College Professors Begin Revolt Against Common Core

College Professors Begin Revolt Against Common Core

In Kentucky, the first state to adopt Common Core, college professors are protesting that it means teaching woefully unprepared students. A newly elected Matt Bevin will be receptive.
Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty

It’s been obvious from the beginning of the Common Core scheme that one of many weak links in the enterprise was college professors. What would happen when their classes were flooded with increasingly ill-prepared Common Core-“educated” students? That problem is now becoming apparent, and a professors’ revolt has now begun in Kentucky—the first state to adopt and implement the national curriculum mandates.

Coupled with newly elected governor Matt Bevin’s desire to see Common Core removed from Kentucky, a state that Bill and Melinda Gates have touted as being a Common Core leader may soon join the others dropping Common Core like a hot potato.

In connection with federal Race to the Top grant applications in 2010 and No Child Left Behind waivers in 2011, states had to demonstrate that their institutions of higher education (IHEs) would “exempt from remedial courses and place into credit-bearing college courses” students who attained a certain score on Common Core-aligned assessments. But as detailed by critics such as Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram, the massive deficiencies of the national standards mean students will be even more unprepared for college work than they were before.

Have Fun with Remedial Students, Professors

So what happens when those unprepared students matriculate at a college that has already agreed to place them in courses that count towards graduation, without remediation? Exactly what is now happening in Kentucky. Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute points to multiple pieces of evidence that the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) has decided to simply abolish remedial courses.

Students who formerly would have gone through remediation are now to be thrown into credit-bearing courses.

As CPE president Robert King explained to the Kentucky Board of Education during its October 6 meeting, students who formerly would have gone through remediation are now to be thrown into credit-bearing courses. But since such students obviously won’t be ready for real college work, the courses will be designated “co-requisite”—meaning lagging students will receive extra help of some sort so they can catch up. Especially in math, where instruction is sequential and builds on prior instruction, the idea that students will “catch up” on old material while learning new material is dubious at best.

Kentucky math professors agree. In an extraordinary letter sent to CPE president Bob King in May, the math-department heads of almost all of Kentucky’s four-year universities decried the ludicrous plan that will mask the insufficiency of students’ math preparation. These professors pointed out what critics of the Common Core scheme have been warning against for years: “Placing these students into courses for which they have not met prerequisites can only lead to either lower educational standards or increased failure rates.”

Wait, What’s This about Common Core?

In a paper entitled “Concerns About CPE’s Co-Requisite Model Initiative,” Northern Kentucky University professor Steve Newman also assailed CPE’s top-down plan to simply assume that high-school graduates are ready for college work: “This assumption is clearly false, and will result in lower academic standards and expectations for incoming college students. Indeed, it is difficult to see how these standards and expectations could be set any lower.”

‘It is difficult to see how these standards and expectations could be set any lower.’

Newman continues, “The impact of the co-requisite model as a statewide standard will be particularly destructive in mathematics because students will no longer be held accountable by the postsecondary system for learning any algebra, not even the most basic algebra universally regarded as essential for college readiness in mathematics.”

This rebellion among Kentucky math professors is likely a harbinger of things to come across the nation. By and large, professors weren’t consulted before their colleges and universities signed onto the Common Core scheme. They are only now beginning to understand that Common Core will result in hordes of unprepared students showing up in their freshman classes, and that the professors will be expected to relax or suspend course quality to hide the problem.

This result was utterly predictable, especially in light of the pressure the federal government placed on states and their IHEs to fall in line. Indeed, some proponents of the standards predicted this—with the spin that the dumbing down will actually be good, not disastrous. In a report posted on the website of one of the federally financed Common Core testing organizations, the authors encourage college professors to examine their own course requirements to see if those courses “assume mathematics or English language arts knowledge and skills that are not part” of Common Core.

If so, the professors would then have “exciting opportunities . . . to reassess their own curricula . . . in light of these new common state benchmarks.” Professors in Kentucky don’t seem excited by these opportunities. They obviously think the K-12 standards should be written to align to college requirements, not vice versa. Common Core’s promise of “college readiness” means nothing if the definition is set not by colleges themselves but rather by the standards-writers. Now that professors are catching on to the trick, their rebellion could go a long way to undermine the fraudulent foundations of Common Core.

Jane Robbins is a senior fellow with the American Principles Project in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of Clemson University and the Harvard Law School. Emmett McGroarty is director of APP Education, and an attorney with degrees from Georgetown University and Fordham School of Law.

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