Common Core: explained and critiqued
Carolyn Reeves
Retired science teacher and co-author of a series of elementary science textbooks (New Leaf Press).

September 2018 – Enthusiasm and agreement marked plans by the nation’s governors and state education leaders to produce a set of common standards around which public schools could unify. Some of the ambitious goals for Common Core State Standards, written in 2009, were that all students who graduated from high school would be ready for college or a career; achievement gaps between racial and socioeconomic groups would narrow; and U.S. students would maintain high rankings on international achievement tests. Although federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from directing state curricula, billions of dollars in federal grants, known as “Race to the Top,” were huge incentives for states to quickly commit (sometimes sight unseen) to the Common Core standards and their requirements. By the fall of 2010, 46 states and the District of Columbia were attempting to implement the standards.

Signs of problems
Almost immediately, there were signs of problems from unhappy parents, students, and teachers. Angela Hill, a parent, former teacher, and Mississippi state senator, has been an opponent of the program from the beginning. She reported in debates about Common Core in the state legislature that she had “heard from numerous parents, teachers, and students complaining about the English language arts and math standards, as well as the recommended teaching methods.”

Teachers soon realized their teaching skills and knowledge were being graded on how well their students performed on annual standardized achievement tests. They felt increasing pressure to teach to the test. According to Diane Ravitch in a 2014 speech to the Modern Language Association, teachers were being evaluated, and often demoralized, by their students’ achievements scores. She also noted that field tests in real classrooms could have detected many of the problems reported by parents, teachers, and students, but there were none before the standards were already implemented.1

In 2016, as Donald Trump campaigned in the presidential elections, his promise to help get rid of Common Core was greeted with enthusiastic cheers and applause.

NAEP scores
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is given to a cross-section of students nationwide every two years. It is considered a reliable tool to compare academic performance for fourth grade reading and math and for eighth grade reading and math. Test results show that average fourth grade math scores slowly increased (226-240) from 2000 through 2007. In spite of small fluctuations from 2009 through 2017, the average score has remained virtually unchanged at 240. The average fourth grade reading scaled scores followed a similar pattern.

Neither fourth grade math nor fourth grade reading scores have improved very much on NAEP tests since Common Core began, and the socioeconomic status (SES)/racial achievement gaps have failed to narrow since 2011.2

ACT benchmarks
The four basic ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are English, Reading, Math, and Science. For the past few years, reports have shown that about 40% of high school graduates earned passing scores for three or four of the benchmarks. However, a sizeable number of the remaining 60% of graduates showed minimal readiness for college coursework.

“Since 2003, the percentage of ACT-tested graduates who met or surpassed the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks has increased in reading, stayed relatively steady in science, and declined in both English and mathematics,”3 according to the ACT document.

PIRLS literacy study
Another goal of Common Core was to improve the ranking of American students on international standardized tests. In many countries, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is administered every five years to assess the reading skills of representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students. Results of the 2011 PIRLS test were compared to the 2016 PIRLS results, and U.S. students dropped from 5th in the world to 13th.4

TIMSS math, science trends
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study is given every four years to sample groups of fourth- and eighth-grade students. Results of the fourth-grade math scores from 2003 to 2011 showed a gradual increase for all student groups. From 2011 to 2015, the top quartile continued to increase, but the average and the lower percentiles decreased. Overall, U.S. fourth graders dropped from 11th in the world in 2011 to 14th in 2015. 5

Faith, family factors
Interestingly, faith and family come into the big picture in a big way. That is no surprise to those who hold to the traditions of the Founding Fathers.

Dr. William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University-Long Beach, has been researching student achievement gaps for many years. He recently compiled an analysis of existing research projects on this problem going back to the early 1960s.

His study stunned many educators. Jeynes’s research revealed that new teaching methods and programs have not had major effects on this problem. Amazingly, the research also revealed that a student’s religious faith (specifically Christianity) has the greatest impact on reducing achievement gaps. An intact family structure is the second most important factor in effectively narrowing the racial and socioeconomic gaps.

“Perhaps most interestingly,” Jeynes said, “when the two factors were combined (if low socioeconomic status children of color were religious and came from intact families), the achievement gap totally disappeared.”6

With increasing approval of post-modern philosophies, some schools no longer support traditional family structure, and others try to eliminate all references to Christianity in such things as Christmas music selections, classroom writing assignments, and graduation speeches – falsely claiming there must be “separation of church and state” in schools. These self-defeating policies arguably make the achievement gap problem worse, not better.

