Who’s Telling the Truth About Alabama’s Constitutional Amendment One?

As a former member of the Alabama State School Board (2003-2019), I would like to share my concerns about the ballot language for Amendment One.  When voters get a ballot on March 3, this is all that is printed in the ballot summary about  Amendment One: 


“Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to change the name of the State Board of Education to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education; to provide for the appointment of members of the Commission by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate; and to authorize the Governor to appoint a team of local educators and other officials to advise the commission on matters relating to the functioning and duties of the State Department of Education (Proposed by  Act 2019-345.)”

This brief summary is misleading and totally unacceptable. This is the political equivalent of “bait and switch.”  Totally missing from the ballot is the very important content of SB 397  in Section 5 beginning at the bottom of page 4 and continuing on to page 5 mandating  the new commission (which replaces the current state school board) to adopt five things.  The first is “Course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside the state in lieu of common core.”  The ballot summary for March 3 does not include any mention of standards.

Last December before the summary for the ballot was available,  a legislator contacted the Legislative Services Agency Legal Division to confirm what the ballot language would be.  He was given this information: “If the Amendment passes, the (new governor-appointed) commission will have to develop new standards which “ensure nation-wide consistency and the seamless transfer of students.” 

A representative of the AL State Department of Education said they were are not aware of any other nationally recognized standards for math and English Language Arts other than the Common Core Standards. Unfortunately voters would not have any way of knowing this since it’s not included on the ballot.

Any assertion that Amendment One will free Alabama of the much-detested Common Core State Standards aka College & Career Ready Standards is false.  Voters who rely solely on the ballot summary will not realize that the Common Core standards will be permanently written into the Alabama constitution.  We would have to pass another constitutional amendment to ever get rid of them.  Although the  Secretary of State’s office was asked to add necessary information from the bill onto the ballot for clarity,  this was not done.

On Monday several organizations including the Alabama Farmers’ Federation (ALFA) , Forestry, Manufacture Alabama, the Alabama Realtors Association and perhaps others began running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads endorsing Amendment One.  The ads complain about our low test scores and how elected board members are too political. Apparently the Amendment One proponents think having a state school board made up of members who all were appointed by one person will not be “political.”

For those too young to remember or who have forgotten, many years ago the Alabama State School Board was an appointed board.  However, it was changed to an elected one because the appointed board was not doing a good job.  Right before the Common Core standards were implemented, former state school superintendent Joe Morton spoke frequently about how students’ scores had increased, moving Alabama up to the middle range of states.  Then after a few years of using Common Core standards and assessments, our students’ scores plummeted to the bottom in math and close to the bottom in reading.  I  remember student progress declined all across America both in states with appointed state school boards as well as those with elected boards after the Common Core State Standards were implemented nationwide.  If we are serious about improving learning, we need to start by actually replacing the much-hates Common Core aka College and Career-ready Standards with some that are more traditional and have been proven to work .  Perhaps returning to the ones we were using immediately before Common Core would be a good start–at least when we were using them, our students’ performance was going in the right direction. 

I  know I’m not the only person who thinks there has been some legislative chicanery going on with this amendment.  If the legislature and governor are so proud of it, why are they hiding so much of it, especially the information about Common Core, from the voters on election day, and why would it take so much media time to convince voters that it’s a good idea.
Link to the actual bill language which is not available on the sample ballot:  https://legiscan.com/AL/text/SB397/id/2049734/Alabama-2019-SB397-Enrolled.pdf

Changing State Standards: Repeal, Revise, Replace, Rebrand, Update, or Unique?

Issues related to and surrounding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are controversial and “toxic” (as Mike Huckabee put it) for many people both in and outside of education, including decision-makers.  Rather than truly replacing the CCSS, some states have simply rebranded them.  As a result, “College and Career Readiness Standards” and setting “higher” national standards are viewed as euphemisms for the CCSS.  Rebranding has taken many forms, from simply changing the name to having committees review the standards, make minor, unsubstantial changes, add some front material, and possibly reformat their presentation.

