Boosters of the Common Core national standards have acclaimed them as the most revolutionary advance in the history of American education.
As a historian of American education, I do not agree.
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core national standards, and they are being implemented this year.
Why did 45 states agree to do this? Because the Obama administration had $4.35 billion of Race to the Top federal funds, and states had to adopt “college-and-career ready standards” if they wanted to be eligible to compete for those funds. Some states, like Massachusetts, dropped their own well-tested and successful standards and replaced them with the Common Core, in order to win millions in new federal funds.
Is this a good development or not?
If you listen to the promoters of the Common Core standards, you will hear them say that the Common Core is absolutely necessary to prepare students for careers and college.
They say, if we don’t have the Common Core, students won’t be college-ready or career-ready.
Major corporations have published full-page advertisements in the New York Times and paid for television commercials, warning that our economy will be in serious trouble unless every school and every district and every state adopts the Common Core standards.
A report from the Council on Foreign Relations last year (chaired by Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice) warned that our national security was at risk unless we adopt the Common Core standards.
The Common Core standards, its boosters insist, are all that stand between us and economic and military catastrophe.
All of this is simply nonsense.
How does anyone know that the Common Core standards will prepare everyone for college and careers since they are now being adopted for the very first time?
How can anyone predict that they will do what their boosters claim?
There is no evidence for any of these claims.
There is no evidence that the Common Core standards will enhance equity. Indeed, the Common Core tests in New York caused a collapse in test scores, causing test scores across the state to plummet. Only 31 percent “passed” the Common Core tests. The failure rates were dramatic among the neediest students. Only 3.2 percent of English language learned were able to pass the new tests, along with only 5 percent of students with disabilities, and 17 percent of black students. Faced with tests that are so far beyond their reach, many of these students may give up instead of trying harder.
There is no evidence that those who study these standards will be prepared for careers, because there is nothing in them that bears any relationship to careers.
There is no evidence that the Common Core standards will enhance our national security.
How do we know that it will cause many more students to study math and science? With the collapse in test scores that Common Core brings, maybe students will doubt their ability and opt for less demanding courses.
Why so many promises and ungrounded predictions? It is a mystery.
Even more mysterious is why the nation’s major corporations and chambers of commerce now swear by standards that they have very likely never read.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for high standards. I am opposed to standards that are beyond reach. They discourage, they do not encourage.
But the odd thing about these standards is that they seem to be written in stone. Who is in charge of revising them? No one knows.
When I testified by Skype to the Michigan legislative committee debating the Common Core a couple of weeks ago, I told them to listen to their teachers and be prepared to revise the standards to make them better. Someone asked if states were “allowed” to change the standards. I asked, why not? Michigan is a sovereign state. If they rewrite the standards to fit the needs of their students, who can stop them? The federal government says it doesn’t “own” the standards. And that is true. The federal government is forbidden by law from interfering with curriculum and instruction.
States should do what works best for them. I also urged Michigan legislators to delay any Common Core testing until they were confident that teachers had the professional development and resources to teach them and students had had adequate time to learn what would be tested.
Do we need national standards to compare the performance of children in Mississippi to children in New York and Iowa? We already have the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which has been making these comparisons for 20 years.
Maybe I am missing something. Can anyone explain how the nation can adopt national standards without any evidence whatever that they will improve achievement, enrich education, and actually help to prepare young people — not for the jobs of the future, which are unknown and unknowable — but for the challenges of citizenship and life? Thebiggest fallacy of the Common Core standards is that they have been sold to the nation without any evidence that they will accomplish what their boosters claim.
Across the nation, our schools are suffering from budget cuts.
Because of budget cuts, there are larger class sizes and fewer guidance counselors, social workers, teachers’ assistants, and librarians.
Because of budget cuts, many schools have less time and resources for the arts, physical education, foreign languages, and other subjects crucial for a real education.
As more money is allocated to testing and accountability, less money is available for the essential programs and services that all schools should provide.
Our priorities are confused.