The emperor is mostly naked: Responding to Common Core critics

The last few weeks in Ohio have seen a torrent of anti-Common Core literature, comments, blogs, and letters aimed at lawmakers and state board of education members. Much of this chatter has been perpetrated by two organizations with a lot to say and claims to make. See here and here. Such critics and criticisms need a response, and in the following we provide rebuttals to four widely circulated fabrications about the Common Core.

It is well known that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been a long-time champion of high academic standards and aligned assessments. We are also supporters of the Common Core standards in English language arts and mathematics, mainly because they are superior to what Ohio and most other states currently have in place for their schools.

There is no doubt that the Common Core and the PARCC assessments aligned to them will face challenges in the coming months and years ( e.g. preparing all teachers, getting the necessary technology in place, developing pacing guides). But, despite the challenges superintendents, school principals, and teachers are remarkably supportive of the Common Core in Ohio and across the country. For example, Fordham recently surveyed Ohio’s superintendents (344 of the state’s 614 superintendents – a 56 percent response rate), and discovered that 81 percent of the respondents believe that five years from now the Common Core standards “will be widely and routinely in use in Ohio.” Only one in ten say it “will have faded away by then.” Ohio’s educators have bought into the Common Core despite concerns about implementation challenges.

But, there are others who want to scuttle the implementation of the Common Core for either ideological reasons or simply because they fear change or misunderstand it. It is these critics the following tries to address.

Fabrication #1: The Common Core is an assault by the Obama Administration on local control of education

The Common Core academic standards are a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The effort started in 2008 and was formally launched in spring 2009. And, 45 states have adopted the Common Core, many of which are run by Republican governors and legislatures. The Ohio State Board of Education formally adopted the Common Core in June 2010.

There’s no denying, however, that the federal government has helped implement the Common Core. Ohio school districts received $204 million in federal Race to the Top grants, in part, to prepare educators for the new standards. But, anti-Common Core critics erroneously—and misleadingly—consider the Common Core to be a federal takeover of local education, even linking the Common Core to Obama’s health care plan. This comes from the Ohioans Against the Common Core: “It [The PARCC Assessment] is equivalent to Medicaid expansion implementing Obamacare (sic).” And, this from John Griffing of the National Review Online: “Common Core is Obamacare applied to our children’s education.”

The fact is that the Common Core effort emerged from the states themselves and was developed using expertise and input of a wide variety of education stakeholders and content experts. All of this began during George W. Bush’s second term as President. Moreover, conservative governors, from Mitch Daniels to Chris Christie to Bobby Jindal have each openly supported the Common Core. Further, no state has been required to join the Common Core and nothing prevents a state from deciding to leave the Common Core at any point. In short, the Common Core is a voluntary association of states committed to improving the rigor of education provided to their states’ children, and mostly this has been a bipartisan affair with Republicans and Democrats supporting the effort.

All that said, President Obama has been all too eager to take credit for the Common Core, and to politicize the effort on the campaign trail. He deserves to be shamed for that—but our kids should not suffer because of his crass partisanship. In the end, Common Core standards are good for Ohio’s children.

Fabrication #2: The Common Core will lead to Mediocrity

Education in America is already plagued by mediocrity. Consider the achievement results from Ohio. In 2011, only 37 percent of Ohio 8th graders were proficient in reading and while 39 percent were considered proficient in math according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called “Nation’s Report Card.” Despite such bleak statistics, skeptics worry that the Common Core might make things worse. In its criticism of the academic rigor of the Common Core, The American Principles Project writes “CC has been described as a ‘race to the middle’” And the Republican National Committee’s draft resolution regards the Common Core as “a one-sized fits all approach.”

Current state standards are largely mediocre to weak. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute in 2010 rated the states’ academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and math, and discovered that the Common Core State Standards were clearer and more rigorous than ELA standards in 37 states and math standards in 39 states. In 33 of those states, the Common Core bested both ELA and math standards. In Ohio, The State of the State Standards research found the Common Core’s math and ELA standards to be “significantly superior” to Ohio’s current standards. (And Fordham is not known to be easy graders.)

Second, under Ohio’s current standards, far too many of our young people are not receiving the education they need for success in work and life. Consider the following data points:

  • The Ohio Board of Regents reports that 40 percent of entering college freshman must take a remedial (non-credit bearing) math or English course;
  • The Ohio Department of Education reports that 20 percent of third graders failed the state reading exam (recall, to pass requires getting less than 50 percent of the questions right);
  • ACT reports that just 28 percent of Ohio high schoolers met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmark Scores in English, math, reading, and science.

The Common Core purposefully seeks to rectify the academic challenges facing many Ohio students by raising the expectations of what they need to know and complete during their K-12 experience.

Fabrication #3: The Common Core strips local school boards of their authority over curriculum

Ohio Revised Code has long-stated that, “The board of education of each city and exempted village school district, the governing board of each educational service center, and the board of each cooperative education school district established pursuant to section 3311.521 of the Revised Code shall prescribe a curriculum for all schools under their control.” (ORC 3313.60). This was the case 25-years ago, before Ohio adopted its own academic content standards and has been the case since 2003, when Ohio’s current academic standards were rolled out.

Senate Bill 1 (ORC Sec. 3301.079) in 2001, under then-Governor Taft, Speaker Householder, and Senate President Finan, required the State Board of Education to set and subsequently update academic content standards. The State Board is also required by law to adopt a model curriculum based on the standards, but the same section of code states that “Nothing in this section requires any school district to utilize all or any part of a model curriculum developed under this section.”

With the adoption of the Common Core, local school boards, superintendents, and school leaders lose no control over the curriculum taught in their schools. No legislation has been introduced or even discussed in Ohio to suggest that, and schools and school districts control their curricular decisions.

Fabrication #4: The Common Core standards are squishy, liberal, and will have no relevance to the careers of the future

Anti-Common Core critics suggest that the standards are squishy, liberally-biased, and promote “anti-knowledge.” In a December 2013 policy brief, Joy Pullmann of The Heartland Institute predicts that the Common Core’s content and testing “moves education from the pursuit of knowledge to social engineering.”

And again, Pullmann accuses the Common Core of being squishy: “Then, as now, tests were to shift from measuring students’ ability to correctly answer grade-level knowledge questions to measuring students’ feelings, performance, and beliefs.”

Pullmann is wrong. The Common Core has nothing to do with social engineering and is focused on the practical issue of linking K-12 education with the academic knowledge and skills students actually need to get jobs, get into college, or enter the military—and to succeed personally in life.

First, some of the nation’s strongest companies have openly supported the Common Core, understanding that a knowledge-based economy will require a literate workforce. General Electric, hardly a business weakling, supports—and has helped fund—the implementation of Common Core. Other top-notch employers—with no overt interest in the Common Core other than improving the quality of America’s future workforce—have officially supported the Common Core. These businesses include Accenture, Boeing, Exxon Mobil, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, Intel, among others. It’s dubious, then, to claim that American businesses, concerned about the nation’s ability to compete globally, would support nothing less than world-class, content-rich standards.

Second, the assessments will require substantive content knowledge and the ability to apply it. For example: sample PARCC test questions call on high school students to use spreadsheets to calculate how long it will take someone to pay off a $300 credit card debt if they pay $40 per month, taking interest charged each month into account. Another item asks students to determine the formula for calculating the rate at which the number of cells will increase during a science experiment. 

These are academically rigorous questions that mirror the skills students need to succeed in the workplace and in life – to use math to solve real world problems, and to read carefully and to make logical arguments based on evidence. There’s nothing “squishy” or “liberal” about them. And if Ohio students can answer these kinds of questions, they will be better prepared for careers and college than they are now.

More By Author

Related Articles