For those familiar with pre-CCSS state math standards and who can compare them with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M), it can be seen the CCSS-M are uniquely written.  Once familiar with this uniqueness, a person can usually determine if CCSS-M standards have been used as a base or model for a standards revision or rewrite.

Two states, Alabama and Florida, have been making noise about getting rid of the Common Core State Standards.  Some headline terms used include repeal, end, ditch, eliminate, and scrap.  As time goes on, more states will consider changing their standards.  It will be interesting to see how they go about it and what the resulting product (set of standards) looks like.

Here are some possible scenarios of what states might do as they consider changing their CCSS-M standards.  These are listed from worst to best case

  1. Adopt the Common Core State Standards as they are
  2. Rebrand the CCSS-M in name only
  3. Rebrand CCSS-M in name with minor changes*
  4. Rewrite standards using CCSS-M as the model**
  5. Rewrite standards using another state’s weak pre-CCSS standards as a model
  6. Rewrite standards using an A rated set of pre-CCSS standards as a model
  7. Adopt an A rated set of pre-CCSS standards (INCA, or even the unrated WEMS)

*changes some states made, even minor ones, significantly weakened their standards

**this results in standards that are basically CCSS with phrases that have been rewritten

I would recommend states work to avoid paths 1 though 5 and if possible and only accept paths 6 or 7.

Some states have expended a lot of resources on rebrands or rewrites that have resulted in adopting a set of standards that in essence are the CCSS (or worse).  It doesn’t appear that any state completing a rebrand or rewrite has done anything that actually improved the CCSS.

One strategy that has been used in a few states is to have a survey set up for the public to provide specific input on the current standards, often standard by standard.  This strategy will mostly result in a set a standards that closely resembles or is the same as the current standards.  And if the current standards are the Common Core or a rebrand a brand makeover results.  This strategy fits with path 4 where the standards are rewritten using the CCSS as a model.

Do states that make noise about the CCSS want to repeal, revise, replace, rebrand, or update their standards?  Do they really want to have a better set of standards?  Or do they just want to make noise having people think they are doing something that will result in a better set of standards when the real result will be little to no change or something worse?

Cross-post.

Why Common Core’s Standards Weaken Teacher/Administrator Training

As intended, Common Core’s standards shape tests determining “college and career readiness.” But, unfortunately, they affect the preparation of teachers and administrators as well. How they do so is not well understood by most parents. 

The standards adopted by the Council for Accreditation of Education Professionals (CAEP) require all preparation programs for teachers and school administrators seeking re-accreditation to address “rigorous college- and career-ready standards” and explicitly mention Common Core’s standards as an example. But they don’t require preparation programs to address all the traditional discipline-based content that parents may well assume these standards address.

In CAEP 2013 Standards for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, approved by CAEP’s Board of Directors on August 29, 2013, we find under “Standard 1: Content and Pedagogical Knowledge” the following standard as a “provider” responsibility: 

1.4 Providers ensure that completers demonstrate skills and commitment that afford all P‐12 students access to rigorous college‐ and career‐ready standards (e.g., Next Generation Science Standards, National Career Readiness Certificate, Common Core State Standards).

Exactly how teachers can give students “access” to rigorous standards is not explained in the glossary for this Standard. In addition, there are two basic problems with the wording in substandard 1.4.  

First, the word “rigorous” begs the question that is arousing parents across the country: Are “college- and career-ready standards” (which everyone today knows as a synonym for Common Core’s standards) rigorous?  It has becoming increasingly clear to watchful parents that Common Core-based lessons are not academically rigorous. 

Why did CAEP decide that Common Core’s standards were rigorous?  What experts on high school mathematics, science, and literary content helped the education school deans on CAEP’s Board of Directors to arrive at that decision? Even Common Core’s own mathematics standards writers have acknowledged that they do not prepare students for STEM majors or careers. By intention, Common Core’s level of college readiness in mathematics is low.

Moreover, in requiring prospective teachers (“completers”) to demonstrate their “commitment” to give all students “access” to “rigorous” standards, the examples given do not lead knowledgeable observers to place much confidence in the outcomes.  The examples include Next Generation Science Standards which were released in 2013 and have been heavily criticized by scientists for having few high school chemistry standards and unteachable physics standards because the mathematics to support high school physics coursework is not clearly specified nor integrated with the physics standards. 

