable as the public schools}. Common Core and school vouchers don’t help the public schools!

  • Timothy P Gallagher says:

    If the article was objective I would give it more credence. The fact is Jane Robbins is a Right Wing biased author, who is on a board with a bunch of RNC members, and the article is full of fallacies.

    • Anastasiap says:

      That may be true, however, you do not need to br a theoretical physicist to know Common Core is garbage and ultimately fail.

  • G Martin says:

    Why blame the Democrats. I remember it was Texas under governor George Bush that pushed the testing craze years ago and it has gotten nothing but worse. I had the joy of attending an open house night recently at a public middle school in Austin TX. Students were in the classrooms explaining about what they were learning. There was so much creativity going on and every student I spoke with was so excited about their school and how they loved learning. This was an academic magnet school and it really impressed me a retired educator of 28 years. The programs their made learning so much more interesting than when I went to school back in the 50’s and 60’s. Do not knock down all of the public schools many are doing a great job. Remember also, that they take everyone, not just the select. Of course, the magnet school I visited did just take the select but there are a variety a choices in some districts. Yes, we need to improve our schools and we do need some standards I fear home schooling is not the answer. When do those children learn to deal with the real world and not with the people just like them. How do we teach folks to work with others that are culturally, religiously and ethnically different than they are if we do not expose them to such growing up? They may do fine academically but there is more to life than just being smart. One of the big problems in our society today it lack of tolerance and understanding of others.
    We must look at what was good about some of the traditional ways of teaching and encorporate those in with technology and what we have learned about how different students learn. We all do not learn the same way. So much if our current testing does not cover what is in the curriculum and often the testing covers things that have not been taught yet in the school Year. Real estate agents and legislators love to use those testing numbers like we use statistics to sell a car or make an investment. Another issue in our schools that needs to be addressed seriously is the amount of time and money we put into competitive sports such as football. I have watched school budgets sliced over and over while the teams are bused all over and the equipment, fields and uniforms get better and better. Who are we kidding? Ask your school librarian what has happened to her budget the last 15 years and then ask the coach how many games they have had to cut.

  • Darwin says:

    We need to get back to 1950s/1960s education: teacher directed, memorization, no screens, paper, handwriting, less group work, grammer, math basics, more tracking
    … No it’s not fun, but it is honest and direct. CC is gobbly-gook, but so is most of the progressive education school nonsense

    • Sarah Smith says:

      I agree that common core is an abysmal failure, but going back to pen and paper alone with no technology is NOT preparing children for the future, we just have to use it judiciously.

      I graduated undergrad 20 years ago, and memorization was in vogue back then, and does not foster critical thinking or an understanding of anything. I had schoolmates who could memorize for an exam and get an A, but didn’t remember the material a year later, and couldn’t apply that knowledge in life. How does that help? Being lectured to, taking notes and regurgitating information is how we have a nation of snowflakes that allow emotions to overpwer reason and to let themselves get manipulated so easily. Authoritarianism is what our founding fathers revealed against.

    • Bard says:

      We stopped using wax tablets when paper and ink were invented, this comes from.the “I turned out fine” mentality. You didn’t. Technology marches on and it must be embraced. There us no empirical evidence that writing things down and wrote memorization teaches you anything but the ability to parrot information.

      • P Willoughby says:

        Why then do all the tech gurus send their kids to schools that do not use tech? Kids can go without screens until high school and do fine. As a retired educator and technologist I saw the negative effect on students with high tech use. Kids learn to think less when they depend on computers to solve the problems. They need to understand the problem first then can use the tech as a tool rather than the solution.

  • Charme’ Smith says:

    Ever thought about the correlation between Common Core and the increase in anxiety, depression, school shootings and suicides? The amount of pressure students feel is unreal. And it starts in kindergarten…I must teach developmentally inappropriate standards, made without any early childhood experts/teachers included. Many 5 and 6 year olds have high anxiety from not being able (when it’s really that they are not developmentally ready) to read with purpose and understanding a level D book or count instantly to 100 from any given number, write complete sentences with correct capitalization and punctuation, for example. And just because some CAN does not mean they SHOULD! Research shows that the soft skills (social/emotional/executive functioning) in K are more important to future academic success than academics started in K. How do we gather to make change? America’s future sure deserves better.

    • Suzanne says:

      I agree hope things can be changed!! I retired three years ago from teaching first grade I left early because I couldn’t see children SAD being in school!! It should be a fun place to learn!! We have it all wron the coman core!! Every child learns differently they are not all the same!! I hope you can help bless you!!

    • NKK says:

      Yes, this! As a former Prek teacher (who also taught 1-5th grades bilingual/ESL students, was a school counselor for a decade and have been an Educational Diagnostician for over a decade – 40 years total as an educator!) – when I walk into a Kindergarten room to observe a student who has been referred for Special Ed testing because they cannot write a coherent sentence at 5 years of age – it breaks my heart. You pegged it with this>>> “developmentally inappropriate standards”. The failure to include professional educators who have hands-on, direct knowledge of early childhood development and needs was shameful!

