Letters to the Editor

Letter | Beware the ‘facts’ about Common Core

Recently, I participated in a wide-ranging and civil panel discussion at Coastal Carolina University, “Common Core Standards: Facts and Myths.” As the only panelist representing the view that Common Core was a bad idea from the beginning and remains one now, I was definitely in the minority.

Even so, I can’t help thinking that, in South Carolina’s mad rush to implement this federalized education program, a little skepticism is in order. My own research suggests that some of the routinely accepted “facts” about Common core are actually myths.

No.1: The federal government has nothing to do with Common Core.

That’s a myth. The federal government pushed states to adopt Common Core in three ways. First, in order to apply for Race to the Top grants (from the 2009 “stimulus” bill), states had to “adopt common standards” — and there was only one system of common standards to choose from: Common Core. Second, the federal government stipulated that in order to get No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers, states had to adopt these same common standards. Third, the stimulus bill provided $362 million to fund two consortia to develop tests aligned to these standards — Smarter Balanced and PARCC.

South Carolina applied for, but didn’t get, Race to the Top grants. The state applied for and received NCLB waivers. And South Carolina is now a governing state of the Smarter Balanced consortium.

No. 2: Common Core was a “conservative” idea that was hijacked by the Obama administration.

That’s another myth. It’s true enough that the idea of a nationwide set of common standards was initiated during the Reagan administration; and it’s true, too, that Common Core itself was at first pushed (and still is being pushed) by some Republicans. That doesn’t make it a “conservative” idea. There’s nothing “conservative” in the federal government bribing states to hand over their prerogatives in education to unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington and to functionally anonymous boards and consortia.

Moreover, there was no “hijacking.” The 2008 report Benchmarking for Success, put out by the National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers — both the key creators of Common Core — called for states to adopt a “common core” of benchmarked standards in math and English.

An entire section of that report, titled “The Federal Role,” calls on the federal government to offer new funding and to increase the flexibility in the use of current federal funds by states in exchange for adopting these standards. Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers equate to new federal funding and more “flexibility.”

Common Core wasn’t “hijacked” by the Obama administration. Its creators openly asked for the federal government’s help, knowing full well that Washington doesn’t hand out money without exerting control.

No. 3: Common Core has nothing to do with curriculum; it’s only about standards.

Yet another myth — and an especially misleading one. Standards determine curriculum. If you change standards, you have to change the curriculum in order to meet the standards. Since teachers will be held accountable according to how well their students performed on Common Core-aligned standardized tests, they’ll have to gear their lesson plans to the Common Core standards. Common Core’s ties with curriculum are mentioned throughout South Carolina’s Race to the Top grant proposals, NCLB Waiver proposal, and the review of Common Core published by the State Board of Education and the (state) Education Oversight Committee.

No. 4: Common Core was developed and adopted in a transparent manner.

That’s false. The Common Core standards themselves were developed behind closed doors. As for its adoption in South Carolina, parents were left out of the adoption process—in violation of state law.

No. 5: Common Core will better prepare students for college and career.

This last is the biggest and most destructive myth of all. Standards themselves can’t promote student achievement. There is no significant relationship between an increase in the rigor of standards and student achievement — as Harvard and Brookings Institute studies have made clear. Teachers and parents can promote achievement, but federal dictates like No Child Left Behind and Common Core actually remove power and freedom from teachers and parents by creating a “one-size-fits-all” system that they are powerless to change.

Here is a fact: If we want higher student achievement — and if we’re tired of dumping ever-increasing amounts of money into a system that hasn’t produced it — we’d better get out of Common Core while we can.

Jones is a policy analyst at the South Carolina Policy Council