Leaders’ perspective
The 2016 ACT National Curriculum Survey is given to thousands of K-12 teachers and college instructors to determine which skills and knowledge in English/writing, mathematics, reading, and science are being taught and which are considered essential for students to be ready for college and career. One result was that in general, college professors found that recent incoming students were able to analyze and summarize the opinions of others, but were often not able to generate and write original, sound ideas of their own. 7

Dr. Terrence O. Moore, former professor of history at Hillsdale College and national leader in the classical school movement, states, “[T]he standards take away the ‘great stories’ of our heritage of Western civilization and Christianity, and replace them with post-modern cynicism and political correctness.”

Moore is concerned about what are on the “exemplar texts” for the Common Core English standards, as well as the large number of traditional classics that are not on the list. He maintains that the classic articles and books are a huge influence on students in shaping morals and character.

He sadly notes that selections of the classics, when included in a lesson, are often no more than a few selected pages that are covered in one day; if they present a conservative viewpoint, they may be compared with a modern author who has a liberal viewpoint.

Moore’s frank conclusion is, “Common Core is clearly hostile to Christianity, to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, to traditional ideas of manhood and womanhood, to marriage and the family, to the idea of America’s unique example in the world, to any lesson about life and liberty that could be taught to us by a ‘dead white man’.”8

States revise, repeal
A number of states have repealed their Common Core agreement and are in the process of writing new state standards and finding new achievement tests. Some states seem to be happy with the Common Core standards as they are. Others have found ways to override the copyright that only allows a 15% change in the standards, and some have made numerous adjustments that are more in line with their state values.9

Although schools in conservative communities can, and do, reject many of the more liberal selections, Moore sees Common Core as a vehicle that can influence students to accept anti-Christian, anti-American beliefs.

Restoring U.S. public schools to a foundation of moral principles and values of the Founding Fathers – if not already too late – will be a daunting task that demands the efforts of concerned parents, educators, and politicians alike.  undefined 

References
1. Valerie Strauss, “Everything you need to know about Common Core” (Diane Ravitch). The Washington Post, 1/18/14 .
2. The Nation’s Report Card. 2017 Results. Retrieved from nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_2017_highlights.
3. ACT: The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2017. Retrieved from act.org/content/act/en/research/condition-of-college-and-career-readiness-2017.html .
4. Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Retrieved from nces.ed.gov/surveys/pirls/pirls2016.
5. Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Retrieved from nces.ed.gov/timss
6. William Jeynes, “Shrinking the Achievement GAP.” Teachers of Vision, 3/7/18.
7. Valerie Strauss, “Common Core isn’t preparing students very well for college or career, new report says.”
The Washington Post, 6/9/16.
8. Terrence O. Moore, The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against Common Core
(Kindle Edition, 2013-11-29), 8.
9. Jill Norton, “Common Core Revisions: What Are States Really Changing?” EdTechTimes, 2/15/17.

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Carolyn Reeves, Ed.D. (undergroundparadigm.com), is a retired science teacher and co-author of a series of elementary science textbooks.

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Is the achievement gap closing?
Achievement gaps between groups of students have been a major challenge in education for decades. Common Core made narrowing those gaps an ambitious goal and predicted that by 2017, the gaps would be greatly narrowed.

It didn’t happen. Achievement gaps persist between affluent students and students who qualify for free lunches, as well as between racial groups. It is not for lack of research, money, or effort that these gaps stubbornly remain and even seem to be widening in some cases. Several studies indicate that the high achieving students are well prepared to enter college, but lower-achieving students are often not prepared for college or career.

Focus on education
“Common Core is clearly hostile to Christianity, to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, to traditional ideas of manhood and womanhood, to marriage and the family, to the idea of America’s unique example in the world, to any lesson about life and liberty that could be taught to us by a ‘dead white man.’”

Dr. Terrence O. Moore, former history professor, Hillsdale College
The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against Common Core

Is bias real?
Columnist Robert Knight wrote that there is an increasing animosity toward America and free market capitalism among many younger Americans. He references author William J. Federer, who says this is no accident.

Rather it is the result of conditioning in both elementary and secondary schools that continues into universities – tactics such as being hypercritical of America’s history and failing to appreciate the genius of our Constitution.

“Deconstructing Young Minds,”
Washington Times, 6/10/18

Is change possible?
Changing a state’s education standards and curricula is an expensive and time-consuming process. Replacing achievement tests that reflect what is taught by the state may be the biggest problem. These tests often line up with Common Core, and low scores might indicate that teachers were doing a poor job of teaching.

If parents would like to see Common Core repealed or altered in their state, they should contact their state legislators and ask for open hearings or surveys on the standards, with input from local and state educators, parents, and students.