  • Jackie says:

    When I became a school board member for our local school district, I had high hopes of improving the current curriculum. This article is dead right when it says that the implementation of state and national standards has destroyed local control of our schools. Every decision regarding curriculum is based on standards. Quality or appropriateness of the curriculum is never discussed. If the school fails to meet government imposed standards, it can lose its accreditation. Furthermore, since history is not included on the ACT or SAT, nobody cares about history instruction. The very things that were important to our founding fathers…that the public be well-educated in matters of history and Civic duty, have fallen completely by the wayside. We need to take back our country by taking back our education system.

    • Jody Stewart says:

      Who actually developed Common Core? How soon can we throw it out and go back to tried and true methods of teaching math? How can public education go so off the track. Who is responsible?

    • Celia says:

      Excellent article and comments! I have been a teacher for 32 years and find less and less joy in teaching or learning. My heart breaks for students and new teachers. They will never what pleasure it was to love the vocation (because that what teaching is, a vocation or a calling).

  • Nicole says:

    *there’s
    *it’s
    Does punctuation matter anymore??
    #grammarpolice

  • jimmygriffin says:

    A generation who can’t even count change.Schools are producing “sheeple”.We have medicated our children, taught them useless information. May GOD help this country.

    • Jody Stewart says:

      Schools were sold iPads for every student and the most elite parents won’t let their children have them. Their children are in private schools where electronics are forbidden. Someone decided, wrongfully that kids would learn better on computers and made s tin of money and now know it was a mistake.

  • Laura says:

    Absolutely! It’s utterly ridiculous! They can’t even do simple equations in their head. We were drilled relentlessly on our times tables that I still use on a daily basis. Kids today can no longer do that. This is one topic that makes my blood boil. These politicians want a society of drones who are not smart enough to think for themselves and don’t know history or their basic human rights provided by our constitution. Time to take back control of our country!

    • Ernest Berns says:

      Yes..
      A true Democratic point of view…common core is like driving to California…via the way of New York.
      They try to keep everyone DUMB…so the Government can control more….BEST to.vote GOP😁

    • Bob says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more.

      • Jody Stewart says:

        The dumbing down of America is well on target. How could this happen. The idea that in Elementartary school Planned Parenthood will go into schools and teach sex Ed and tell precious innocent children about oral and annal sex is repugnant. To me it is criminal to allow porn to be on computers that kids can access.

  • Carolyn O’Connor says:

    After 30 years of enjoying teaching this disastrous system was instituted…I decided to retire.

    • Sheila Cochran says:

      Me too!

    • PAULA JENISON says:

      Me, too! Thirty-three years dedicated to this profession. This is my last year because I am so disappointed in the direction education is going. I love teaching the kids, but the curriculum is so disappointing and we are being forced to teach things we don’t even believe in and know kids are not ready to even grasp! I would hate to have a child going through school right now. So stressfu and demanding …….we really do need to wake up America! These teachers, kids, and parents deserve better!

    • Tina says:

      It’s not just disastrous for our students, it’s disastrous for teachers. Common Core and teacher evaluation standards becoming strongly based on student achievement gives me tons of anxiety and bouts with depression. I can barely struggle through one day knowing that my experience makes very little change in the achievement gap for children. I’m another year from retiring and I struggle to go and teach every day. Best part for me, I love my little ones that trust me and love me as their teacher!

    • Jody Stewart says:

      I can’t imagine being a teacher today with Common Core jammed down your throat and then making students learn something that is confusing. Someone mentioned how stressed kids are today. I know when I didn’t know my 9 times tables in fourth grade I was stressed. Today if kids aren’t learning them how do they function.

  • Steven Davis says:

    America’s Public Schools have proven to be a total failure for our country. It is time to do away with any and all Government controlled curriculum. Unfortunately it may be too late to save US from the Government Indoctrination Centers that our children are forced to attend. Home Schooling is the only way to reverse this evil that has corrupted our youth for decades. We must teach our children The Constitution of The United States of America and teach them their Rights that are being taken away because they have not been taught in Public School. Public Schools have become Socialist Indoctrination Centers and recruiting grounds for Islamic Jihadists. And Universities are totally preaching the demise of America as a Constitutional Republic. America is not a Democracy. The Mob does not have Right to Rule. Only the Right and Responsibility to DIE at the hands of American Patriots. America is for Americans!!

  • Karen Melson says:

    We opted many years ago to homeschool our son. We had never heard of common core at the time. We just felt like that was a good fit for our family. Looking back I am so thankful for that decision. Our son has learned the “old school” and knows how to right cursive and actually started preparing for Algebra very early. I have nieces and nephews that have struggled with public school curriculum. I agree that common core should be dismantled in our schools.

    • Jimmy Lubin says:

      When using a pen, it is spelled write….learned how to “write IN cursive” !!! What is it about prepositions???

      • Nicole says:

        Thank goodness I’m not the only “old-school” educated person reading this that can see the clear Failure of the education system FAR BEYOND Common Core- disheartening,to say the least!