Why should an accreditation agency promote particular sets of standards (even if as examples) rather than expect prospective teachers and administrators to learn how to teach discipline-based content?  Accrediting personnel will rely on those examples of standards, especially if they have been told they are rigorous, leaving prospective teachers and administrators underqualified for work in private schools or homeschooling cooperatives that may still want educators who can establish and teach to authentically rigorous standards. 

CAEP may well be handicapping the preparation programs it has accredited.  While private schools as well as some charter schools are exempt from hiring state-licensed teachers and administrators, a new accreditation agency is needed that does not impose the use of weak or academically-limited K-12 standards on all educator training programs.

Is Federalism In Education “Misguided”?

Henry A.J. Ramos and Eric C. Abrams wrote an op/ed for EdSource entitled, “Public education must promote participation in democratic process.” Ramos is the author of the forthcoming book Democracy & The Next American Economy: Where Prosperity Meets Justice. Abrams is the chief inclusion officer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. 

They write something that is truly mind boggling. Do they really think federalism applied to K-12 education is “misguided”?

Recent adoption of the Common Core by most states has achieved mixed results through a higher degree of standardization in teaching and testing content. In most places, this has led to incremental improvements but few major breakthroughs, especially in lower and middle income communities. This, in turn, has led to growing calls for less regulated and more varied approaches.

The notion, however, that further privatizing and decentralizing school policy and practice is a better long-range plan for American culture is deeply misguided. The idea of each state having its own educational approach and standards seems appealing on its face: “Let a thousand flowers bloom” say those who oppose stronger national standards for public schools.

But in today’s context of globalization and rapid technological transformation—forces that should be compelling us to harmonize as a nation—the absence of a more unified, strategic and egalitarian education approach actually works in the opposite direction. Indeed, it is working against us.

Where are these modest gains? What I’ve seen under Common Core is a growing achievement gap though. Scores have been stagnant. What data are they looking at? 

In fact, what evidence do they cite? Nothing. Where has centralization gotten us? Nowhere. The beautiful thing about federalism, especially as it applies to K-12 education, is that we have the ability to see what works and what fails without subjecting the entire nation to some grand experiment. 

This way state policymakers and local school boards have the ability to emulate success by applying what works if they want. 

Those who pushed Common Core ignored that benefit of having 50 systems of K-12 education rather than one national system. They could have modeled Common Core on the most successful states, but they didn’t.

Now we have spent countless hours and dollars on an education reform that has produced nothing.

Also, top-down policymaking and centralized education do the exact opposite of what the title of their article suggests. If you want participation in public education then policymaking needs to be done at the most local level, otherwise, citizens and parents will be ignored. 

Not to mention decentralization is what the founders intended and is the Constitutional model. The centralization of K-12 education has occurred over decades, and we have nothing to show for it. It’s time to embrace federalism and localization of education.

Deputized Education

Most of us, here in America, know that our State Superintendents are elected. We also know that some States have these leaders appointed. However, have you heard of new positions in your States for Deputy Superintendents? These leaders are appointed solely by your current State Superintendent.

As I often do, I’ll use NC (where I live) as an example of how troublesome this new concept is for America. Why would I do that? Because what I’ve found to be true more times than not, is if we spy one State expanding government in the name of education, it’s happening in other States, too.

Why would your State or mine expand government in the name of education?

ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) requires expansion. How? One of the most damning mandates in ESSA is that all education must be aligned to post-secondary readiness. To have all education aligned to the same thing, you have to update technology (ie: innovation). Of course, you update the technology, you increase the amount of data mining. 

The NC State Board of Education is hosting its December meeting 12/5 and 12/6. Among the documents is the 2019 Report to the Joint Oversight Committee on Education (as per a NC State Statute requires). In that Report, you’ll see on page 1, this excerpt explaining NC’s first ISD (Innovation School District (this ISD covers the entire State, by the way) leader who got a recent promotion: 

“The founding Superintendent, Dr. Eric Hall, was hired in May 2017 to launch and implement this new statewide intervention focused on improving student outcomes in low performing schools. On September 17, 2018, the ISD named a new Superintendent, LaTeesa Allen. Ms. Allen replaced Eric Hall, who was promoted to Deputy State Superintendent of Innovation.”

