If you’re glued to the trashy, monotonous 2016 horserace, just like the presidential candidates still insisting they will end Common Core you will have missed that the cornerstone of President Obama’s education policy has already become a tombstone. That’s right: Common Core is dead. The big postmortems will roll out in a year or two, but it’s already clear this education monstrosity is eking out its last gasps.
Not that many normal people paid much attention to the biggest shift in U.S. education for decades, to hear Buzzfeed tell it in the recent video below. To recap, Common Core is an organizing scheme that aims to control all of American education, from preschool through college. Its core is a set of testing and curriculum blueprints being used as a lever to get all of what kids learn in every subject and at every age into “alignment” with its centrally planned, academically low-quality, and one-size-fits-all mandates.
Common Core has by now not only failed academically, it has failed operationally. This is a horrific outcome. None of us who oppose Common Core are happy to be able to say “I told you so,” because it means our predictions that consultants would enrich themselves while mashing millions of children and teachers into chaos have come true.
Common Core’s failure should indict every single Common Core cheerleader and prompt a revival of genuine education reforms we’ve known for decades would actually help children but aren’t sexy to the consultant class that makes a living as “education innovators” (i.e. experimenting on children for fun and profit). Forgive my cynicism, but if Common Core taught me anything, it’s that the people running American education don’t learn from failure. Sorry, kids! Too bad you’re sitting ducks for people who like to experiment yet have the power to ruin your lives!
First—since it’s the most important, even though politics gets greater attention—let’s discuss the already visible failures of Common Core’s academic content. It includes the “art-centered” math the parents complain about in the Buzzfeed video (which substantive research has shown is less effective than traditional methods), but is far bigger than that.
At Best, Common Core Caused No Education Gains
Last week the Brookings Institution issued the preliminary autopsy in its annual major report on education. It finds that American children are receiving objectively worse academic instruction because of Common Core, in two major respects: In the increase in nonfiction their teachers are assigning, and in a nationwide decline in students taking algebra in eighth grade.
Further, it finds that Common Core has done nothing to help children learn more overall, which was one of its supporters’ major claims: “there also is no evidence that CCSS has made much of a difference during a six-year period of stagnant NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] scores.” NAEP is the nation’s highest-quality set of large-scale tests, used widely by researchers as benchmarks for American kids’ abilities over time. While younger students have made some small gains on NAEP since it began in 1992, high-school graduates since then have not improved one whit. Even though its supporters promised it would, Common Core isn’t helping.
Researcher Ze’ev Wurman looked at several other indicators of student achievement and found none have improved since Common Core went into effect. In fact, SAT and ACT scores are slightly down. Maybe this spring’s new, Common Core-aligned SAT will start covering for that by making the test easier (as it has every time it did a major test change).
Brookings’ report says one can never know for sure whether even a major policy change like Common Core is at fault for declining student achievement, since many different things affect education changes over the years and this one hasn’t been in place long, but says the present data suggests Common Core’s benefits to kids (such as they have been) have already peaked. The Obama administration foisted Common Core on states in 2010. Just five years later:
The 2015 NAEP scores were a political disaster for Common Core. Eighth grade math scores, for example, fell for the first time in NAEP’S 25 year history (down three points). Some observers were quick to point a finger at CCSS. That’s probably unfair. The analysis above indicates that, yes, nonadopters performed better than CCSS states, but only by declining less, not through improved performance. None of the states are setting the world on fire (emphasis added).
Did you get that? All the states are doing poorly. Non-Common-Core states are doing less poorly than Common Core states. Aren’t you glad states and the federal government have spent billions of dollars doing essentially nothing for six years? Don’t worry, though, because Common Core supporters are already beginning to suggest that we also dumb down NAEP. Don’t fix the problem, shoot the messenger. That’s coming up inside the Common Core politics and government standards.
Common Core Means We’re Flying Blind on Student Progress
Politically, Common Core is faring even worse. The trade publication Education Week reports that this spring just 20 states (plus DC) are using the federally jumpstarted Common Core tests that were supposed to cement Common Core in classrooms, after three years of utter chaos as they refused to work on thousands of computers and similar problems invalidated thousands of student test results.
Remember, Bill Gates, Common Core’s major funder, said in a speech to state lawmakers: “When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well.” Initially, 46 states signed up for these tests, which were supposed to create a network of national tests that would end “apples to oranges” comparisons of student achievement across state lines (that entire line of argument was a crock anyway, because NAEP has allowed an apples-to-apples comparison for now 24 years).
Common Core tests’ rapid (and predictable) disintegration has negated politicians’ central justification for the (unconstitutional) federal requirement that states give annual math and reading tests: “public accountability.” That’s because it’s impossible to compare Common Core test results to those that came before them. It would have been possible had educrats cared enough about accountability to require the proper testing translations, but they didn’t. Common Core test results cannot even be compared to themselves yet because they have not generated enough reliable data.
That means we’re all flying blind on how students are doing under the Common Core regime, but for NAEP—a biannual test thus including a big time lag that impedes our ability to understand Common Core’s effect on children.
This is entirely the opposite of what we were promised when a small cartel deliberately used the power of the federal government under the Obama administration to ram Common Core down nearly every school’s throat. A big part of Gates’ pitch was that we don’t know enough about how students are doing: “Student performance should be linked to the teacher and the curriculum and the instructional tools. It should let us know what the best schools and teachers are doing differently and what kind of teacher training promotes student achievement.”
Thanks to Gates, however, we know even less now about how students are doing than we did before Common Core. Since 2013, we have been unable to track kids’ annual progress nationwide. This is a major thing Americans think government should do in education. But it’s not our “public servants’” priority (even though they’ll use it to justify policies parents don’t like such as forbidding them from excusing their kids from these tests), so it’s not happening. There is zero point in the federal government making everyone go through all these testing headaches and decades of flattened, test-driven curriculum if we don’t even get basic, basic data about the kids out of it, like “can Johnny read and add?” So why are we doing this?
So the pack of education consultants running schools can fail upward, just like the new U.S. education secretary the Senate recently confirmed at the behest of “Republican” Sen. Lamar Alexander. John King was practically hounded out of his New York education commissioner’s office by parents incensed that he would not answer questions about the state’s Common Core debacle, or change course based on public feedback. And where is he now? Promoted to U.S. education tyrant.
And Republicans wonder why nobody trusts them. They wonder why so many people have snapped into supporting a wild, untrustworthy, deal-breaking scam artist like Donald Trump. Because what the heck good is electing Republicans to a Senate majority when they can’t manage no-brainers like telling King to pack his authoritarian bags back to New York?
We Basically Throw Your Tax Money Out the Window for Fun
Another major reform intrinsic to the Gates-Obama Common Core package was attaching students’ test results to their teachers to help accomplish these pie in the sky dreams of having closed-door committees of testing technocrats determine what every teacher should be teaching, how, and when. That, too, is dissolving into a big pile of wasted time and money.
Remember: the Obama administration spent $360 million of taxpayers’ money on these tests, and states have spent tens of millions more. Redoing state tests and teacher evaluation systems because of the Obama administration’s penchant for petty dictatorship—these came from no law Congress passed, but emanated from Obama’s “pen and phone,” which Congress refused to perform its constitutional duty of restraining—have been the foci of every single state education agency for at least the past seven years.
Obama’s dictatorial flourishes of the pen have forced tens of thousands of people to spend hundreds of millions in tax dollars and millions of man-hours essentially shuffling paperwork. It’s trickle-down bureaucracy. (That’s why half of school employees are not teachers, but instead mostly paperwork shufflers. Thanks, feds!) Now that Congress has passed a law finally negating the president’s executive actions, everything these states have spent the last seven years doing they are planning to spend the next God knows how many undoing.
I’m not joking. A few months after this law has gone into effect, states are already beginning to disband the teacher evaluation systems the Obama administration had forced them into, and many more are considering similar action. As with Common Core, we didn’t have to wait this long to know this grand scheme was going to waste years and millions.
Proponents of tying teacher ratings to student test scores pointed to data showing that 99 percent of teachers are rated “effective” even though only something like one-third of American students is achieving at grade-level. As states started linking test results to teachers, news reports kept showing the “surprising” results that nearly every teacher was still rated “effective.” Rick Hess of AEI highlights new research on 19 states showing that, between 2009 when the rules began and 2015, the effective teachers percentage went from 99 to 97. In other words, this major part of the Common Core package has been much ado about nothing. Shocker.
Individual Freedom Is the Answer
As Gates referenced, these evaluations were supposed to clamp teachers into teaching what Common Core says, so they couldn’t do what the smart ones have always done during top-down “reforms” imposed on them: close the door and continue to teach as they think best. Turns out, the independent thinkers who have managed to behave this way through the Common Core craze have been protecting their students from a wave of crummy instruction, like the teacher in this video below. As the Brookings data shows, however, these brave souls are a minority.
Teachers aren’t the only brave people protecting kids from substandard Common Core instruction. Reports from around the country indicate that homeschooling has surged in the several years since Common Core arrived. I was at a large homeschool convention in Cincinnati this past weekend, and curriculum and support group providers unanimously reported surges in enrollment and purchases. Since 1999, federal statistics show homeschooling has doubled.
Local and state homeschool leaders are telling local media that Common Core is driving much of that expansion: “The uptick in homeschooling has become a trend across the nation over the past couple of years, even in states like New York and California,” Eagle Forum’s Glyn Wright told FoxNews.com. “Americans have rejected the Common Core initiative because they are tired of unaccountable federal bureaucracy, especially when it comes to their child’s education, and because they are seeing first-hand the poor quality and content of the Standards that are meant to prepare children for the workforce instead of giving them a well-rounded, superior education.”
It’s not just homeschooling, although that’s often the most direct form of protest because for many families it’s simpler than rearranging family finances to include private school tuition. Fed-up families are starting higher-quality private and charter schools. Acton Academy is just one of several similar initiatives looking to each launch several dozen new private and public charter schools in the next few years.
Common Core has worked irreparable damage on millions of American children, and consequently our economy and culture. Millions of children will never learn math as well as they would have with better instruction, or begun to love reading with better literature selections (among myriad other negative effects). But the pain is pushing people to seek relief. Rather than sitting and bemoaning this genuine and huge problem, they’re doing something about it. While some seek relief in cynical, bottomless anger at “the establishment,” other people are seeking more constructive outlets for their frustrations. You can, too.