Time to Admit the Obvious: Common Core Has Failed Spectacularly

Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0 BR)
Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0 BR)

Cosmic timing.

On the same day former Bush Administration official Douglas Holtz-Eakin warned that discarding the Common Core national standards would diminish students’ college-readiness and harm the economy, the news came out that Common Core-trained students are less competent than their predecessors in math and generally less prepared for college. Obviously Mr. Holtz-Eakin didn’t see that coming. But objective observers of Common Core have been predicting this result for years.

Now heading a group called American Action Forum, Mr. Holtz-Eakin makes a number of claims that have been debunked (it’s almost as though he wrote this piece a couple of years ago and hasn’t read the relevant literature since). To begin with, he embraces the revisionist account of the origins of Common Core: “A state-led effort, the Common Core standards were drafted by experts and teachers from across the country.” It is now beyond serious dispute that Common Core was in fact a private-foundation- and federal-government-led effort, and that the standards were written essentially by a few drafters selected by unknown people for undisclosed reasons. So Mr. Holtz-Eakin establishes off the bat that he doesn’t understand Common Core.

He then repeats the talking point that the Common Core standards “have been shown to be more rigorous and effective.” Shown by whom? He cites to a Fordham Institute report that was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the chief financier of Common Core. But even though Fordham was essentially being paid to make Common Core look “rigorous” in comparison to the standards of other states, even Fordham was forced to admit that many states (such as Massachusetts and California) had clearly superior standards.

Scholars not paid by Gates have been warning for years that Common Core would have dire consequences for students’ college-readiness. 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 that they “would not prepare students for authentic college-level coursework.” Another Validation Committee dissident, world-renowned mathematician Dr. James Milgram, professor emeritus at Stanford University, has been withering in his criticism of the dumbed-down math standards, which he warned could not 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 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.”

And what about Mr. Holtz-Eakin’s claim that Common Core was shown to be “effective”? The Fordham report showed no such thing, because it was issued before Common Core was implemented. So we must look elsewhere for evidence of effectiveness.

Which brings us to the news released by the National Association of Educational Progress (the NAEP, or the “nation’s report card”) on the same day as Mr. Holtz-Eakin’s fantastical essay. The 2015 NAEP scores of the nation’s high-school seniors show a decline in math performance, stagnation in reading performance, and decline in college preparation in both areas.

The average math score for seniors dropped from 153 in 2013 to 152 in 2015, according to NAEP a “statistically significant” decline. The reading scores stagnated, and came in significantly below reading scores from 1992 (down from 292 to 287).

As for college-readiness, Mr. Holtz-Eakin must be especially perturbed by that NAEP indicator. In 2013, 39 percent of students were estimated to be college-ready in math, and 38 percent ready in reading. After two more years of Common Core training, the readiness scores were down to 37 percent in each subject.

These results are especially significant because, unlike students who took the NAEP tests two years earlier, the 2015 test-takers had the benefit of full Common Core implementation. Or maybe “benefit” is the wrong word.

As quoted in The New York Times, NAEP governing board chairman Terry Mazany described all these results as “worrisome.” The Los Angeles Times quotes the “bottom line” offered by a former NAEP official: “We’re stalled. We’re not making any progress.” Indeed.

Coming on the heels of similar dismal NAEP scores for younger students in October, these results confirm that our schools are headed in precisely the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, Michigan is the latest state to explore replacing Common Core with standards that aren’t, well, garbage. This week the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would substitute the pre-Common Core Massachusetts standards for the substandard Common Core. Given that even Gates-funded Fordham agrees the Massachusetts standards are better, will we see Mr. Holtz-Eakin and his ideological compatriots cheering Michigan on?

If anyone in the pro-Common Core camp criticizes Michigan’s action, that will prove these forces have agendas other than the authentic education of children. In the meantime, other state legislatures should jump off the Common Core train before it goes over the cliff. How much more evidence do they need?

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