In an astute article at, Gabriel Arana explains in Salon how the Common Core standards united both left and right in opposition.


Arne Duncan has tried his best to portray critics as wing nuts from the fringes of American politics whose views should be ignored or as whiny “white suburban moms” who mistakenly thought their child was brilliant, but it hasn’t worked. Most of those who speak out for Common Core are either paid to do so, or work for organizations funded by the Gates Foundation, which paid out between $200 million and $2 billion to write and promote the Common Core.


“There’s been a convergence on the left and right on Common Core,” says Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University. “A lot of the right-wing opposition is about Obama. … On the left, it’s about standardized testing and how high-stakes tests are going to be used to hold schools accountable.”


While defenders of the Common Core repeat the false claim that the standards were written by the nation’s governors (imagine that!) or by teachers, Arana notes that few teachers were involved in the writing of them and that there is no way to fix what’s wrong about them. They were written by a committee in which the testing industry was well represented but early childhood educators and teachers were not.


The standards were implemented with little forethought or preparation. Seventh graders were assumed to know everything that was in the standards in the previous six grades, for example. Teachers had minimal preparation.


This is a good article. Show it to your friends.


The implementation has been a disaster. For starters, the 27-member committee that wrote the standards had few actual teachers on it, but plenty of representatives from the testing industry. Because it is illegal for the U.S. Department of Education to exert influence over state curriculums, the Bill Gates foundation stepped in and funded most of the effort. Even worse, the committee that wrote the standards no longer exists, and there are no formal procedures for amending them.

That task has been left to the states. Some, like New York, adopted the standards and started testing students on them without bothering to train teachers — teachers there got a printout of students’ scores that don’t even tell them the areas where they performed well or poorly. “If you simply raise the bar and a whole host of schools were failing when the bar was lower, how is that going to be effective?” says Noguera, who supports national education standards….


Under ideal circumstances, national education standards would ensure students across the country are getting the instruction they need to prepare them for college, and help bring some uniformity to widely varying state curricula. But the effort has floundered for a familiar reason: Americans’ enduring distrust of the federal government. With the Department of Education unable to take a strong lead, Common Core has been hijacked by the for-profit school-reform movement. Whether Common Core ends up doing any good largely depends on what each state decides to do with the benchmarks, which sort of undermines the whole point of having national standards in the first place.


To make any sense at all, national education standards must be aspirational, saying this is what should happen under the best of circumstances. They must recognize that children are not widgets, and that they differ in rates of development and in other dimensions. They should come with the resources to make them possible. They should be phased in slowly. There should be a central organization that can make adjustments to the standards and fix errors. They should be written by experienced teachers and educators of established reputations, not by testing companies, consultants, and inside-the-Beltway bureaucrats.


We really must think more rationally about the value and purpose of standards. Common standards will not cause everyone to become proficient, nor will tests linked to the standards. If that were true, everyone in Massachusetts–not just 50% of students–would be proficient on NAEP. If we have “high” standards, “rigorous” standards, “challenging” standards, a large proportion of students will not pass.


Of course, we should constantly strive to make schools better. All children should have a full and varied curriculum taught by well-prepared teachers. Experience should be respected and valued. All schools should have principals who are experienced teachers. All districts should have superintendents who are experienced teachers and administrators. Schools should have nurses, psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors, and librarians. Teachers should have reasonable class sizes, especially in the elementary years and especially for the neediest children. Most tests should be written by teachers; standardized tests should be used solely for diagnostic purposes, to help children, not to rank them. If we were serious about wanting higher achievement, we would reduce poverty. Standards and tests don’t cure poverty, and if we don’t reduce poverty, there will be no change in educational outcomes.


It is good to have standards, but not to think of them as “one-size-fits-all.” Think about running. For many years, the idea of running a four-minute was held up as the highest possible standard. Wikipedia says that the four-minute mile is “the standard” for all male middle-distance runners.


In the sport of athletics, the four-minute mile is the act of completing the mile run (1,760 yards, or 1,609.344 metres) in less than four minutes. It was first achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister in 3:59.4.[1] The “four-minute barrier” has since been broken by many male athletes, and is now the standard of all male professional middle distance runners.


Does that mean that all male middle-distance runners should aspire to running a four-minute mile? Yes. Does it mean that everyone, no matter what their personal health or ability or interest, should be judged by their success in running a four-minute mile? That’s absurd.