I was one of the first to expose the DIS (see below), but, I’m not the only NC citizen upset about an increased educratic government system in NC, From July 2018, Caffeinated Rage (a blog about public education in NC) published this article about the newly created Deputy position. As you read the Rage blog you’ll see that in fact there are several other new Deputies in education, as well as a comparison to our pre ESSA organization chart for NC and the new organizational chart. 

Besides the fact that our current State Superintendent expanded the Department of Public Instruction by creating Deputies, such the Deputy of Innovation, this type of move took AWAY some taxpayer transparency!

When you take away taxpayer transparency, you continue to mute the voices of the parents and concerned citizens. When you remove those voices, control of education becomes LESS local and more top-down. That’s another direct part of ESSA, more top-down control and less parental choice.

Oh, one last point about the Deputy of Innovation, the schools targeted are all low-performing ones. ESSA has mandates for low-performing schools that we’re seeing played out in NC and across the nation: these low-performing public schools are being turned over to private charter school management companies.

Deputies of Innovation are nationwide. After a quick internet search, I found that there are at least 160 such deputy jobs available just on Indeed.com alone. One such position is available in CA. NY has some education deputies which intersect with communities. (ESSA laid that aspect out as well). NM’s got a similar name as NC’s Deputy, but it’s called a Director. 

Just like the re-brands of Common Core (like CCR, College/Career Readiness), ESSA’s re-branding many parts of education. Why? Those backing the egregious national standards and control know that if a new sounding name is introduced, ‘We the People’ are more likely to embrace the changes. 

However, many citizens have woken up to the fact all that appears new isn’t new at all. It’s the same Common Core Standards nightmare being carried out. 

So, what are we, as Americans supposed to do with the newly created government expansion? 

Demand are voices be heard, re-instate total transparency. Repeal ESSA, nationally normed standards thrive on nationally normed (and conformed) tests. Which every single State in America is seeing play out. We also need our President to rescind the FERPA gutting Executive Order and restore true student privacy. 

We need to ditch updating technology and get back to the basics of learning. The increase in technology not only assaults privacy, it is dangerous in the fact of too much screen time literally harms student’s brains!

C’mon America, we not only HAVE to demand the best for our students, we MUST not stop raising awareness of the daily wrongs being committed on our dime and to our children. We MUST hold State level and national level Congress members accountable that there’s a U.S. Constitution which laid out what was federal business and what wasn’t. 

Education was NEVER supposed to be top-down from the federal government. Education HAS been used by the federal government to coerce every single State in our nation! Federal laws were created to prohibit federal overreaches in education. Laws like ESSA not only violate that concept, it totally squashes our State leaders!

Related Resources:
Back in 2016, I first wrote about the Districts of Innovation on my full-time blog
(https://commoncorediva.wordpress.com/2016/10/05/bees-in-ncs-bonnet/)

To see the 2019 Report to the Joint Oversight Education Committee, here’s the link: https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=10399&AID=151291&MID=4874

Watch: Rethinking Federal Intervention in K-12 Education

The Heritage Foundation and Pioneer Institute co-hosted an event entitled “Rethinking Federal Intervention in K-12 Education” held at The Heritage Foundation on Thursday. 

The description for the event states: “After recent historic declines in student achievement following decades of increased federal involvement in K-12 education, it is time to re-think federal intervention in education.”

Panelists included:

  • Theodore Rebarber – CEO of AccountabilityWorks
  • Neal McCluskey – Director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute
  • Brad Thomas – Senior Education Policy Advisor, U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce
  • Patrick Wolf – Distinguished Professor of Education Policy, University of Arkansas
  • Jamie Gass – Director of the Center for School Reform, Pioneer Institute
  • Lindsey Burke – Director, Center for Education Policy and Will Skillman Fellow in Education, Heritage Foundation

Watch the panel discussion below:

Florida Elects Anti-Common Core Governor

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in Florida’s Gubernatorial Race last night by a slim margin: 49.7 percent to 49.1 percent. 