  • Alexandra Landmesser says:

    Not only do the children take a longer time to do a problem in math because of common core…they also do not know how to write or read cursive…how will they be able to read the constitution etc…some don’t even know how to write their name…common core was a disaster and should have been removed from the schools long ago…

    • Jimmy Lubin says:

      HOW do they enen SIGN their names??

    • Lucy Little says:

      I am a 3rd grade teacher. I teach the Common Core curriculum and our district mandates that we teach cursive. I don’t believe the omission of a cursive writing program is tied to Common Core.

    • Jody Stewart says:

      There are many historic documents and letters by poets and inventors that our kids won’t be able to read. My kids are grown but I feel sorry for those in school now dealing with this “progressive common core”. It sounds like it was intended to be regressive. Many college students today are in remedial classes for first semester of college or longer. Businesses have s hard time finding people who can write or speak well. Manners are a thing of the past too.

      • Regina Hughes says:

        Manners, while touched on in school and, are ultimately the responsibility of the family in which the child is raised… not sure how that would be tied to Common Core. In regards to writing and speaking deficiencies, much can be attributed the lack of face-to-face communication in these times of texting and tweeting. In education, standards are in place in which educators adhere to to ensure that the intended curriculum is taught, and speaking and writing are part of this curriculum. The opportunities to practice the skills they are taught in school in regards to speaking and writing are far fewer than those of us in our 30s and older had when we were younger.

  • Piper says:

    In 2010 my children were 10 & 12 years old. Common Core ruined their education, and thier self esteem, and caused an unreasonable about if anxiety and heartache. It’s ruined entire futures and the lives of many. I sure hope the politicians who profited from it for the past 8 years sleep well at night…while thier kids attend privatr schools NOT under the same requirements of common core.

    • Grace Kvamme says:

      I’m not an educator (retired nurse), But I had a hunch something was amiss in the public school arena, so we put our kids in private Christian schools for high school. They loved school! Then they, in turn, ‘homeschooled’ their own children till high school and did the same…they all had great SATs/ACTs for college and all still LOVE learning.

  • Jan Leonard says:

    The reasons Common Core has not worked are complex and many. We need a “tearing apart” of those reasons before we jump to attempt a fix.

    • Mary says:

      You are exactly right. Before we throw it out, and trust me I really want to after watching kids cry, fail and struggle through lessons created from it, there needs to be a much better plan. The plan needs to be a group effort between school districts, communities, states and lastly federal government. Public education is great and the foundation of this nation when decisions are made by those trying to support it or better it, not tear it down or change it’s core values.

      • Just Wow says:

        BULL, the “problems” are already well known and need to be fixed NOW. YOU are obviously a supporter of this “dumbing-down” of our children – the kids deserve way better than this! Shame on anyone who supports this! Hmmm… let all the various local, state and federal institutions study this debacle first and then all come to a conclusion that will make all parties happy??? They will take years, if not decades, and still not arrive at an amicable solution that is right for students and you know it!

    • Cheryl says:

      Totally agree with your point. Common Core and the concept behind it was a good, and I was looking forward to implementing it, But when the voices of the people who have to do the instruction (teachers) are not included in the conversation there are bound to be problems. One of the biggest problems was the usual practice of expecting teachers to teach something before we get fully trained. Another big problem is the continuation of the ‘teach to the test” process. Sadly this country has been convinced that a test determines learning,quality of the teacher,school and district. It does none of those. I say bring teachers into the room and tweek what’s broken, get rid of teach to the test, and let teachers teach.

      • Just Wow says:

        BULL, Common Core was a disaster from the outset. You can blame its massive failure on anything you want, but the fact is it does NOT work! It is currently putting our students behind the curve and needs to go now, not years down the road after millions more students are put at a disadvantage in the real world! The “problems” are already well known and need to be fixed NOW. YOU are obviously a supporter of this “dumbing-down” of our children – the kids deserve way better than this! Shame on anyone who supports this! Hmmm… let all the various local, state and federal institutions study this debacle first and then all come to a conclusion that will make all parties happy??? They will take years, if not decades, and still not arrive at a logical solution that is right for the students and you know it!

    • Mandy says:

      Why does there even need to be a “fix”?
      It’s a program of rules. Simply get rid of it and bring back the old ones.
      Tined math tests should be the first to be reintroduced. Common core complicates something that isn’t complicated. If you know the math tables up and down then the rest will come easy.

    • Jody Stewar says:

      Why not return to the basics, like phonics and math as it was taught in the 40’s and 50’s? Why don’t we adopt a curriculum that is working in another country. Bringing back gym and art and music with the basic Reading, Writing and Arithmatic is the answer to me. We don’t need a new way the old way worked.

  • John says:

    Yes. A total disaster. Time to remove!!

  • Linda Bohnenstiehl says:

    If thres proof its not working then STOP TEACHING IT. These are our kids and we ask them not to teach it and they still do. Totally rediculous

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