We're Finally Seeing the Full Scope of Common Core's Damage


One of former President Barack Obama’s legacy-making initiatives was the Common Core State Standards for public education.

So confident was the Obama administration in the new standards for English and math, designed to make students ready for college and the workforce, that the administration tied grant funding from the Department of Education to them.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the testing part of the program would be “an absolute game-changer.” Almost a decade on, Duncan said if he had it all to “do all over again, I would push even harder than we did” for the program.

Bill Gates, one of the initiative’s biggest supporters, said in 2014 that it would “improve education for millions of students.”

So, how’s it all working out? Not swimmingly, according to a study by the Center for Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning, a federally funded group.

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C-SAIL’s assumption after looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam between 2010 and 2017 was that scores would go up. They assumed wrong.

“Contrary to our expectation, we found that [Common Core] had significant negative effects on 4th graders’ reading achievement during the 7 years after the adoption of the new standards, and had a significant negative effect on 8th graders’ math achievement 7 years after adoption based on analyses of NAEP composite scores,” the study, published in April, said.

“The size of these negative effects, however, was generally small.”

The study also noted that “the grade 4 reading achievement in the treatment states would have improved significantly more after the adoption the new standards had the states continued with their old standards, thus reflecting negative effects of the new [Common Core] standards.”

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In other words, the old standards that the Obama administration was so intent upon improving would have, at least in some metrics, produced better results.

And, as the education website Chalkbeat pointed out, “over time the standards may have had an increasingly negative effect, according to the study.”

It’s worth noting that this is a difficult subject to study: “Every state except four adopted Common Core between 2009 and 2013, and even those four shifted their curriculum and tests closer to Common Core,” Joy Pullmann wrote in The Federalist.

“So to compare results, the researchers grouped those whose curriculum mandates were more similar to Common Core before it existed, then compared their results post-Common Core to those of states who used curriculum mandates less like Common Core beforehand,” Pullmann added.

“Since there is no real control group available of non-Common Core states, then, this is about the best information we’re likely able to get.”

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“It’s rather unexpected,” study co-author Mengli Song told Chalkbeat. “The magnitude of the negative effects tend to increase over time. That’s a little troubling.”

Chalkbeat noted that the C-SAIL study has yet to be peer-reviewed, and that another study from Vanderbilt University, which hasn’t been released, will likely show slightly higher test scores in the Common Core era.

However, there are two differences in that study. First, it starts from when the standards were implemented at the classroom level as opposed to when they were formally adopted by the states. Second, it excludes states that dropped the standards.

At least on the last account, that seems a bit like conducting a customer satisfaction survey that excludes those who returned, sold or otherwise disposed of the product in question: One might surmise they had a good reason for doing so.

I also found this part of the Chalkbeat write-up interesting: “Morgan Polikoff — a professor at the University of Southern California and co-director of the center that released Song’s study — said the challenges in studying whether the Common Core worked are steep.”

“I think that this question is more or less impossible to answer,” Polikoff told Chalkbeat.

Except, the way this was sold to us, it shouldn’t be.

Remember, this would “improve education for millions of students,” according to the man who gave us Windows. The secretary of education said the testing would be “an absolute game-changer.”

Its effect shouldn’t be difficult to quantify. We shouldn’t be looking at something that’s “more or less impossible to answer.”

And, quite frankly, it doesn’t look like it is.

Scores haven’t improved — and in some cases, they’ve gotten lower. Numerous states have dropped the Common Core standards. Even the one study which excludes the states that jettisoned the plan, which hasn’t been published yet, only shows “small positive effects,” according to Chalkbeat.

But then, according to Gates, you’ll have to wait until 2023.

“It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade,” he said back in 2013.

That education stuff included Common Core. Still want to invest more in this program? Because we’re six years into that decade and I don’t see any evidence this is worth either the money we’ve spent or the gamble we’re taking.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture