Are Common Core State Standards an Education Solution?

July 23, 2013

Only 35 percent of U.S. 8th graders were identified as proficient in math by the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). According to the most recent calculations available, the United States stands at the 32nd rank in math among nations in the industrialized world. In reading, the U.S. ranks 17th in the world, say Paul Peterson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Peter Kaplan, a student at Harvard University.

The low performance of U.S. students has been attributed to low expectations set by states under the 2002 federal law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which expects all students to reach full proficiency by 2014. Most states have set their proficiency bars at much lower levels, perhaps because it causes less embarrassment when more students can make it across the proficiency bar, or because it was the easiest way for states to comply with the NCLB requirement to bring all students up to full proficiency.

Unhappy with the low level and wide variation in state standards, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with the financial backing of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the political support of the U.S. Department of Education, formed a consortium in 2009 that invited each state to join in an effort to set Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

  • Those states that take that step and institute other education reforms improve their chances of receiving an Education Department waiver of onerous NCLB regulations. That waiver, which has been granted to 37 states and the District of Columbia, provides a strong incentive to participate in CCSS.
  • The stated CCSS goal is to set standards and proficiency bars at levels matching those established by international organizations and thereby bring the nation's students to levels attained by peers in leading countries abroad.
  • CCSS proponents also expect students to acquire a deep understanding of concepts and relationships.

CCSS is not without its critics. Alabama and Indiana are threatening to withdraw from participation in CCSS on the grounds that the federal government is imposing a national curriculum on local school districts.

In Massachusetts and California, opposition groups claim that existing state standards exceed those proposed by CCSS. Others worry because teachers unions are calling for a moratorium on stakes attached to student testing until the new CCSS standards have been fully implemented, which may take several years.

Source: Paul E. Peterson and Peter Kaplan, "Despite Common Core, States Still Lack Common Standards," Education Next, 2013.

 

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