Common Core Has a Core Problem

Instead of leading to better education, the standards have devolved into a battle over funding.

Robin Smith · Jun. 3, 2019

“Contrary to our expectation, we found that [Common Core] had significant negative effects on 4th graders’ reading achievement during the 7 years after the adoption of the new standards, and had a significant negative effect on 8th graders’ math achievement 7 years after adoption based on analyses of NAEP composite scores.” —The Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction and Learning (C-SAIL) preliminary study, 4-1-2019

Uh oh. That Race to the Top money of 2012 — totaling over $400 million — that served as the bolus to prime the funding pump for America’s schools employing some form of Common Core State Standards didn’t work. It seems, the data shows, it even had a detrimental effect. But maybe it was that the money was insufficient. Right?

Wrong. That federal funding was accompanied by an additional $7 billion in Student Improvement Grants that directly targeted low-performing schools by Barack Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan. Money seemed plenteous.

So, what exactly has happened? Based on data analyzing the outcome of all but four states — Alaska, Texas, Nebraska, and Virginia — that moved to adopt some version of Common Core, the 640 pages of K-12 curriculum and testing mandates from 2010-2013 that was promised to produce academic gains, kids’ education actually suffered.

It seems, according to a longitudinal study, that students not only failed to make gains but tracked with “troubling” results showing “the magnitude of negative effects tend to increase over time.”

Specifically, after billions of dollars spent on new textbooks, new curriculum, and a new world of aggressive and frequent testing — along with the hours of work devoted to the change required of our teachers and students — the declines in performance measured for 4th-grade reading and 8th-grade math reached statistical significance.

That means the results are scientifically sound and can be replicated using data, measurement, and objective means. Bottom line, Common Core cost American taxpayers dearly and was a headache for teachers who dealt with teaching tests and taking tests instead of mastering academic information. But students were the biggest losers with a measurable decline in scores not just looking at reading and math in K-12 but, according to The Federalist’s Joy Pullman in a November 2018 piece, both ACT and SAT scores reflected similar declines: “Students’ readiness for college-level English was at its lowest level since ACT’s creators began measuring that item, in 2002. Students’ preparedness for college-level math is at its lowest point since 2004.”

But is the media reporting the failure of another attempt to reconfigure public education? Are parents up in arms that proficiencies are still lagging after more promises and programs? Oh, no. The crisis is that President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has the audacity to ask questions like the following in searching for a better way to approach preparing our children academically:

  • Why do schools close in the summer?
  • Why are schools assigned by your address?
  • Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place?
  • Why is choice only available to those who can buy their way out? Or buy their way in?
  • Why do we limit what a student can learn based upon the faculty and facilities available?

These were just a few of the questions asked by Secretary DeVos in a January speech at the American Enterprise Institute for a conference themed, “Bush-Obama School Reform: Lessons Learned.”

Americans have been taxed hundreds of billions of dollars for the purpose of public education under the guise that the U.S. Department of Education, created by the Carter administration, is the authority on educational excellence. DeVos’s comments reflect the hard truth that federal mandates, federally required testing, and federal standards to get federal money are tied to power that originates in Washington, DC, when parents working directly with teachers to provide the best options for their children are the ones who know best.

It’s 2019. America was told in 2000 that No Child Left Behind was the program to get our kids academically prepared for their futures. In 2008, the idea was the rigor of Common Core would be reinforced through new curricula as well as constant testing. And here we are, almost two decades later, waiting for some new-fangled-program to be the game-changer for students in our K-12 public schools.

Empowering parents to have more choice and control over the per-pupil-funding allocated for their child is a goal of the Trump administration and other states making reforms. But be prepared. When money is placed in the hands of taxpayers instead of a government bureaucracy to spend and steward, the fight is not about academic results. It’s about power and funding control.

That’s at the core of this critical issue.

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