Admit It: Common Core Is Lowering Students’ Academic Achievement

October 29, 2015

by Emmett McGroarty


Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The country is in the midst of an education crash. The 2015 SAT scores were the lowest in a decade.  And the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which tests 4th and 8th graders in math and reading, saw scores drop for both grades in math and 8th grade reading, while 4th grade reading scores were flat.

Yet, politicians do not want to face reality.  Instead, they want to believe what the mainstream media and the Common Core proponents tell them—everything is fine.  They want to believe that the opposition to the national Common Core standards comes from the extreme right and the extreme left.  They want to believe that the roots of the opposition lie in citizen umbrage.  They want to believe that citizens are upset because the Feds have intruded on the dignity of state offices by pushing national standards and tests on them and because they have interfered with teacher evaluations.

But politicians and the media grossly misread the citizenry.  The root of citizen discontent lies in the academic harm being done to children, particularly the lack of preparedness for the SAT and college-level course work.

After more than two dozen years of steady NAEP gains, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan ties the sudden drop in NAEP scores to the Common Core standards, but argues that “we should expect scores…to bounce around some, and I think that ‘implementation dip’ is part of what we are seeing here.”

Common Core proponents are in a death fight.  Their strategy, as it has always been, is to keep the public debate away from the quality of the standards.  They need the media to parrot the message they have been squawking since before the standards were even written—that the standards are of high quality.  Or they at least need to avoid a discussion of the standards’ quality.

However, their strategy rests on a falsehood.

From the beginning of the Common Core Initiative—that is, when the Common Core owners announced their effort and began lining up state participation—proponents have flooded the media and the education industry with the idea that the standards are of high quality.  The problem, though, is that the Common Core standards are of poor quality.  As Marina Ratner, professor emerita of mathematics at Cal-Berkeley, argued last year in the Wall Street Journal, “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.”  And according to the leading expert on K-12 English standards, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, “… Common Core’s ELA standards fall far below what other English-speaking nations or regions require of college-intending high school graduates.”

But that’s not all.  The Common Core standards are unlike most other standards in that it is very difficult to teach above them.

With regard to math, Common Core in many instances dictates how teachers must teach, and it does so by dictating that students learn “fuzzy math” approaches before learning the standard way to solve a problem.  That slows down the academic progression such that, by the time children reach eighth grade, they are off the pathway for admission to university STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs and off the pathway for admission to competitive universities for study in the humanities.  With regard to English language arts, Common Core has several systemic defects including a radical reduction in the study of classic, imaginative literature—the basis of studies in the humanities.  Moreover, right from the beginning, Common Core trips young children through age-inappropriate standards—requiring children to engage in academic exercises for which their brains are not yet sufficiently developed.

Regarding the NAEP scores, APP Senior Fellow Ze’ev Wurman commented:

Common Core proponents have suddenly discovered prudence and are warning us of not drawing causal conclusions prematurely, yet the pattern of damage is consistent with academic criticism of Common Core’s experimental nature. What else has happened in the recent 3-5 years that affected so broadly and in such an unprecedented manner almost the whole nation, except Common Core? Surely it’s not El Niño or Global Warming.

Those qualitative defects are the basis of parents’ opposition to the standards.  The political reputations of Mike Pence, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush rest in the dustbin with Herbert Hoover, and they deserve to be there more so.  Now, we will see what the likes of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and the next Louisiana governor will do.  Will they usher in high-quality standards such as the former Massachusetts or Indiana standards?  Or will they re-brand the Common Core as, for example, the Glorious Arizona Standards, and therefore perpetuate the demeaning myth that parents are not upset about Common Core’s quality?

Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APP Education.


Emmett McGroarty is the director of APP Education.

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