Common Core sucked all the energy, money, and motivation right out of desperately needed potential reforms to U.S. public schools for a decade, and for nothing.
By Joy Pullmann
NOVEMBER 5, 2018
It’s been about nine years since the Obama administration lured states into adopting Common Core sight unseen, with promises it would improve student achievement. Like President Obama’s other big promises — “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” — this one’s been proven a scam.
“If you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments; if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom; if you turn around failing schools — your state can win a Race to the Top grant that will not only help students outcompete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential,” President Obama said in July 2009.
He went on to state his faith that Common Core — at that point unwritten — would “not only make America’s entire education system the envy of the world, but we will launch a Race to the Top that will prepare every child, everywhere in America, for the challenges of the 21st century.” Race to the Top was a $4 billion money pot inside the 2009 stimulus that helped bribe states into Common Core.
So here we are, nine years later. Common Core has been officially rolled out into U.S. public and even many private schools for at least three to five years now. Are American children increasingly prepared for the “the challenges of the 21st century”? We’re actually seeing the opposite. They’re increasingly less prepared. And there’s mounting evidence that Common Core deserves some of the blame.
Student Achievement Largely Down or Flat
ACT scores released earlier this month show that students’ math achievement is at a 20-year low. The latest English ACT scores are slightly down since 2007, and 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.
SAT scores also dropped post-Common Core until it fully implemented a new version tailored for Common Core. How convenient. Even after the test was overhauled to match Common Core, average test scores increased by 0.7 percent in the most recent results. It represents almost no difference to pre-Common Core results, and the public can’t know exactly how the scores were recentered and altered, either.
In all the previous SAT overhauls, average scores technically went up but statistical analyses show they’ve actually been steadily losing ground over the past 60 years. In other words, the SAT has a history of score inflation, and Common Core is doing nothing to reverse that.
Folks who claimed that declining ACT scores prove that Common Core isn't working: Will you reverse yourselves now that SAT scores are rising? Or can we agree that ACT & SAT scores are terrible measures of national progress or the lack thereof? Much less the impact of one policy?
No one should say these scores prove anything about the Core. It is worth nothing, though, that the SAT scores were likely to go up because last year transitioned to a new SAT format https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2018/10/25/sat-scores-are-gaps-remain-significant-among-racial-and-ethnic-groups …insidehighered.com
Almost a year ago I wrote about the latest round of international tests that publish every five years. They showed U.S. fourth graders declining on reading achievement. The 2015 results on the most reliable nationwide U.S. test showed the “first ever significant decline of 2-3 points – about a quarter of a grade-level worth – in mathematics at both grades 4 and 8, and in grade 4 reading.” The next iteration of that test showed no gains again.
During the Obama administration, writes Harvard professor Paul Peterson, “No substantively significant nationwide gains were registered for any of the three racial and ethnic groupings in math or reading at either 4th or 8th grade.”
They Told Us Common Core Would Fix This Problem
We were promised that Common Core would reverse these trends. Think tankers Michael Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio wrote to West Virginians in 2015 that “The Common Core should help to boost college readiness — and college completion — by significantly raising expectations.” Jeb Bush wrote in National Review in 2013, “To compete with the rest of the world, we must produce competitive high-school graduates. That means we have to make sure that the skills they are learning are aligned with what employers and colleges expect high-school graduates to know…the Common Core State Standards, set an ambitious and voluntary goal line.”
“If young people today are to be productive adults in the knowledge economy, they need standards that truly prepare them for college and careers,” Obama education secretary Arne Duncan said in a 2010 speech touting Common Core. “We will end what has become a race to the bottom in our schools and instead spur a race to the top by encouraging better standards and assessments,” President Obama said in 2009. “Standards” is jargon for Common Core.
In fact, Common Core supporters used the same fail rates we still have almost a decade post-Common Core as a key argument to justify adopting, then keeping, Common Core. For example, Bush and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein argued in the Wall Street Journal in 2011 that Common Core would help address ACT data showing “three-fourths of the young men and women entering colleges ‘were not adequately prepared academically for first-year college courses.'”
Instead, however, the evidence indicates that at best Common Core made negligible improvements, and at worst it’s reducedstudent achievement, all while soaking up huge amounts of time and money. The years of small but visible achievement growth under George W. Bush have been replaced by zero growth under and after Obama. The best evidence available indicates American kids have gotten all the academic boost they’re going to get out of Common Core already.
