NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Standards Don't Work: Better Teachers Do

February 19, 2015

Common Core (more formally, the Common Core State Standards Initiative) -- a set of federal standards for math and reading that states can adopt in exchange for federal grant money -- has sparked debate across the country, with critics concerned about everything from the federal government's role in education to the head-scratching math problems that accompany the new teaching methods.

Jason Riley, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, says one of the biggest problems with Common Core is that it's a set of standards -- and there's no real evidence that national standards will improve student achievement:

  • According to Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, there are states with high-quality standards that produce high levels of achievement (such as Massachusetts), but there are also states with high-quality standards and poor student achievement (such as California).
  • According to Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, states with high standards improved their National Assessment of Education Progress scores from 2003 to 2009 "by roughly the same margin as states with awful ones." 
  • The Department of Education has released three reports finding no link between student achievement and the difficulty of state tests.
  • Students in countries such as South Korea (which has national standards) do perform better on international tests than American students. However, Canada lacks national standards, and its students also outperform American students. Furthermore, Americans perform better than students in some countries who do have standards.

What does make a difference in student performance? Teacher effectiveness. Riley notes that a child with a top elementary school teacher gains a half-year of learning compared to a child with one of the worst elementary school teachers.

Source: Jason L. Riley, "Common Core Has a Central Problem," Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2015. 


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