The Results Are In: Common Core is An All-Around Failure

David Randall

“The Common Core will be a disaster,” said the NAS. “It will leave students ignorant not only of literature and history, but even the ability to read, write, and sum. All the emphasis on ‘skills’ is useless without rigorous standards and challenging content matter. Our students will know every way to add two plus two, and they’ll come up with a different answer each time.”

NAS President Peter Wood also edited Drilling Through the Core: Why Common Core Is Bad for American Education. He also voiced the critique of Common Core in an essay he wrote for Encounter Books’ Common Core: Yea or Nay? It was part of a civil disagreement with educational reformers who thought that any standard would be an improvement on no standards. Wood rather feared that wouldn’t be the case.

The NAS had some success slowing the Common Core juggernaut—but still, far, far too many American students have had to be educated by the Common Core--the horrible love-child of ed-school theory and bureaucratic standardization.

Now the results have come in. The National Assessment of Educational Progress has tested the first three years of schoolchildren entirely educated by the Common Core—and their test scores have fallen steadily. NAS didn’t expect Common Core to be any good at teaching real knowledge of history, literature, or mathematics. But Common Core was created to make students succeed at standardized tests, and it’s failed there too. American students are testing worse as a whole, and so are most demographic subgroups. NAS said Common Core would be a disaster for American students, and so it has turned out to be.

We get bragging rights, but no joy. America’s dug itself into a terrible hole. We need to get to work to dig ourselves out.

First we need to know the scale of the problem. The Common Core was promoted by multibillionaire Bill Gates, and his foundation supports just about every education nonprofit in America. That support encourages just about every education expert in America to tell the American public that the Common Core is just dandy, it’s just that it hasn’t been implemented properly yet. The Real Common Core is like Real Communism—never mind the hecatombs in all the Communist countries so far, Real Communism will be better!

The bureaucrats in the state and federal departments of education are dug in for Common Core. They won’t change their support voluntarily.

The College Board has altered all its examinations—SATs and advanced placement—to fit in with the Common Core. Those tests no longer provide a check on the Common Core’s failure.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is more interested in school choice than she is in reforming what’s taught in the public schools. That’s good for the students she helps to escape from the public schools—but what about the millions still stuck in them? DeVos is doing fine work, and she’s not part of the Common Core machine, but her political priorities won’t help us get rid of the Common Core.

A generation of schoolteachers has spent years learning how to teach according to Common Core requirements. Even if they don’t love it—and the sensible ones hate it—they’ll hate even more being asked to teach a new way, now that they’ve learned this one. You have to sympathize with them, even if their reaction is wrong.

Our best hope lies with the states. Governors can appoint reformers to head the state departments of education, and these reformers can start the administrative battles necessary to disassemble Common Core. The State Legislatures can vote to impose tough new curriculum standards, which will replace Common Core. Governors and legislatures can work jointly to provide easy, standard exemptions for school districts that want to escape the Common Core. It’ll take a while to disassemble the Common Core machine, but we can start the work, state by state.

Meanwhile, Americans should start to think about what educational standards we ought to have instead of Common Core. We don’t want one nationwide bureaucratic standard that will go terribly wrong again. But we can start thinking about principles that can be applied intelligently and prudently by each state and each school district. The best way to go is probably standards modeled on the proposed Massachusetts History Standards of 2003—a concise list of required factual knowledge, complete latitude about how to teach, and an external exam for all high school graduates, so parents and educators can have a reliable measure of how well each school teaches. Generalize those standards for all subjects, and we can have K-12 schools we can be proud of.

There will be real cause for joy, among all Americans, when we achieve that goal. 

Image: Steve Riot; Public Domain

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