Common Core is in a death-spiral. Weekly, it seems, we hear of yet another blow to the system. Test scores are down. States are jumping out of the federally created testing. Parents, teachers, and students loathe the tests. The mainstream media refuses to report on the quality of the Common Core, but people are figuring it out anyway: The Common Core locks children into a dumbed-down education. But even in the midst of all that, the news out of Kentucky stands out as a death omen for Common Core — and perhaps for centralized education policy altogether.
Common Core opponent Matt Bevin defeated Jack Conway 53 percent to 44 percent. That makes Bevin only the second Republican to win Kentucky’s governorship in the past four decades. He won despite a huge monetary disadvantage (Democrats outspent Republicans $8.75 million to $5.5 million). And in the last week of the campaign, Bevin’s message drove him from 5 points behind — a 12 point swing.
What was that message? It included his campaign promise to release Kentucky from the grasp of Common Core. According to Politico, Bevin’s “team insisted throughout the race that its candidate’s ideological leanings” would propel them to victory. In fact, Bevin’s closing ad highlighted his opposition to Common Core.
This radical shift in party power comes as Kentucky — the first state to adopt the Common Core — is now seeing the effects of the Common Core system. Student scores on the state standardized tests are poor. As to the state’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results, we see falling scores in 8th grade math and reading and stagnant scores in 4th grade math. According to Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute, the NAEP exams are significant as they “serve as something of an external audit to see if states’ own tests are producing deceptive information…many people who support the Core see state tests as dishonest if they differ markedly in their results from NAEP. So NAEP is important to them.” While the NAEP scores alone are limited in what they can tell us, as is any other single measure of education, McCluskey adds, “we should be concerned whenever we see scores go down.”
But there is added cause of concern. As it was the first state to adopt the standards, the Common Core machine — including the Gates Foundation and GE Foundation — pumped a lot of money (see here and here) into the state to help with implementation. It seems that such assistance will not cure Common Core’s myriad fatal flaws.
Nationwide, the 2015 SAT scores were the lowest in a decade. Likewise, nationwide NAEP recorded a drop in math scores for both grades, a drop in 8th grade reading scores, and a flat line for 4th grade reading scores. That ended two decades of rising scores.
The election could not have come at a better time for Bevin — or Kentucky, for that matter. As the state with the longest amount of time under Common Core, recent test scores from Kentucky students should cause alarm in other states that have adopted the Core.
So what can Bevin actually to repeal the Common Core? Lots.
He will have the power to appoint pro-high standards, anti-Common Core members to the state education board. He can also urge the legislature to legislatively adopt proven high standards that will bring a traditional education into Kentucky. He would do well to look at the old, pre-Common Core Massachusetts standards. Using those standards, Massachusetts had the best education system in the country — a world-class education system with world-class achievement.
Bevin should be forewarned though. He should be careful not to make Mike Pence’s mistake. If he re-brands the Common Core — in other words, changing a few words here and there but keeping the overall slowed-down Common Core progression such that the Common Core tests and textbooks remain — then he should expect to be booted out of office. Now, we will see whether Bevin is a leader and a fighter. We will see whether he has the courage to take on the Chamber of Commerce and the other special interests.
Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APP Education.