He has criticized Common Core while campaigning for Governor. He tweeted this out in August:

Prior to the Florida primary, Karen Effrem made the following observations about DeSantis here at Truth in American Education:

This is a welcome change from Governor Rick Scott provided he follows through. 

Common Core, The Great “Leveler”

Photo Credit: Stephen Mally/The Cedar Rapids Gazette

This is getting tiresome. Every new round of test scores, whether from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or some other vehicle, shows either stagnation or decline in reading and math performance of American students. Every time this happens, we write about the now undeniable connection to the Common Core national standards, which began to be implemented in most states in 2010. The recently released and utterly predictable scores from ACT require yet another commentary on the decline of academic performance and college-readiness under Common Core. 

How many times must this cycle repeat before someone in power is shamed into doing something about it?

Let’s look first at ACT’s college-readiness. According to Education Week, ACT correlates scores with students’ likelihood of earning Bs or Cs in credit-bearing college coursework. This year, only 40 percent of test-takers met the benchmark in math – the lowest level since 2004, and down from 46 percent in 2012. Significantly, unlike today’s students, the higher-scoring 2012 students had had little if any exposure to the glorious reforms of Common Core. As for reading, only 60 percent of test-takers met the college-readiness benchmark – the lowest level ever in the 16-year history of the benchmark. 

As for the straight scores, Education Week breaks the news: “The average math score for the graduating class of 2018 was 20.5, marking a steady decline from 20.9 five years ago, and virtually no progress since 1998, when it was 20.6.” And reading? “[T]he scores in English didn’t offer much cause for celebration, either. The average score for the class of 2018 was 20.2, the same as five years ago, and down half a point from the English-score high in 2007.”

But the hits just keep on comin’. Average composite scores fell in all racial and ethnic groups except Asian-Americans. So Common Core has been a great leveler – just not in the way it was promised. 

ACT’s chief executive officer was in a gloomy mood. “We’re at a very dangerous point. And if we do nothing, it will keep on declining,” he predicted.

So what should we do? Anyone with no Gates funding and two brain cells to rub together would conclude that a good start would be ditching Common Core lock, stock, and barrel – every “informational text,” every “close reading,” every “deeper conceptual understanding,” every “Lexile” measure, every “alternative algorithm,” every “real-world problem-solving,” every “rigorous” standard, every delay in standard algorithms, every delay in algebra, every “collaboration,” every “consensus,” all of it. Surely this will happen now.

Or maybe not. The progressive-education reformers have a lot invested in this experiment, and they’re guarding their interests. The immediate past-president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, an organization that bears much blame for pushing the kind of ridiculous math enshrined in Common Core, isn’t giving up the national standards without a fight. As reported in Education Week, this educrat “said that states have made solid progress adopting the good math standards, but the ACT results suggest that schools need to focus on improving curriculum and instructional practice to bring those expectations fully to life.”

Ah yes, that’s the ticket – the standards are great, so if we only improve “curriculum and instructional practice,” our kids may once again learn to read and work math problems.  This is certainly Bill Gates’s position, and after all he’s very rich and so knows of what he speaks. And this is basically the position of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which recently released a report singing the praises of Common Core. Rarely does such a report get disproven in only a few months. Unfortunate timing for Fordham.

For those keeping score at home, here’s the evidence of the raging success of Common Core:

  • From the 2015 NAEP scores: for the first time in over 20 years, declines in math performance across the board, stagnation or declines in reading performance, and decline in college-readiness benchmarks in both areas.
  • From the 2017 NAEP scores: no improvement from the dismal 2015 scores.
  • From the 2017 NAEP scores: increased “achievement gap” between white/Asian students and other minority groups.
  • From the 2017 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) test: U.S. students tumble from 5th in the world to 13th.

The protective edifice that has been erected around Common Core – by the federal government, state education establishments, private foundations, corporations, education consultants, and individual megalomaniacs – has got to go. If these defenders refuse to acknowledge the truth staring them in the face, they are elevating their own interests over those of American children. 

