This is the fifth in a series about the report released by American Principles in Action, ThePulse2016, and Cornerstone Policy Research Action. Permission has been granted for text from Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates to be published on Stop Common Core in Washington State. The Executive Summary from the report was published in the first post. The second post in the series was The Need for a Scorecard. The third post in the series was The Public-Private Partnership: How Private Entities Developed the Common Core and Enlisted the Federal Government to Drive It Into the States. The fourth post in the series was Common Core System. Here is the fourth section.
4. The Common Core Standards Lock Children Into an Inferior Education
NGA and its partners drafted the Common Core Standards through an opaque and unprofessional development process.49 The results reflect a product that heavily discounted, and in some respects excluded,50 the input of parents; teachers; college mathematics, engineering, and literature51 professors52; and early53 childhood learning experts. The closed process produced a set of standards of demonstrably poor quality.
Common Core math has several systemic defects. The total product fails to meet its promise of being evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, and rigorous. According to Dr. James Milgram, world-renowned math professor emeritus at Stanford University and the only mathematician (as opposed to, for example, a professor of mathematics education) on the Common Core Validation Committee, students “educated” under Common Core math will be, by 8th grade, at least two years behind their peers from high-performing countries.54
In fact, the Common Core developers have admitted that Common Core will not produce students who are ready for STEM studies [science, technology, engineering, and math]. Jason Zimba, one of three lead writers of the math standards, admitted that by “college readiness” the Common Core developers meant “the colleges most kids attend [i.e., community colleges], but not for the colleges most parents aspire to.” And he continued, “’college readiness’ is [not meant] for STEM, and not for selective colleges [in any discipline].”55 Regarding Common Core math, Marina Ratner, professor emerita of mathematics at Cal-Berkeley and one of the world’s premier mathematicians, stated last year in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that “students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.”56
One stated purpose of the Race to the Top competition was to prepare more students for STEM study and careers and to address the needs of underrepresented groups in these fields.57 To attain this goal, it is undisputable that a full Algebra I course must be placed in the 8th grade – as agreed by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel,58 leaders of selective technology-focused universities,59 and even the Benchmarking for Success report60 that NGA and CCSSO used to justify Common Core in the first place. If children are prepared to take a full Algebra I by the start of 8th grade, then they can progress comfortably to calculus in the 12th grade. The experience of states that have placed Algebra I in 8th grade – for example, Massachusetts and California – bears out the wisdom of this move.61 But despite this evidence, and unlike high-performing countries such as Singapore and South Korea, Common Core delays Algebra I until 9th grade.62
And any “accelerated path” allowed by Common Core — basically teaching three years of math in the last two years of grade school or the first two years of high school – deprives children of a comfortable progression and heightens the need for after-school tutoring and private summer school courses. The well-to-do are often the only demographic group that can access a work-around to such an accelerated path. In short, Common Core will result in a widening achievement gap and fewer students prepared for STEM studies.63
Beyond the delay in teaching Algebra I, Common Core math excludes certain Algebra II and geometry content that is currently a prerequisite at almost every four-year state college, as well as vast swaths of trigonometry.64 To make matters worse, Common Core math teaches geometry using an experimental system, one that has never been implemented successfully in K-12. Even the Fordham Institute, a staunch Common Core proponent, reported that “the geometry standards represent a significant departure from traditional axiomatic Euclidian geometry and no replacement foundation is established.”65 That this failed approach is now, through Common Core, our national system of teaching geometry is simply bizarre.
The problems with Common Core math on the secondary level are profound. But the deficiencies begin in grades K-8. In the lower grades, Common Core promotes “reform,” or “fuzzy,” math. This delays teaching standard algorithms (the best, most logical, way in which to solve a particular type of problem) and fluency in those skills. It also deemphasizes the standard algorithms and tends to confuse children about the best way for approaching a problem. Ultimately, the learning progression is delayed so that children are not prepared to take a full Algebra I by the start of 8th grade.66
The result of all this will be an increase in the number of children who supposedly have some “conceptual understanding” of math but who can’t actually work math problems.67 This result is a near certainty because it is exactly what happened in California about 20 years ago when that state adopted essentially the same approach as Common Core for teaching math.68 After a few disastrous years, California returned to more traditional math – the kind used by higher-achieving countries.
With respect to English language arts, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, perhaps this country’s most respected authority on K-12 English standards, criticizes the Common Core as “empty skill sets . . . [that] weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.”69 It does this in part by dictating a reduction in the amount of classic fiction taught in English class in favor of nonfiction “informational texts.” To that point, in the Publishers’ Criteria memorandum published by, among others, NGA partners CCSSO and Achieve, two of the chief Common Core authors state that most ELA “programs and materials designed for [grades 6-12] will need to increase substantially the amount of literary nonfiction they include.”70 The weight of evidence fails to support such a reduction and, in fact, supports the contrary conclusion.71
Moreover, prominent child psychiatrists and psychologists have heavily criticized many of the Standards as being age-inappropriate for young children. In that regard, Dr. Carla Horwitz of the Yale Child Study Center argues, “The Core Standards will cause suffering, not learning, for many, many young children.”72
There are many other qualitative problems with Common Core.73
The footnotes are available in the full report. You can download the full report by clicking on Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates.