The verdict is in on Common Core and it’s bad. International tests towards which Common Core was supposed to be “benchmarked” show that American students’ reading and science scores are stagnant. And math scores are tanking badly. Of the 35 industrialized nations, U..S. students have slipped into the 31st place in math achievement.
“We really are doing a lot worse in math than we are in science and reading,” Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, told The Hechinger Report. Students across the board in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests are doing worse, from bottom to middle to top performance.
The sharp drop in math performance on the international test confirms the lower scores seen on the United States’ National Assessment on Education Progress, in which both 4th graders and 8th graders posted lower math scores on the 2015 test.
Why the Drop in Math Performance is Not Surprising
To critics of Common Core this should come as no surprise. The “Common Core moms” were repeatedly derided by the experts for noticing the sudden strange collapse in math teaching standards. I first wrote about one such mom, Heather Crossin, in 2013:
In September 2011, Heather suddenly noticed a sharp decline in the math homework her eight-year-old daughter was bringing home from Catholic school. “Instead of many arithmetic problems, the homework would contain only three or four questions, and two of those would be ‘explain your answer,’” Heather told me. “Like, ‘One bridge is 412 feet long and the other bridge is 206 feet long. Which bridge is longer? How do you know?’ She found she could not help her daughter answer the latter question: The “right” answer involved heavy quotation from Common Core language. A program designed to encourage thought had ended up encouraging rote memorization not of math but of scripts about math.
When Heather and other parents complained to the principal — at a private Catholic school mind you — he threw up his hands and said he didn’t like it either but they had to teach to the state test which was now based on Common Core standards. Yet Common Core advocates persist in the Big Lie that national standards leave states free to develop their own curricula. Here’s the truth: If you control the standards you control the curriculum.
Mothers like Heather Crossin were called ignoramuses. They were told that the experts had developed wonderful new standards that were “internationally benchmarked,” that is, that they were the kind of standards countries with high performing math students use. That was also a Big Lie. The one actual mathematician on the board that developed them, Stanford mathematics professor R. James Milgram, rejected the Common Core math standards. Prof. Milgram concluded that the Common Core standards are, as he told the Texas state legislature, “in large measure a political document that … is written at a very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high-achieving countries give dramatically better results.”
The education school math education “experts” managed to impose on almost the entire country standards based on untested education theories, not empirical evidence. Most of its advocates probably had no clue. They trusted the “experts” in spite of the fact that such progressive education theories get it wrong time after time. (Remember “whole language” reading wars?)
They should have known better: When most states adopted Common Core the standards had not yet been written. They were buying a pig in a poke. And students are paying the price.
Trump Recognized Common Core’s Problems — At First
Donald Trump, to his credit, acknowledged the problem.
Or at least on the campaign trail he did. He opposed Common Core from the first moment he announced his campaign in June 2015, to the closing argument on his whirlwind tour the day before the election. He used it as a club to beat back Jeb Bush (the leader of the Republican support for Common Core, whose protégé, Betsy DeVos, now heads up the Education Department).
As Breitbart’s Dr. Susan Berry reported, “Numerous reports have observed the presence of Jeb Bush supporters and Obama holdovers in the federal education department. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos herself was both a generous contributor to and board member of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which promoted Common Core nationwide. Bush himself said of DeVos’s nomination, ‘I’m so excited.’”
Common Core critics are now increasingly concerned that President Trump has gone silent on Common Core.
As Fred Barnes pointed out, “He didn’t mention it … in his hour-long speech to a joint session of Congress. He didn’t repeat his promise to end it in his inaugural address a month ago. And he neglected to cite it in his rousing talk at the Conservative Political Action Conference.”
Trump’s education policy since taking office has been all school choice, with dramatic silence on Common Core. But school choice has little meaning if “common standards” put pressure on virtually every public, charter, and private school to create Common Core curricula, driven by state-imposed standardized tests.
Republicans who originally supported Common Core meant well. They thought they were endorsing high academic standards that would help students learn. That’s why they made a deal with the Obama administration. But now we know the truth.
Will President Trump care enough about the Common Core moms like Heather to deliver on one of his most-frequently repeated campaign promises?
Common Core Re-branded is Still Bad
As Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project (where I am a senior fellow) told Breitbart, given the Jeb-heavy cast of his education appointments, “I think it’s important for Trump to personally drive to completion on this promise, as he has on so many other promises.”
There are practical steps that can be taken immediately to ease the federal pressures on states to continue with failed math standards and the curriculum craziness produced by those standards. (Given the failure of Common Core to improve reading and silence standards, states should be free to experiment across the board.)
Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at American Principles Project (see full disclosure above) has been working with state legislatures on what they can do to undo Common Core. She finds the heavy hand of the federal government is still playing an outsize role:
DeVos can ease federal mandates on standards and testing, letting states choose their own standards — that is, ditch Common Core — without fear of federal penalty, and giving them a waiver from testing requirements while they revamp their standards and aligned tests. She should also comb through all 1,061 pages of Every Child Succeeds Act passed in 2015 and push Congress to eliminate its mandates.
“What we can’t have is the components of Common Core and have it be rebranded as something else. We can’t have the testing, we can’t have the lowering of standards that is part of Common Core, we can’t have the one-size-fits-all and pretend because the words Common Core have been removed from the education lexicon, that we removed the content and substance of that,” says Fank Cannon.
Here’s the thing: Unless Trump takes a personal interest in delivering on his campaign promise, nothing in Betsy DeVos’ background as a Bush protégé makes it likely she will act. A good first step would be getting Common Core critics like Prof. Milgram, Sandra Stotsky, Jane Robbins, and Heather Crossin in a room with the President and the Education secretary to share their concerns about what must be done. (For more from the author of “Will Trump Act to End Common Core’s Disastrous Math Slump?” please click HERE)