Report: Has Common Core Changed What Teachers Know and Do?

How has Common Core changed what teachers know and do? The Rand Corporation released a report that examined data from surveys of the American Teacher Panel in 2015, 2016, and 2017 to see if there was a change in the use of instructional materials and knowledge of state standards and standards-aligned practices.

Some of their key findings are interesting:

  • While teachers’ use of published textbooks changed very little, their use of standards-aligned and content-focused online materials appeared to rise.
  • ELA teachers were less likely to regard the use of complex, grade-level texts as aligned with their standards in 2017 than in 2016, although most aspects of teachers’ knowledge about their standards did not change.
  • Mathematics teachers of low-vulnerability students reported that their students engaged less in some standards-aligned student practices in 2017 than in 2016, whereas the authors did not observe any changes in reports of teachers serving more vulnerable students; mathematics teachers’ overall reports of practice did not appear to change.
  • ELA teachers reported that their students engaged less in several standards-aligned practices in 2017 than in 2016.

It’s no surprise that teachers have gone online more for resources and curriculum as we’ve seen that trend over the years.

Less engagement? I wonder why? 

They note the lack of change in student achievement, and, of course, make excuses for it. Here’s an example:

A second reason why the Common Core may not yet be driving student achievement gains is that it may be far too early to measure change. While the Common Core and similar state standards were adopted in some states in 2011–2012, those standards were not implemented in other states until 2014– 2015, including in California, the most-populous U.S. state. Furthermore, even if state standards that aligned with the Common Core were supposed to be “fully implemented” by 2014–2015 in most states, other aspects of the education system also need to change for student achievement and learning to rise. At least some leaders and teachers will have to make changes to how they view and evaluate good instruction in order to be more aligned with what the standards demand. Such change is not about making simple fixes, and it depends on educators’ knowledge about content, standards, and pedagogy, as well as their willingness to do things differently, even if they have been teaching the same way for decades. In addition, to make the major instructional shifts required by the Common Core, teachers need access to such resources as high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials to guide and support their teaching (Steiner, 2017). Textbook publishers have been very slow to make the changes demanded by new standards, and districts have been slow to adopt those materials (Herold and Molnar, 2014; Heitin, 2015; Polikoff, 2015), which likely has had repercussions on forward progress of standards-based reforms.

This is nonsense of course because at the very least we should see some changes with 4th graders, but that is not the case.

They highlight where teachers are going for online resources:

More than one-half of all mathematics and ELA teachers reported using Teacherspayteachers.com, and between one-third and one-half of mathematics and ELA teachers indicated using Pinterest.com

Pinterest? 

They note they have seen no clear changes in teachers’ knowledge and a decrease in ELA knowledge.

Given that the Common Core and similar standards are being implemented in most states across the United States, one might expect to see changes in teachers’ knowledge. However, we saw
no clear changes in teachers’ knowledge about their mathematics standards when comparing teachers’ survey responses in 2016 and 2017. For ELA, we found a decrease in teachers’ perceptions that “assigning complex texts that all students in a class are required to read” was aligned with their state standards, despite the fact that the use of complex texts is emphasized in most state standards. 

What’s really going on here? Is it that teachers don’t know or are they rejecting aspects to the standards? 

I doubt we’ll get a straight answer.

Download and read the report here.

Study: Since Common Core Student Achievement Has Declined and School Choice Harmed

While U.S. academic performance has declined since the broad implementation of Common Core, school choice programs are increasingly hamstrung by regulations that require private schools to adopt a single curriculum standards-based test as a condition for receiving public money, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

“When states mandate a particular curriculum standards-based test, private schools are essentially required to adopt the curriculum content and pedagogy on which the test is based if they want to increase the probability that that their students are successful,” said Theodor Rebarber, Chief Executive Officer of AccountabilityWorks, an education nonprofit, and co-author of “Common Core, School Choice and Rethinking Standards-Based Reform.”

Nearly two thirds of U.S. tuition grant (“voucher”) programs require schools to administer a single curriculum-based test, typically a Common Core-aligned test, in order to receive public money. Tax credits are less susceptible to government mandates than voucher programs are.  

Under tax credit programs, parents paying tuition or others that donate money receive a tax credit. The authors find that in 95 percent of cases, these programs are not subject to curriculum-based testing mandates.

Common Core is the logical endpoint of nearly three decades of Congressionally-mandated centralization through ‘standards-based reform’ that has moved key curriculum content, sequencing and pedagogical decisions away from local school systems and educators to the state and national levels. Instead of the promised accountability for results or informed school choice, the outcome at the local level has been a culture of compliance (“alignment”) that has intruded into the core function of curriculum and teaching. 

“With its near-monopoly status distorting the textbook and other instructional materials markets,” said Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, who co-authored the study with Rebarber, “Common Core blunts the innovation, dynamism and competition that is the heart of the school choice movement.”

The authors find that after several decades of only incremental test score improvements, which started prior to federal requirements for curriculum centralization, since Common Core was implemented in 45 states and Washington, D.C., student results are showing the first significant declines in achievement, especially for students who were already behind.

Fourth- and eighth-grade math scores were down overall on the 2015 and 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The declines among lower-performing students (bottom quartile) were even steeper. Fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores were flat, with declines among lower-performing students. At the same time, the U.S. is no closer to the internationally competitive performance in math and science observed in top-tier developed nations.

Instead of accelerating the curriculum to more advanced topics and following the practices of leading international competitors, Common Core’s politically-driven process resulted in the adoption of the mediocre curriculum sequences used in a number of mid-performing states and promoted progressive instructional dogmas shared by its developers. 

The authors do not recommend the adoption of a different set of national curriculum standards; rather they propose reducing federal mandates and permitting broader state experimentation.

At the state level, the authors identify two possible avenues for reform of public schools. The first is for states to emulate the pre-Common Core Massachusetts model, under which the state engaged a team of visionary curriculum standards drafters to develop clear and ambitious academic goals approximating the highest quality public and private schools. The reality, however, is that most states have not been successful in implementing this model and even Massachusetts in recent years has moved away from this approach in favor of the flawed Common Core.

“The second possibility is to re-conceptualize standards-based reform and accountability,” says co-author Rebarber. “We must shift standards-based reforms away from government central planners in order to disrupt the status quo and leverage innovative, ambitious curricula.”

Instead of the current federal mandate requiring that each state adopt a single, homogeneous set of curricular standards and test-driven instruction, states could be permitted to allow local districts, vocational-technical, and charter public schools to use the curriculum that best fits their needs and select from a variety of state-vetted assessments the ones that most closely align to the local curriculum.

Rebarber explains that “it would mean the end of the current misguided model of the national or state testing tail wagging the local curriculum dog, which parents oppose. The result would be a surge in investment at the national and local levels in far more diverse curricular and pedagogical models that do not conform to politically-established, lowest common denominator government curriculum standards.”

To empower states interested in such reforms, when the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act is next reauthorized, scheduled to occur in two years, the authors recommend that Congress eliminate the mandate that every state impose a single statewide set of curriculum standards and allow states to experiment with diverse approaches to accountability.

In a foreword to the study, University of Arkansas Distinguished Professor of Education Policy Patrick J. Wolf likens Common Core to “scientific management,” which is defined by standardization and command and control, and school choice to “liberation management,” which is marked by decentralization, choice and competition.  

“Diversity has long been a hallmark of these United States, especially in the area of education,” Professor Wolf writes.  “At its essence, this fine report gives us good reasons, at least in K-12 education, to favor more pluribus and less unum.”

Read the report below:

About the Authors

Neal McCluskey is the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. He is the author of the book Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education and is co-editor of Educational Freedom: Remembering Andrew Coulson, Debating His Ideas.

Theodor Rebarber has worked on education reform and policy for three decades in the public, nonprofit and private sectors. He currently leads nonprofit AccountabilityWorks, which conducts education policy research and offers online testing services.

Patrick J. Wolf is Distinguished Professor of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. He has led or assisted with most of the key evaluations of private school voucher programs over the past 15 years, including recent studies of programs in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, and Louisiana.                     

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.