Learning Hasn’t Improved, But Indoctrination Is Amped
So if U.S. taxpayers spent billions of dollars and countless public employees’ man-hours switching schools to Common Core, what are we getting out of it? Certainly not academic achievement growth. What we do seem to be getting is plenty of political indoctrination.
Just recently, Rick Hess and Grant Addison wrote about what’s happened to people who have worked for and led organizations that received millions from Obama’s Common Core grants and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also bankrolled Common Core. At its annual Standards Institute, a prominent conference to teach teachers how to teach Common Core, the organization UnboundEd “slathers its Common Core workshops with race-based rancor and junk science,” providing a “snapshot…into the ongoing transformation of ‘school reform.'”
To keep their teaching licenses, many teachers have to regularly attend conferences like these for usually taxpayer-sponsored “professional development.” Nowadays teacher licensing mandates often specifically require teachers to learn Common Core-themed things. So basically, to keep their jobs, teachers have to learn more about Common Core.
The Standards Institute helps them fulfill that job requirement. It did so this year by using Common Core as a Trojan horse to insert wildly leftist, arguably racist, indoctrination. Here’s Hess and Addison describing some of their materials:
UnboundEd’s training in reading and math instruction is ‘grounded in conversations about the roles that race, bias and prejudice play in our schools and classrooms.’ Its Standards Institute prepares educators to be ‘Equity Change-Agents.’ To become one, participants are told, they must first acknowledge that ‘we are part of a systematically racist system of education.’
“If you are under the impression that there are good white people and bad white people, you’re wrong,” UnboundEd CEO Kate Gerson told the teachers this year, according to Hess and Addison. “Gerson informed her charges that racial biases are pervasive, universal, and something ‘you cannot be cured from.'”
Gerson used to be directly employed by New York taxpayers within the New York Department of Education’s project to create Common Core-compliant curriculum, EngageNY. The curricula she helped create didn’t stay in New York, however. It’s reached across the country because the Obama administration funded it to create one of the few earliest available and widely endorsed set of Common Core-compliant materials. So if you’re a taxpayer, you funded this under the guise of Common Core.
Funding Racism In the Name of Common Core
Items from EngageNY’s library of Common Core curricula had been downloaded 45 million times by 2016. Education Week reported “44 percent of elementary math teachers and 30 percent of secondary teachers in common-core states are using materials from EngageNY.” After its $28 million in federal funds dried up (which only took a few years, natch), EngageNY’s curriculum bank was spun off into UnboundEd’s control. So this organization now peddling wildly inflammatory and divisive political views has affected a third to a half of the country’s teachers, all oiled by packs of taxpayer cash.
“Once upon a time, Common Core critics were roundly mocked for fearing that the reading and math standards would somehow serve to promote sweeping ideological agendas; today, Gerson and her team are doing their best to vindicate those concerns,” write Hess and Addison.
To be sure, American education’s mediocrity and politicization predate Common Core, and would be present today if Common Core had never happened. But we were sold Common Core with the promise that it would improve learning for American kids. Just as the few independent analysts predicted, despite costing billions of dollars Common Core has proven to be of no overall benefit to children, teachers, families, or taxpayers.
Common Core sucked all the energy, money, and motivation right out of desperately needed potential reforms to U.S. public schools for a decade, and for nothing. It’s more money right down our nation’s gigantic debt hole, another generation lost to sickening ignorance, another set of corrupt bureaucrats‘ careers and bank accounts built out of the wreckage of American minds.
Yet Obama went on stage last week and yukked it up about how Donald Trump goes around “blatantly, repeatedly, baldly, shamelessly lying.” The man who sold us Common Core, who knew we couldn’t keep our doctors and kept on promising we could, who lied umpteen ways to Sunday about his Iran deal and myriad other policies — he’s sure got a lot of nerve. And obviously not a lick of self-awareness, yet alone shame.
Remember this utter debacle next time somebody comes knocking with the “next big idea” for your kids and wallets. Hide them both, and run the huckster outta town.
Joy Pullmann is executive editor of The Federalist, mother of five children, and author of "The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids," from Encounter Books. Her latest ebook is a list of more than 200 recommended classic books for children ages 3-7 and their parents. Find her on Twitter @JoyPullmann.